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 Ryan Adams:
David Ryan Adams (born November 5, 1974) is a Grammy Award-nominated American alt-country/rock singer-songwriter from Jacksonville, North Carolina. Initially a member of the group Whiskeytown, after three albums Adams went solo, releasing Heartbreaker in 2000. A longtime resident of New York City, Adams is probably best known for his song "New York, New York", which appeared on his 2001 release Gold. He has since released five more solo albums and three albums with backing band, The Cardinals. His most recent album, Cardinology, was released on October 28, 2008. From Wikipedia
Read the original NME review from 2008:
“I like to piss people off,” Alice Glass told NME back in February. “We want people to feel nauseous.” It was a mission statement which Crystal Castles have fulfilled. And then some.
Their debut seven-inch, ‘Alice Practice’, certainly drew a line in the scene. A scabrous three-minute headfuck of colliding synths, banshee vocals and wirey distortion, it served notice that Crystal Castles had no interest in joining The Ting Tings and Santogold in a pop-orientated electro putsch. Instead, while claiming not be influenced by anyone (yeah, right), the Canadian duo obviously harked back, pre-new rave, to electroclash, and the mixing of noisy techno, ’80s synth-pop and confrontational performance art once favoured by the likes of Miss Kittin & The Hacker and Chicks On Speed. That ‘Alice Practice’ was said to be an accidental outtake from a soundcheck, rather than a proper song, and that it was then released by Merok (after Klaxon Jamie Reynolds recommended it to his flatmate, Merok owner Milo Cordell) only compounded the sense that Crystal Castles were some kind of trendy scenester in-joke. Which is ridiculous, of course. Like-minded creative people flock together; it’s natural. Join in. Or get over it.
However, the generally charmless way Crystal Castles have since conducted themselves in interviews has tested the patience of even their biggest fans. “It’s a misconception about us that we hate interviews or publicity,” Ethan Kath insisted in last week’s NME, and, to be fair, CC have opened up to us – as much as they ever do to anyone. But the bored, sniggering, deliberately opaque persona they have presented to the world elsewhere is just tedious. Either they’re trying to wreathe themselves in mystique; have nothing to say; or think they’re a lot cleverer than everyone else. Either way, when bands as diverse as Foals and The Enemy are giving Britain music to believe in, CC’s studied, jaded cool is, kind of, like, whatever, dude. Get over yourselves. Hopefully, they now have.
If you approach the album with certain reservations about the band themselves, it is testament to Glass and Kath’s synthetic sorcery that, 16 tracks later, you’re left somewhere between intrigued and awestruck. We Are Scientists might have the interview technique, but Crystal Castles have the tunes. Unsurprisingly, ‘Crystal Castles’ doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve. It reveals almost nothing about the band as people. Several tracks are (near) instrumentals, such as ‘Reckless’, a dark, grand machine-pop beast that’s the match of anything The Knife have ever done, or the deliciously twisted ‘Knights’, a track littered with the sounds of crying… or is it laughter? As for the rest, Alice’s vocals are so treated as to be 90 per cent indecipherable. ‘Crystal Castles’ is an enigmatic album of moods, tones and emotional confusion, rather than autobiographical specifics.
It is also, perhaps more importantly, an album absolutely overloaded with spine-tingling, pulse-quickening electro noises. Supposedly (naturally, the band won’t discuss it), Ethan uses old Atari sound chips in his keyboards to get Crystal Castles’ vintage arcade game/eight-bit sound. He’s not the first to do it. From Rephlex producers to French laptop mentalists DAT Politics, people at the fringes of electronic music have been rocking the Pac Man-aesthetic for years. But, in music, it doesn’t matter who’s first, it matters who’s best.
You will hear nothing better this year than the four absolutely essential tracks here. Compelling opener ‘Untrust Us’ – all flowing, interlinking pulses and cooing, soft-focus vocals – is as sad as sped-up footage of a motorway at night. ‘Crimewave (Crystal Castles Vs Health)’ and the disturbingly perky ‘Air War’ are both supernaturally cool. The irresistible way the latter kicks in around one-and-a-half minutes is like the first surging effects of some unknown drug that could yet turn out to be a very bad trip. ‘Vanished’, meanwhile, complete with mystery male vocal, is just sensational, a weightless, sleekly designed electro-disco anthem.
