On Friday Absolute Radio announced the result of its song of the decade vote: shockingly the top 10 doesn’t include the Arctic Monkeys, Strokes or White Stripes but does include two songs each by The Killers & Snow Patrol, a sign that whilst the station may be excellent, the average Absolute Radio listener gets most of their musical taste from the latest copy of Now That’s What I Call Indie. Oh well.
Anyway, in order to prove that this decade should be remembered for more than some sell-out Scottish Coldplay wannabes and a half-decent American 80s British indie tribute band, I thought I’d note down the albums that have made the last ten years such a musical treasure trove. As always, these are in no particular order.
- Paul Weller – 22 Dreams: Whilst, like most double albums, it would have benefited from a bit of judicious editing, this was still one of the finest albums Weller has produced in years. In fact, with its wide-ranging eclecticism & its towering sense of a man ageing yet still having an unparalleled love for music, 22 Dreams is simply one of the best records Weller has ever made.
- Common – Be: Kanye West may have been, along with his mentor Jay-Z, the man who stole all the spotlight in terms of noughties hip-hop, but his best work was often as a producer. Like a 21st Century Gil Scott Heron, on Be Common blended soul, funk and a stridently political view of the world to amazing effect.
- José James – The Dreamer: Anyone who says that jazz is dead clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but if you’re determined to prove them wrong then give them anything by Soil & “Pimp” Sessions or their Brownswood label-mate José James. He brought a hip-hop swagger to his take on classically cool piano-led jazz. With the voice of an angel, James may well be one of the most exciting discoveries of the noughties.
- The Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: Talking of exciting discoveries, the Arctics burst onto the music scene like a fresh Yorkshire breeze. From the dead-pan intro to the video for their début, I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (“We’re t’Arctic Monkeys, this is I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor. Don’t believe the hype.”), to their scathing take on British bands thinking they were Californian (whatever happened to The Thrills?), they showed that they were more interested in making amazing rock music than matching any passing fads.
- Tuomo – My Thing: Sounds like stone-cold perfect 60s/70s era-American soul. Actually written & performed by a ginger guy from Finland in 2007. So perfect it probably shouldn’t be allowed.
- Marc Mac Presents Visioneers – Dirty Old Hip Hop: Better known for his role as part of hardcore & drum & bass pioneers 4hero, Dirty Old Hip Hop could well end up being Marc Mac’s best ever work. It basically takes classic hip hop tracks, and tracks famously sampled for hip hop records, and recreates them with a lush live soul band. The cover of Pharcyde’s Runnin’ is just one track that now sounds better to me than the original.
- Ohmega Watts – The Find: Like a mix of Visioneers & Common, Ohmega Watts, on splendid independent US label Ubiquity, used soul samples that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early-90s golden-era track with ryhmes that avoided all the nasty rap cliches. Good old-fashioned, pure party music, this deserved to be huge. Obviously it wasn’t.
- Radiohead – In Rainbows: Whilst Kid A may be getting most of the end of the decade plaudits, personally I prefer Radiohead when their biggest experiments are saved for their retail mechanism and they remember that there’s nothing wrong with a tune. Blended the avant garde spirit of OK Computer with the stone-cold tunes of The Bends.
- Amy Winehouse – Back To Black: Her 1st album was a lovely blend of old-time jazz vocals and hip-hop sass & beats. Her 2nd, produced by soon-to-be über-producer Mark Ronson, jumped forward, providing a 21st Century slant on the Motown girl-groups of the 60s. And, as with her first, Winehouse’s amazing voice was used to catalogue her ‘interesting’ private life. Unfortunately it was soon anything but to be private and I think we all wish she had gone to rehab. Whether she’s release anything as good as this in the next ten years, or even releases anything at all, we” always have this amazing record of being a young woman in the noughties.
- The Strokes – Is This It: If the title of this album was a question, the answer looking back from 2010 would probably have to be yes. Whilst they seemed poised to take over the world they never really equalled the brilliance of their début, but what a début it was: drenched with New York cool, it married the stripped down sound of The Velvet Underground with a glamour that was very un-indie. Did for the US what the Arctics did for the UK.
- Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night: They started the decade being written off as a southern Strokes, but ended it as, arguably, the biggest and best rock band in the world. As with so many American acts they first found an audience in Europe, and especially the UK. And the years of touring their first three albums were apparent in the perfectly pitched and incredibly tight tunes on Only By The Night.
