Amateur Rock Critic Thursday
I’m going on a self-imposed list ban. No lists on this blog for a few months. None. Zero. After this one. I didn’t really buy many new albums this year. I spent much of the year catching up on albums I’ve been meaning to get for a while. Favourite album (or albums, in this case) of the year was the Joy Division collection Heart & Soul. Finally got it. Completely worthwhile, if only for Ceremony. It’s a saved fragment of genius. Anyway, the following is what I liked and disliked this year (it probably says something about me that I enjoyed compiling the “worst of” list much more than the “best of”). If you disagree with me on these reviews, your opinion is obviously wrong.
Best albums of 2003:
10. The Libertines - Up The Bracket. This may have been a 2002 release in some places. Meh. I got it in 2003. Easily the most talented of the stream of recent “The” bands (The Vines, The Hives, The Strokes, and so on...). This album never received as much attention as, say, The Strokes’ debut; but it’s just as good, in my view. As with many of the bands just mentioned, they don’t claim to be particularly original, but they do write interesting and worthwhile songs. The homoerotic goings on between Carl Barat and Pete Doherty make for an entertaining and enjoyable live show, too.
9. Adam Freeland - Now & Them. This album really does not deserve to be anywhere near a Top 10 list. Actually, overall it’s pretty bad. But it makes it because it contains my favourite song of the year: We Want Your Soul. It’s a dance anthem that mocks excessive brand-led consumerism. "Your pills, your grass, your tits, your ass, your laughs, your balls, we want it all." The Bill Hicks sample also get big points from me. Really this place on the list should have been taken by Belle & Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. But it isn't - life’s tough!
8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever To Tell. I thought Fever To Tell would just be a cheap thrill, a bit of fun. I figured it’d get a few weeks play then I’d put it back in the case, play it one or two more times, then end up collecting dust in a dingy corner of my music collection. Fever To Tell is still in my stereo. It’s simplicity is deceptive, hiding layers I’m still finding. The only problem with this album is that it relies too much on Karen O’s presence. Not that her presence isn’t welcome, far from it, but it can’t be just about her. If the Yeah Yeah Yeahs do become just about Karen O they will become little more than a novelty act.
7. Mogwai - Happy Songs For Happy People. Only since Rock Action and Happy Songs... have Mogwai made cohesive albums. Their earlier albums were unfocused, and frankly, boring. In fact this new cohesion makes identifying a standout track among this nine-song collection futile. Turn out the lights, put on the headphones, and relax - Happy Songs... is pure aural bliss.
6. The Sleepy Jackson - Lovers. I’ve given my thoughts on this album before - I really do like it. But Luke Steele is a pretentious twat and not half as talented as he thinks he is. After seeing them live, I felt Steele’s vocal range was limited; he relies a lot on other band members - which, as it would seem by the high turnover of Sleepies members, he has trouble keeping in the band. Despite all this, Lovers is a great album. If Steele can stay away from the alt-country sound of Old Dirt Farmer and persist with the rock sound of Vampire Racecourse, I’d be confident in saying they’re going to a highlight on the Australian music scene for a while yet.
5. Sigur Ros - ( ). Sigur Ros are one of the few ‘post-rock’ (you can discuss what that means, I don’t really care) bands that create surreal and interesting music without crossing the line that so many bands do, taking them into a world of pretentious wankery, appealing to only the most obscure of hipsters. But when you tout yourselves as changing music, it’s not in the least surprising you’ll cop a roasting if you release an album that’s not a major step forward. That’s the only problem with ( ) - it’s nothing remarkably different from Agaetis Byrjun. It has its moments though, like track 8, which is a perfectly fitting, climactic end to surreal album.
4. The White Stripes - Elephant. The most anticipated album of the year. The most hype. No hipster would be seen without it. And so on. Despite all this, Meg and Jack White produce an album worthy of the hype. It’s probably the most written about album of the year, so I have nothing particularly interesting to add, except to say “It’s good. It rawks.” Also, as Graham says, rock music is not about authenticity, but ecstasy. The White Stripes’ music has plenty of the latter, so I’m not sure I understand all the faux-authenticity they carry on with - it’s entirely unnecessary.
3. Radiohead - Hail To The Thief. This album is a holding pattern for Radiohead. There’s no real overarching theme to the album; at least not to the extent of OK Computer and Kid A. This explains much of the lukewarm response it received. While Hail... will not go down as one of their best, it is evidence of a band comfortable in their own skin. Hail... is also Thom Yorke’s finest moment vocally and lyrically. That’s something overlooked by many, and it’s the reason this album is so high on my list. It’s said Thom Yorke was encouraged to sing falsetto after seeing Jeff Buckley perform at London’s Garage in 1994 - it’s a Good Thing he did. Radiohead may have been just another Blur or Oasis if he hadn’t. Thom Yorke saves what could have been an ordinary album.
2. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow. My first reaction was to scoff at what seemed like another throwback disguised as indie rock. But The Shins are much more than that. James Mercer’s melodic sensibilities are incredible. The lyrics are wonderfully literate, if you can figure out what Mercer is talking about: "Called to see if your back was still aligned / And your sheets are growing grass on all of the corners of your bed." I purchased their debut, Oh! Inverted World, on the strength of Chutes Too Narrow - it’s equally impressive. At the end of the day it’s all about Mercer and his melodies; he’s the songwriter people like Julian Casablancas and Jack White wish they were.
1. The Panics - A House On A Street, In A Town I’m From. This is an album that captures much of the Perth sound. Yes, there is a Perth sound. Winding and swirling guitars, it’s a fairly distinct sound in Australia. But, admittedly, at some points A House On A Street... does sound like you’re in Manchester circa 1990. This shouldn’t be surprising, really, considering The Panics have signed to the label founded by former Happy Mondays drummer Gaz Whelan. Unlike the Mondays, however, the drugs don’t make the Panics. The album’s only flaw is its repetitiveness, but c’mon, this is their debut, things like that can be improved. Apparently there’s a new album on the way for 2004; it has potential for a much wider audience, if that’s what they want.
Hurrah for them, the Panics’ House On A Street... gets the honour of being my album of the year. How lucky for them.
Worst albums of the year (that I’ve heard at least once):
Metallica - St. Anger. “Ohhh. I’m so angry!”
The Darkness - Permission To Land. Spinal Tap was funny because they were in on the joke. The Darkness are pathetic because they are not even aware there is a joke. Atrocious.
Interpol - Turn On The Amps And Let’s Sound Like Joy Division. See “Worst Trend” below.
Jet - Get Born. I choose: “no comment.”
Powederfinger - Vulture Street. Good-bye credibility, hello cock-rock. At least “rock” radio stations now know they have something to play once their Barnsey CDs wear out.
Worst Trend of 2003:
Talentless bands giving dull post-grunge reinterpretations of brilliant post-punk bands and somehow managing to secure much praise. Interpol is only the tip of the iceberg. Others include The Stills, Ikara Colt and Franz Ferdinand. Basically, if you can’t do it with some tact and originality, the following reference points should not comprise the entire sound of your band: The Smiths, Gang of Four, New Order, WIRE, Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division, The Cure, Suicide.
posted by Tim Stevens | 1/08/2004 11:50:00 PM |