The only flawed tracks are those on which Crystal Castles wilfully abandon pop for noise. The treble-drenched, bug-eyed ‘Love And Caring’ is cathartically harsh, but ‘Alice Practice’ and ‘XXZXCUZX Me’ lack real brutal, effervescent energy. It ends with ‘Tell Me What To Swallow’, a lovely acoustic moment: choral, ghostly and an indication that there’s much more to come from Crystal Castles.
As media characters, they may be difficult to love, but it’s easy to get seriously smitten with the music. New rave is over. The likes of frYars, Late Of The Pier and Crystal Castles are taking electro into darker, more interesting territory. No glowstick required.
Read the original NME review from 2005:
It’s the most cringeworthy thing a new band can do and Bloc Party are the latest band to be guilty of it. “We’re unpigeonholeable!” they’ve squealed in recent interviews. Sheesh, fellas, frankly you’re not being helpful. I’ve got more than 1,000 words to write and I fully intend on finding you a cosy little pigeonhole to squeeze into – sit back, relax, this won’t hurt a bit…
I’ve heard Bloc Party are the new Franz Ferdinand: arty, ’80s indie-recalling, danceable, the hipster band of choice. Coming from the same place Franz were 12 months ago – slightly off the radar but within its catchment… right? RIGHT?
Erm, no, not at all actually. The more you think about it, the less Franz (white, Scottish, could’ve existed any time from 1976 onwards) and Bloc Party ( Benetton boyband, from London, achingly 21st century) have in common. Another random example: vocally, they’re total opposites. Alex Kapranos’ voice is louche, dry, a knowing nod and a wink. Kele gulps with a “there’s a bomb on the bus!” urgency. So when people say Bloc Party are the new Franz, what they actually mean is Bloc Party are the band most likely to ‘do a Franz’ this year.
Recorded with Paul Epworth far away from their birthing pool in London’s New Cross (they originally came to NME’s attention on Angular Records’ legendary unsigned band compilation ‘ The New Cross’) in “polite, civilised and pretty” Copenhagen last year, ‘Silent Alarm’is no‘Franz Ferdinand’. In fact, listen to it with the words ‘popular’ and ‘arty’ in mind and its spirit is closer to the Manic Street Preachers’ ‘The Holy Bible’.
The themes of sex, boredom and consumption should be familiar to students of that haunting album. Just check the railing against America on the Bush -baiting ‘Helicopter’ (sample lyric: “Just like his dad, just like his dad (same mistakes)/Some things will never be different”). Or the military march-meets- Berlin Love Parade stomp of‘Price Of Gas’, the price of course being not 91.4p a litre but the corpses of thousands of innocent Iraqis (“I can tell you how this ends/We’re gonna win this – WAR WAR WAR WAR WAR WAR WAR!”).
Beyond politics, Kele and Gordon’s lyrics also take in sex (“I still feel you and the taste of cigarettes” – ‘Blue Light’), boredom and consumption (“The fear and the yearning/The fear and the consumption” –‘Positive Tension’) and loneliness/depression/paranoia in 21st-century Britain (the first lyric on the LP is “It’s so cold in this house”, for fuck’s sake).