- Omar – Sing (If You Want It): Briefly famous in the acid jazz days of the 90s, Omar resurfaced in the noughties with a beautiful album of modern British soul. The album reeks of London, blending as it does sounds & styles from around the world, a fitting tribute to the most multicultural of cities. It’s also one of the few albums to feature a Stevie Wonder duet that doesn’t sound like it’s been phoned in.
- Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid: The band everyone wanted to succeed finally did. Their rendition of One Day Like This became the defining song of Glastonbury 2008, the album won the Mercury and now we all await their next record with bated breath. An achingly lovely record which could only have been born in Britain, and with a lead-singer who wouldn’t have made it past the auditions on the bland production line that is the X Factor.
- Ty – Closer: Prior to Dizzee Rascal’s take-over of the charts, Roots Manuva was probably the highest profile British rapper. But whilst his music was often dense and claustrophobic that of his protege Ty was soulful & full of melody. That’s not to say that he was any less serious, his rhymes covered every topic imaginable, but did so with an infectious joie de vivre. How this album wasn’t massive, superior as it is to any number of huge selling American hip hop albums, I really don’t know.
- Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: A stunning record that brought to mind everything from Gregorian chants to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s classic Deja Vu, this is the perfect winter record and manes expectations are very high indeed for their follow-up next year.
- Jazzanova – Of All The Things: Jazzanova are best known as producers of high quality electronic dance music, but on the showing of this record, they’re even better at producing organic 21st Century soul. With a stellar line-up of contributors from the world of contemporary music, every song on this record sounds like a single and is a pleasure from start to finish.
- Zero 7 – Simple Things: dismissed as mere Air copycats, they’re so much better than that. Obviously huge fans of soul producer Charles Stepney, this oh-so laid back album positively drips with strings, which act as a perfect backdrop for the lush vocals of the various contributors. Just because the swathe of ‘chill-out’ albums that came in the wake of Simple Things were mostly shit, doesn’t mean that we should discard this great record along with them.
- Norah Jones – Come Away With Me: Another record that has suffered because of the pale imitations that have followed it, Jones’ début was a delightful blend of jazz & country, and her stunning voice became a staple on Radio 2. But that doesn’t mean the record isn’t amazing.
- The Streets – Everything Is Borrowed: His first album perfectly caught a moment in time and defined a genre just as it outgrew it, his second was hailed as a modern equivalent to Shakespeare and, in Dry Your Eyes, spawned a Wonderwall-size hit, his third was shit but his fourth, with its move to a more organic sound, and intensely personal lyrics, was his finest. Apparently his fifth will be his last, I really hope it’s not.
- Kanye West – Late Registration: After nearly losing his life in a car crash (as he never bores of telling us) Kanye’s debut was a miracle of some sorts. Not just because it actually got made, but also because it saw a mainstream black rapper admitting to being human, rather than spitting out the same old boring ‘guns & hos’ rhymes. Jesus Walks is massive, Through The Wire touching and All Falls Down just plain brilliant.
- Gomez – How We Operate: Most people probably think the one-time Mercury winners have long-since disbanded. In fact they’ve gone from strength to strength, quietly ploughing their own furrow of intelligent, eclectic rock. This album is the perfect demonstration of this, packed as it is with sunny melodies and wistful vocals. Unsung heroes.
- Jamie Lidell – Jim: Lidell was probably signed by Warp because he was a geek creator of weird electronica. They can’t have expected him to turn into the best producer of blue-eyed soul the decade has seen. He sings like he went to church with Otis Redding but looks like he went to Reading Polytechnic.
- Nitin Sawhiney – London Undersound: Apparently this record was Sawhiney’s musical response to the London bombings of July 2005 and the events that followed them. If so, it’s the perfect response to the religious fanatics who try to rule us with fear, being as it is an example & celebration of the beauty that secular multiculturalism has to offer.
- J.A.M. – Just A Maestro: In their ‘day-job’ they make up half of experimental Japanese ‘death jazz’ band Soil & “Pimp” Sessions. But with their splinter group J.A.M., they’ve produced a record more consistent, and more listenable, than anything by the Pimps. It might be slightly more mainstream, but it’s still modern jazz of immaculate quality and would be enough to get a corpse dancing.
- Estelle – Shine: After being unfairly ignored by the, border-line racist, British music industry, Estelle went to the US to be produced & mentored by John Legend. She had a worldwide smash with American Boy but also produced an album that should be compulsory listening for the likes of Beyonce, Leona Lewis & Simon Cowell, who generally seem to think that R&B has to be bland. Catchy but still intelligent, this is a great modern pop record.
Well, there you go. I’m sure that I’ll think of some more, and there are probably a load you think I’ve missed. But
2010 image by Doug8888 on flickr