In the summer of 2015 I found myself unexpectedly out of work with a lot of time on my hands. I’m not someone who ever struggles to fill their day but nonetheless, I chose to make full use of such a God given opportunity by reacquainting myself with the album, that once essential artefact that had so dominated my listening habits before our brave new world of MP3’s, playlists and streaming. Of course, the big question was what should I listen to? In order to maintain my interest and provide some much needed structure, I decided to go for the albums I hadn’t heard before and had been deliberately avoiding for years; those hallowed, critical favourites stitched to the frayed edges of Rock’s Rich Tapestry.
First used by a stoned, unintentionally hilarious Jeff Bridges during the ‘rockumentary’ The Heroes Of Rock And Roll, the term achieved notoriety in 1980 when the NME’s Julie Burchill famously declared ‘So many smug saps think they are rebels, but anything that can fit into Rock’s Rich Tapestry is dead at heart.’ Rejecting the traditionalist view of rock in favour of the new, the different and the revolutionary, her mindset reinforced my own emerging thoughts about music and is one I still believe in, despite the obvious paradox of spending so much of my time listening to and commenting on the music of the past.
Before embarking on my quest I set some simple rules. Interrogating the numerous online lists of critical favourites for each year from 1960 to 2014, I selected one album per year, the highest on the list I’d never heard and thought I could abide. Then I listened to each one twice from beginning to end and I don’t mean as background noise. I really had to listen!
Surprisingly, despite my selections being fairly random, I didn’t have to go too far down each year’s rankings to find a suitable candidate. Less surprising was how I ended up sitting through so much mediocrity. While I have always been aware of the supposed historical importance of a Modern Sounds In Country & Western, a Zen Arcade or a Back To Black, without the cultural context of the times they were seriously underwhelming. Thankfully not all of my selections were quite so ordinary. From a total of 55 albums, 11 are now on my iPod, significantly more than I expected.
Anyway, here they are, rated and reviewed, the albums I managed to go my entire life without hearing.
ETTA JAMES / AT LAST (November 1960)
8 / Best Track ‘My Dearest Darling’
Etta James should be right up there with Aretha yet her pivotal role in the genesis of soul as a genre in its own right is often forgotten. A great debut album with a great title song, At Last runs through her repertoire of blues and jazz standards and a handful of originals that are even more impressive.
BOBBY BLAND / TWO STEPS FROM THE BLUES (January 1961)
6 / Best Track ‘Cry Cry Cry’
Whereas At Last has retained its original energy and class, Two Steps From The Blues sounds more like a musty museum exhibit kept under glass for the past half century. While I can appreciate the skill and craft in songs like ‘Cry Cry Cry’ and ‘Don’t Cry No More’, proficiency is no substitute for vigour.
RAY CHARLES / MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY & WESTERN (April 1962)
4 / Best Track ‘You Win Again’
Oh dear, the wishy washy, easy listening aura of Modern Sounds In Country & Western reminds me of mahogany encased stereograms, polyester carpets, fake leather sofas, Jim Reeves records and a budgie in a cage; in short, my Auntie Joan’s 1960’s council flat. And believe me, that’s not a good thing.
PHIL SPECTOR / A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU (November 1963)
3 / Best Track ‘The Bells Of St Mary’ Bobb B Soxx & The Blue Jeans
In 1963 the nutty professor’s A Christmas Gift For You was considered a bit of a revolutionary move, even when it bombed out commercially. Released on the same day as JFK’s assassination, it was roundly ignored by a grieving nation in no mood to celebrate the festive season. Then again, despite The Ronettes and Crystals contributions being renowned, seasonal classics, Christmas tunes are a dog at the best of times.
JERRY LEE LEWIS / LIVE AT THE STAR CLUB, HAMBURG (June 1964)
7 / Best Track ‘Mean Woman Blues’
This legendary 37 minutes is the last known evidence of Jerry Lee in his role as fire and brimstone, rocknrollin’ preacher. Seven years after his chartbusting peak, with his devilish power and commitment to primordial, fucked up, craziness still burning bright, Live At The Star Club lets us know exactly why they used to call him The Killer.