But where they manage – yet again – to sneak out of a pigeonhole is that street preaching, manically or otherwise, is not for them. They’ve shied away from the sloganeering as they’ve got further into the public spotlight. Their official website has featured quotes from Bertrand Russell, nods to JG Ballard, and articles titled “What They Want Pop Stars To Be” and “Intellectualising Fleetwood Mac”. The album takes its name from a New Scientist article about an earthquake detection system in Japan, but the relevance to the band is obvious. ‘Silent Alarm’is an early-warning system, a wake-up call for seismic events to come, but not one that’s wielding a megaphone on a street corner. Bloc Party are pretty slippery customers. Give them a ‘new Franz’ or ‘new Manics’ tag and ‘Silent Alarm’ will wriggle free in seconds. It’s an LP as committed to pigeonholes as Pete Doherty is to turning up on time for gigs. Within seconds of the listener discerning that ‘Silent Alarm’ is a fine punk-funk album (hear ‘ Helicopter’, the mouth-dryingly intense‘Pioneers’, the breakneck rumble of‘She’s Hearing Voices’), Bloc Party will pull out the sombre, least punk or funky thing possible (their‘Street Spirit’, ‘So Here We Are’, or the echoey, unsettling‘Compliments’). As quickly as I could declare them the finest emo band Britain’s ever produced, they’ll weasel out of it. The proof is unquestionable (the LP’s emotion and post-hardcore riffs backbone, and that in researching this review we found not one but two pictures of Kele wearing a backpack) but the xylophone-tastic, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’-style epic ‘This Modern Love’ is so beyond emo it’s untrue. Which shows that Bloc Party are the Kriss Kross, Prince and Kate Bush -worshipping disposable pop kids that they have always claimed to be and not some maudlin post-punk muso types, as some have branded them.
With The Libertines on ice, London needs to get moving again and Bloc Party are the band for the job. Not only can they match the Libs for musical urgency and passion, but Bloc Party are managing to speak to people like Pete’n’Carl did too. They find “rock star behaviour completely abhorrent” (they’ll turn down that invite to Kate Moss’ next birthday party) and in that respect they’re the complete opposite of The Libertines. But in terms of the honesty and vulnerability shown here, and the fact that they’re unafraid to put themselves on the line, they are the true heirs to the Libs’ legacy. They connect because their concerns are universal. Everyone knows someone like the woman suffering at the centre of‘She’s Hearing Voices’ – “She’s hearing voices call her/She’s hearing voices warn her/She just can’t sleep in her bed/She just can’t sleep.” Not being able to sleep (a clinical sign of depression, or maybe it’s just plain old heartbreak) appears elsewhere on this record; “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep/I can’t sleep, I can’t dream”, Kele sings on‘Like Eating Glass’. In the same song, there’s the latchkey kids we were or we knew in “The children sent home from school/Will not stop crying”. The xylophone-powered anthem ‘This Modern Love’ was made for being 15 years old, lying on your bed staring at the ceiling (“You told me you wanted to eat up my sadness/Well jump on, enjoy, you can gorge away”). And there’s the wonderful ‘Pioneers’ which manages to combine the ridiculous hopelessness and optimism of, well, life itself. “If it can be broke then it can be fixed”, Kele gasps, like he’s defusing a bomb. “If it can be fused then it can be split” – he is defusing a bomb! And the chorus continues the theme with “We promised the world we’d tame it/What were we hoping for?” Bloc Party aren’t just hoping, they’re trying. Maybe it’s over-long at 13 tracks but that’s just us being picky. ‘Silent Alarm’ is the unpigeonholeable soundtrack to 21st-century life as a cast-off. In a world of posers, fakers and bandwagon-jumpers, Bloc Party are unquestionably ‘4 real’. They never shy away from showing their truest feelings, even if those are of vulnerability or weakness. It’s this honesty which has spoken to people and will speak to a hell of a lot more when ‘Silent Alarm’ rings out beyond the desks of music journalists. Bloc Party are to be believed in because they are a band for the whites, the blacks, the straights, the hip-hop kids, the freaks, the geeks, the emo kids, the punk-funkers, the queers and, yes, the fashionistas. Not because they are all these things (though they are a lot of them), nor because they’re all things to all men (in fact they’re the complete opposite). Back in 2002, Pete’n’Carl said it was‘Time For Heroes’. Well now it’s the anti-heroes’ time. Imran Ahmed
Read a biography of The Knife:
The Knife are an electro pop duo from Sweden that formed in 1999. They consist of siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, who together also run their own record company, Rabid Records.
36Let It Come Down
Read the original NME review from 2001:
There's little doubt now that Spiritualized's last studio album (1997's
'Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space') was a truly extraordinary achievement. Not only did it map out a wonderfully ambitious new blueprint for rock'n'roll by effortlessly fusing gospel and free jazz with taut garage rock and neo-classical strings, it also succeeded in burrowing its way into a wider public consciousness. The perception of it as songwriter Jason Pierce's heartbreak record (its arrival coincided with news of the marriage of his one-time girlfriend Kate Radley to Richard Ashcroft) helped it to become the band's most commercially successfully album, in the process dragging them from mere cult concern to something akin to [i]importance[/i]. This, then, is the first SPIRITUALIZED album to arrive, bearing the heavy weight of expectation. Its first single (the magnificently heartwrenching 'Stop Your Cryin') was playlisted by Radio One a full two months prior to its release, and there's a belief that this album is their 'Urban Hymns' - the crossover record that will finally establish them as a mainstream staple. It's an assertion that's hard to disagree with. 'Let It Come Down' is another towering achievement - both musically and emotionally. As usual, Pierce has drawn his inspiration from a wide pool - everything from Ray Charles' country and western LPs made at the end of the '50s and start of the '60s to Dennis Wilson's 'lost' heartbreak album 'Pacific Ocean Blue'. The result is a beautiful 70 minute swathe of densely orchestrated, richly symphonic sound. Gone are the free-jazz detonations that characterized 'Ladies And Gentlemen' and in its place is a grander, more reflective sound that sees Pierce finally staking his claim as a classic songwriter. It's been billed (by NME as well as others) as his rehab record largely on the strength of titles like 'The Straight And The Narrow' and 'The Twelve Steps'. Actually, it's nothing of the sort. Just check out the lyrics to 'The Twelve Steps' ("[i]I know I'm never going to find Jesus Christ/So I'd rather spend my cash on vice[/i]") or 'Out Of Sight' ("[i]If I am good I could add years to my life/I would rather add some life to my years[/i]"), and you'll realise this isn't the sound of a man on the wagon. Instead, like its predecessor, 'Let It Come Down' is a work of intense emotional resonance. Pierce mixes junkie jokes about burning holes in his clothes ('Do It All Over Again') with his usual wry sense of opiated self-obsession. The album ends with a burning 10 minute gospel called 'Won't Get To Heaven ('The State I'm In')' and then a reprise of the classic Spacemen 3 track 'Lord Can You Hear Me?' As an encapsulation of Pierce's ever more expansive sonic manifesto (much of this album was recorded live at Abbey Road with up to 100 musicians) it's difficult to see how it could have been topped. Unlike Radiohead, who responded to 'OK Computer' being heralded as the best record of their career by retreating into avant-garde electronica, Pierce has confronted the challenge of bettering 'Ladies And Gentlemen...' head on. 'Let It Come Down' isn't the sound of a band touched by genius, it's the sound of one born with it. This is music as it's meant to be: raw, colossal and awe-inspiring. No wonder everything else just pales in comparison. James Oldham
35Down In Albion
Read a biography of Babyshambles:
Babyshambles are an English indie rock band established in London. The band was formed by Pete Doherty during a hiatus from his former band The Libertines, but Babyshambles has since become his main project (Although recently he has been focusing on his Solo work). Babyshambles have released two albums, three EP's and a number of singles. The band has received a great deal of attention from the British tabloid press as a result of interest in Doherty's personal life. From Wikipedia
34The Sophtware Slump
Read the original NME review from 2000:
The romanticised American West of rattlesnakes and tumbleweeds has gone. In its place are farms with fax machines, campers with laptops, electricity pylons studding mountain ranges like topographical acupuncture. Even down rural roads that have barely smelled the acrid, encroaching asphalt of modernity, nature maintains an uneasy relationship with technology. In his home town of Modesto, California, [a]Grandaddy[/a] foreman Jason Lytle has seen broken-down washing machines and rusted fridges populating people's lawns like emblems of disappointed prosperity. Herein, he believes, is a warning: don't put too much faith in the machine. What is indispensable today will be obsolete tomorrow. Nothing endures, save the human spirit.
This is the theme of [a]Grandaddy[/a]'s second album, and although it may lack the immediacy of their first, it is far more cohesive, sophisticated and poignant. Similar to the way in which Mercury Rev's 'Deserter's Songs' was a vivid snapshot of frontier twilight, 'The Sophtware Slump' is a picture of a place where the dreams of the last century have gone to die. It's about getting lost in the dazzling glare of the computer screen, and finding your way home again. And, yes, it's made by men with terrifying facial hair.