THE ANIMALS / ANIMAL TRACKS (May 1965)
2 / Best Track ‘How You’ve Changed’
British Beat circa 1965 was full of youthful blues worshipper’s like The Animals and albums stuffed with snoozy rhythm & blues tunes like Animal Tracks. Selling them back to white American kids who knew no better may have been a stroke of genius but that doesn’t mean they were any good.
SIMON & GARFUNKEL / PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY & THYME (October 1966)
8 / Best Track ‘Patterns’
When music scholars get all misty eyed about the sixties they inevitably refer to psychedelia, the genre that promised so much yet delivered so little. Maybe it’s just me but fifty years on the 12 songs of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme evoke both the optimism and rage of sixties youth far better than San Francisco’s tedious, spaced out, blues doodles.
LEONARD COHEN / SONGS OF LEONARD COHEN (December 1967)
6 / Best Track ‘So Long Marianne’
A thirty something master poet seeking a mass audience, Leonard Cohen introduced his bohemian, confessional themes to the sixties party just as the world at large was falling apart. Yet while his words are more intriguing and emotive than most singer songwriters, sitting through a full 40 minutes of such strumming proved a real test of endurance.
ARETHA FRANKLIN / LADY SOUL (January 1968)
9 / Best Track ‘People Get Ready’
This may be a cliché but over 10 songs and 30 minutes, Lady Soul is so consistently brilliant and so completely worthy, it might just be the very definition of soul. Pushing more into swaggering rhythm and blues than the heavenly pop and soul of her classic I Never Loved A Man, Aretha, her sisters and the Muscle Shoals mob transform it into the thrilling masterpiece it so obviously is.
BEE GEES / ODESSA (March 1969)
7 / Best Track ‘Lamplight’
There’s nothing Rock’s Rich Tapestry loves more than the long lost, grand artistic statement. And there are none grander or more lost than the red velvet covered Odessa which is a shame because it’s timeless, kitchen sink approach to chamber pop, psychedelia, prog and country, all glued together by the Gibb brothers trademark harmonies, do make for a genuinely absorbing album.
CAT STEVENS / TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN (November 1970)
9 / Best Track ‘On The Road To Find Out’
One of my most loyal friends died recently. A former hardcore skinhead self-analysing his way through the fucked up childhood that moulded him into a raging, vengeful racist, somewhat ironically, his sole source of comfort came from his father’s Cat Stevens records. Not knowing too much about the future Yusuf Islam, I had no idea why until I listened to Tea For The Tillerman and realised how its questioning nature must have been the inspiration he so desperately needed to find the answers within his own life.
CAN / TAGO MAGO (February 1971)
9 / Best Track ‘Halleluhwah’
I picked out Tago Mago to give it a pasting; to shatter Can’s critical reputation as the epitome of cool. But with my pen poised, ready and willing to deliver the killer words, I was instantly mesmerised by their long, gloriously avant-garde, funk grooves, Damo Suzuki’s caveman babble and a creeping, woozy sense of unease that conjured up memories of late seventies, post punk artfulness rather than early seventies, post hippy cosmic rock.
TODD RUNDGREN / SOMETHING/ANYTHING (February 1972)
6 / Best Track ‘Couldn’t I Just Tell You’
Todd Rundgren has a reputation as a bit of a seventies Godd so I felt sure I’d appreciate this epic, 25 song double. Yet while it does contain some very sweet tunes, they are soured by the preponderance of the more off the wall stuff which turns Something/Anything into a prime candidate for the theoretical double-album-as-single game.
ISLEY BROTHERS / 3 + 3 (August 1973)
8 / Best Track ‘Sunshine (Go Away Today)’
Finding themselves outdated, irrelevant and facing their own mortality, in the early seventies the veteran Isley’s introduced their younger brothers and cousin, reworked a couple of cocaine cowboy songs, relinquished their sweet, sixties sound for a wholly original, juiced up dynamic and somehow came up with one of the greatest, almost but not quite rock, R&B albums ever.