Like Henry David Thoreau with a mobile phone, Lytle tries to find solace in nature only to discover that even the forests are bulging with technological detritus. 'Broken Household Appliance National Forest' is about how "Meadows resemble showroom floors/Owls fly out of oven doors", (and it's a pop song!) and 'Crystal Lake' weighs the purity of bucolic beauty against "parties full of folks who flake".
It isn't a Luddite attitude that [a]Grandaddy[/a] espouse. Their fundamental country muse is upgraded with skewed electronica and layers of studio tampering. They have found a way to reconcile man and machine - by taking control of the devices at hand and making something truly beautiful, mysterious and timeless. Grandaddy have entered the 21st century with their souls intact. Now they're making sure we have, as well.
Read the original NME review from 2006:
After the funeral comes the wake. A celebration, a party; a bleary, teary toast to what’s gone before, its impact on those who were touched by it. And after [a]Arcade Fire[/a]’s ‘Funeral’ – after all the grief, glory and emotional exorcisms that saw their debut album light up 2004 like an emperor’s pyre – what next?
“Mirror mirror, on the wall/Show me where them bombs will fall” – ‘Black Mirror’. “There’s a big black wave in the middle of the sea” – ‘Black Wave/Bad Vibrations’. “World War Three, when are you coming for me?” – ‘Windowsill’.
Turns out mourning is in their blood. Now that the personal family losses that informed ‘Funeral’ are fading, Win Butler and his black parade of professional mourners have turned their tear ducts to more global tragedies: the Iraq war, the tsunami, the end of the world in general. It’s as if, having proved so successful at capturing their own fervent anguish on album number one, [a]Arcade Fire[/a] have decided to form an international grief-keeping force to keep the entire globe permanently shredding its shirts. What’s that!? Up in the sky! It’s Team Canada: Pain Police, spinning a black armband around the bicep of the world! Ca-na-DA – sob yeah!
And their service is second to none. As a band who go to extraordinary lengths to convey their emotional maelstroms (onstage, every one of them screams and writhes as if possessed by the spirit of a thousand Conor Obersts; they beat drums, keyboards, guitars and each other’s crash helmets with maniacal abandon and gigs usually end with a parade to a car park for a Clash cover or two), their second album ‘Neon Bible’ contains every ounce of the impassioned sound and fury of their live shows. Heralded by a series of miniscule gigs in London’s grand halls and churches that you needed to be either Chris Martin or a tunnel-building expert to get into, ‘Neon Bible’ is a climactic monolith of a record in the grand tradition of melodic transatlantic clamour rock, as extolled by [a]Mercury Rev[/a] and [a]The Flaming Lips[/a]. But while the Lips hold Barbarella parties for gangs of blissed-out Santas in pods orbiting Neptune, [a]Arcade Fire[/a] are of more Biblical stock. As the title suggests, they’re standing at the gates of hell as the apocalypse rages, brandishing Satan’s brimstone iPod, set to shuffle on a playlist called ‘All The Best Tunes’.
It begins with a thunderstorm. An ominous roll of kettle drums approach across a spectral synth landscape to where Win, fresh from a nightmare and still singing as if constantly on the verge of mental breakdown, is staring out at the pitch-black ocean and finding the darkness reflected in his own war-weary soul. We’re facing the onrushing orchestral tidal wave of ‘Black Mirror’, a shifting sea-roll of guitar crescendos and violin eddies that overwhelms, confuses and eventually recedes – after four or five listens – to expose a delicate, devastated melody washed up in its wreckage. We’re clearly at the mercy of some elemental musical forces here: indeed the entire record has the rhythm of a mighty tide to it. Hence the jubilant mandolin jive of ‘Keep The Car Running’ comes on like a tribal celebration of having survived the opening song while the hushed acoustic title track that follows is essentially the mile retreat of the surf before the next tsunami attack.
A church organ strikes up a cheery disco wedding march. Win steps swiftly in before we can throw any confetti (“Working for the church while my family dies… hear the soldier groan/We’ll go at it alone”). And so ‘Intervention’ builds into a stirring pop memorial to Iraq war victims and a rallying cry for revolution against the White House lies (“Who’s gonna throw the first stone?/Who’s gonna reset the bone?”). See, ‘Neon Bible’ is no mere wail against the woes of the world but is, like its predecessor, an astutely political record. To wit, ‘Black Wave/Bad Vibrations’: while the second, Win-sung half – thumping funereal drums, wave crash noises and all – seems to bemoan the tsunami tragedy of 2004, the Régine-sung first half is a sister-piece to (‘Funeral’’s) ‘Haiti’ wherein she appears to be escaping a civil war-struck province. A reference to guerrilla-held areas of Aceh that were reconciled in the aftermath of the disaster, perhaps? Or have we been watching way too much Sky News 24 here?
Time to spin the globe back home, to a cold bed in Montreal laid waste by more personal battles: “The ocean of violence/Between me and you/It’s time to work it out”, goes the harmonious mariachi blues lilt of ‘Ocean Of Noise’, while the fantastic blue-collar factory rattle of ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ is a vibrant exposé of 9/11 paranoia from the point of view of a terrified stage parent that also, crucially, manages to rock like Bruce Springsteen doing the dirty boogaloo with a teenage Courteney Cox. In hell, obviously.
And as we stand, awestruck, through the agoraphobic sociopathy of ‘Windowsill’ (“I don’t wanna fight in a holy war/I don’t want the salesman knocking at my door”) and the ecstatic escape anthem ‘No Cars Go’, waiting for the final wave crash of the dark Armageddon blues of ‘My Body Is A Cage’ to finish us off; as we stand staring humanity’s darknesses (war, cataclysm, hatred and fear) square in the eye, we know we’ve been brought here by an Important Record. A record with the bleak-yet-redemptive spirit of REM’s ‘Automatic For The People’ and the musical magnificence of a ‘Deserter’s Songs’. But also a record that – as much as ‘London Calling’ or ‘What’s Going On’ – holds a deep, dark, truthful Black Mirror up to our turbulent times. After the funeral, the awakening.
32Show Your Bones
Read the original NME review from 2006:
First things first, we need to deal with the elephant in the room, to dispel the thick fug of rumour that hangs heavy over this release. ‘Show Your Bones’ is not, repeat not, a concept album about Karen O’s pussy. Perhaps we should clarify. Despite earlier reports by producer Squeak E Clean (aka Sam Spiegal, brother of Karen O’s ex-flame, Spike Jonze), the LP is not titled ‘Coco Beware’, and is hence not a concept album detailing the rise of the titular cat in Karen O’s affections. No friends, what we have is something far grander than that. What we have here is 2006’s [a]Yeah Yeah Yeahs[/a] presenting themselves as a band that have cut themselves free from the fetters of a movement they helped birth and wrapped up warm in the robe of reinvention.
And what a reinvention. Unlike ‘Fever To Tell’, itself painted with the shocking pinks and threatening purples of post-coital contusions, ‘Show Your Bones’ is resolutely autumnal. It’s gutsy, bruised, womb-warm, simultaneously tender and defiant, and just about as sprawling as you can get in under 40 minutes. Brilliant, in short.
Though they’ve shed the cheap – but undeniably fun – Day-Glo immediacy of ‘Fever…’, it’s been replaced by a range of expressions that most artists will only stumble upon by their fifth release. That’s not to say the Yeahs have lost any of their distinctive vitality, this time around it just happens to find itself dancing bare-chested round a bonfire in the middle of the desert, rather than having spontaneous, unprotected sex in the cloakroom. Hence those pining for reimaginings of ‘Date With The Night’ and ‘Y Control’ will be left to their pining; even their closest uptempo equivalents, found in ‘Honey Bear’’s brusque Tex-Mex stomp and the Beck-like charm of first single ‘Gold Lion’, are drastically distinct from anything found on the Yeahs’ debut. They have, to quote Ms Orzolek, gone “rustic”. Though, granted, this is probably how most New Yorkers describe going without hot water for a few hours.
Much like their video for ‘Gold Lion’, ‘Show Your Bones’ thrusts you into a place of swirling dust, flaming drumsticks, and the faint silhouette of Karen O tearing pieces of her clothing off. So when ‘Sweets’ slouches by like PJ Harvey singing Calexico in the shower, you just know that somewhere out there, Josh Homme is chewing his bottom lip, pencilling KO into his Desert Sessions dream team. Case in point: track ‘Fancy’, in which Karen wails like she’s trapped down a well while Nick Zinner piles slab after frenzied slab of distortion on top of her, could very well have crawled its way out from the Rancho de la Luna.
But the album’s most bizarre “What the fuck was that I just heard?” moment comes in the guise of the show-stealing ‘Phenomena’. We swear that Karen’s partially lifted the chorus from LL Cool J’s 1997 Top 10 hit ‘Phenomenon’, and simply fiddled with the pluralisation. Even better, it sounds like she’s grinding her crotch against our ears, and is probably where fans of [a]Yeah Yeah Yeahs[/a]’ debut will find their gateway into ‘Show Your Bones’.
But the clincher is closer ‘Turn Into’, which starts as a rootsy, tumbling early ’90s Belly-type affair before Zinner’s guitar transforms into a 20-foot-high Theremin and it’s BAM! – you’ve forgotten where you are, what your name is and have never even heard of a band called Arctic Monkeys. Needless to say, it’s a blissful few seconds.
Unfortunately, just as your spine is working through its 12th paroxysm of shuddering ecstasy, bonus track ‘Déjà Vu’ kicks in, doing its damnedest to meddle with this hard-won afterglow. However, if you have a working knowledge of laser-optics, this is easy enough to correct. Y’know, one day we’d like to see a bonus track properly inserted into the flow of an album, rather than tacked on like a half-hearted addendum. Why has nobody realised this yet? Madness.
But woe of woes, friends! Nick Zinner said in a recent interview that he doesn’t imagine [a]Yeah Yeah Yeahs[/a] will be together in, uh, five years. Sure that seems like, five years away, but it means they’ve only got 1.6 albums left in them. Which means if you haven’t yet given [a]Yeah Yeah Yeahs[/a] your cash, it’s time you started, bucko. Right. Now.
31I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Read the original NME review from 2005:
Weirdness and America go hand in hand nowadays, but back in November something so peculiar happened that not even the most liberally-mediated conspiracy theorist could even have dreamed it would ever occur.
It wasn't Bush getting re-elected, either. Anyone with a spit-polished gun rack and an exhaustive collection of ZZ Top vinyl could have told you that no amount of millionaire stars shaking their collective faux blue-collar fists in the name of a candidate who looked more Deputy Dawg than JFK could never hope to topple Dubya's administration. No, it was weirder than that.
With his wishful, wordy, consistently confusing poetry, faultless acoustic tunesmithery, boundless adoration from every band who ever sold less than 50,000 records and encyclopedic knowledge of cheap wine, Bright Eyes - aka Conor Oberst - has long been tagged 'The New Dylan'. That looks terribly impressive on paper, but this isn't the '60s and unless you're in Dashboard Confessional and you've just written a chart smash about crucifying your ex-girlfriend and choking her to death on the never-sent sixth-form poetry you wrote about her (we want royalties on that future chart smash, Chris Carrabba). 'The New Dylan' just doesn't shift units. Or so conventional wisdom held. Because in November, Conor Oberst found himself sitting at Number One and Two in the US Billboard Chart. Number One. Number Two. Number Ones's and Two. What the fuck?
While Oberst recently confessed to NME, on the eve of Bush's re-election that "he just can't win. I'm just scared of what the world will be like if he wins ", the world seems to be looking pretty rosy for Bright Eyes at the moment. A new, pissed-off generation was born on November 2, 2004, and now that he's got their ear - not to mention these two career- best albums to regale them with- how Oberst could possibly balls up his inevitable rise to hugeness is beyond us. Bittersweet? Sure. Long overdue? Absolutely.
And so we come to the two albums in question. Just in case you've missed it thus far, we'll get the most important fact out of the way now: they're both fantastic. One is more fantastic than the other, but common consensus on which one that is seems to vary from listener to listener.
You'll probably know that 'I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning' was written and recorded about a year ago as a straightgforward follow-up to 2002's 'Lifted:Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground' (snappy title, no?), and is, to all intents and purposes, The Folk Album, it bears the rings of empty wine bottles, goes to sleep at 4am and smells rather badly of fags. It's a Bright Eyes Album. 'Digital Ash In A Digital Urn', meanwhile, you've probably heard is 'The Digital Album'. You'll have heard that it's one of those artistic leaps you wish he never made, a cold, heartless beast whose middle-eights sound like the noise you make when you've just spilt beer on your keyboard and whose choruses - if they even exist - sound like the pleasant him of a Mac being switched on. However, you shouldn't believe everything you hear.
Taken on it's own merits, 'I'm Wide Awake...' is a remarkable album, Oberst's perfection of his own art, in many ways. The writer himself has dismissed it as being "about drinking and travelling", but that's utter bollocks. Sure, there are songs about drinking and travelling on it, and fine songs they are: after all, with a lyric such as "I've got a flash inside my pocket, we can share it on the train/And if you promise to stay conscious I'll try and do the same/What was normal in the evening, by the morning seems insane". 'Lua' must be the only recent US Number One to celebrate the noble pastime of getting wankered on public transport. But one listen to the album's opening track 'At The Bottom Of Everything' reveals its true depths. With a melody borrowed from Dylan's classic '60s anti-establishment howl 'The Times They Are-A Changing', it provides a suitably cryptic state-of-the-nation address, which makes absolutely absolutely no mention of $3 Merlot of tourbuses, instead proclaiming, "We must take all of the medicines, too expensive now to sell/set fire to the preacher that is promising us hell/And in the ear of every anarchist who sleeps but doesn't dream/We must sing, we must sing, we must sing".
Don't be fooled by its humble rootsiness, either. This is like an Americana 'OK Computer' that boasts country legend Emmylou Harris on backing vocals, an album that perfectly illustrates the confusion of 21st-century America, with Oberst trying to make sense of the senselessnes. It's an obliquely, artistically anti-Bush album that will remain a pertinent reminder of our times when Bush hands over the president laurels (probably to his brother Jeb, dynasty fans). After all, what better explanation can anyone give for America's current political climate than the one Oberst sardonically howls on the album's crowning achievement, 'Road To Joy'? "When you're asked to fight a war that's over nothing " he screams over an amped-up rendition of Beethoven's 'Ode To Joy', "It's best to join the side that's gonna win/And no-one's sure how all of this got started/But we're gonna make them goddamn certain how it's gonna end".
It is the best thing he's ever done. At least it was until he recorded 'Digital Ash In a Digital Urn'. An album essentially about fear of death and the running out of time, it's conversely the more human of the two albums. Conversely, because some of the instruments need plugging in. Hell, some even need programming. Yet this isn't nearly as cold and mechanic an album as some would have you believe. Its poppy melodies and Oberst's own broken vocals ensure that no amount of electronic wizardry can drown these songs, from 'Hit The Switch' with its exquisitely-rendered depiction of the writer hugging a toilet in the depths of the hangover, to the Christian anxiety of 'Arc Of Time (Time Code)', which finds Oberst mulling over making friends with Jesus.
It's a painfully honest, emotionally draining album,yet it occasionally sounds like a million-selling electro-pop unit-shifter, as on 'Light Pollution' or 'Take It Easy (Love Nothing)'. Herein lies the album's true allure, for while being indie is all well and good, Oberst's is a voice that needs airing. This is an album that travels to the most primal of human fears and takes its discoveries all the way to the upper reaches of the singles chart. It's an album made from the most impersonal of instruments that will speak directly to every listener lucky enough to press play. Its one glitch is that it makes its companion piece seem less of an achievement than it actually is and more a consolidation of former glories,but that's the most minor of gripes.
Ultimately, these albums wholly nullify the point of Damien Rice's cello-heavy existence and issue a written public apology for David Gray. They are the records of the year, and it's only January. Which now leaves but one road for Bright Eyes to follow (and as he's the floppy-fringed rightful heir to the empires of Puff Daddy and Axl Rose, We'd better get used to it now, whether we love it or loathe it).
Connor Oberst: Superstar.