JONI MITCHELL / COURT AND SPARK (January 1974)
4 / Best Track ‘Car On A Hill’
In 1974, any self-respecting teenage boy went out of his way to avoid Joni Mitchell and the sophisticated jazz pop of Court And Spark. It was exactly the kind of thing my middle aged father would nod off to on a Sunday afternoon. Now I’m middle aged and prone to nodding off myself, I can’t deny that it does contain the odd moment of poetic beauty. The trouble is that with most of the songs so remarkably similar, it ends up sounding like one long, excruciatingly monotonous drone.
10CC / THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (March 1975)
3 / Best Track ‘The Film Of My Love’
10cc were secret pleasure favourite’s decades before the concept had even been considered so I expected The Original Soundtrack to blow me away with its cheesy genius. What I wasn’t expecting was a smart-arse, power pop version of the Floyd, a three part rock opera suite and an imaginary film theme that is the only decent thing on it apart from the untouchable slow dance staple ‘I’m Not In Love’.
DR FEELGOOD / STUPIDITY (September 1976)
5 / Best Track ‘Going Back Home’
Following the art for art’s sake malaise of 10cc and their pretentious like, the back to mono spirit of pub rock sowed the first seeds of revolution in the spit and sawdust taverns of ye olde London town. Dr Feelgood were by far the best of the ale guzzling bunch but the passage of time hasn’t been kind, Stupidity’s vintage, rockin’, rhythm & blues no better or worse than any other decent covers band; good for a drunken night out but not a lot else.
THE STRANGLERS / RATTUS NORVEGICUS (April 1977)
4 / Best Track ‘Goodbye Toulouse’
The Stranglers were for kids who were just a little too young to be involved in punk. In my circle they were definitely persona non gratae but listening to Rattus Norvegicus for the first time, the attraction of technically accomplished songs like ‘Sometimes’, ‘Hanging Around’ and ‘Grip’ is obvious, especially if you were a 13 or 14 year old lad with raging hormones. In 1977 I heard a lot worse from complete amateurs but the one thing they had that The Stranglers don’t was that all important punk spirit. And in 1977, no matter how good a musician you were, if you didn’t have that you were nothing.
CHIC / C’EST CHIC (August 1978)
5 / Best Track ‘I Want Your Love’
Apart from ‘Le Freak’ and the fantastic full length version of ‘I Want Your Love’, C’est Chic is not so much a collection of songs as an OK ballad and five lacklustre disco workouts with some nifty guitar hooks. Hardly an album at all, it has an odd half decorated feel as if it’s still awaiting it’s final, glossy, top coat.
FLEETWOOD MAC / TUSK (October 1979)
7 / Best Track ‘The Ledge’
A rock canon staple and a gargantuan double of 20 songs, Tusk is far more enjoyable than Rumours if only because of Lindsay Buckingham’s barely perceptible, subversive bent and wilful experimentation. Not that the Mac had suddenly morphed into Throbbing Gristle or anything but by supergroup standards songs such as ‘The Ledge’, ‘Not That Funny’ and the title track were surprisingly acerbic, abrasive and lo fi. I could even grow to love it!
UB40 / SIGNING OFF (August 1980)
6 / Best Track ‘Burden Of Shame’
There can be no excuses for the heinous crimes UB40 committed in the name of pop culture although there was a time, before the reggae karaoke and the easy money, when they were heavily engaged in a collective, political consciousness pouring scorn and fury on the Tory Reich. What’s more, their early singles were scarily good. While Signing Off doesn’t quite scale the same heights, originals like ‘Burden Of Shame’ and ‘Madam Medusa’ do provide a unique snapshot of British social history that captures a sense of helpless frustration just as applicable today as it was back then.
ABBA / THE VISITORS (November 1981)
9 / Best Track ‘The Visitors’
Abba created dozens of great, upbeat pop singles throughout their long career, but if I thought The Visitors would be a frothy distraction from the heavy duty seriousness of the early eighties I was mistaken. Sure, Bjorn and Benny’s pop craft remains intact, but in a sad reflection of their disintegrating personal lives, they prefer to weave haunting tales about moving on after losing everything while simultaneously looking back and wondering what might have been. A wonderfully cohesive, heartfelt work, it is definitely worth investing some time in.
LAURIE ANDERSON / BIG SCIENCE (April 1982)
7 / Best Track ‘From The Air’
In 1982 I hated ‘O Superman’ so it’s just as well I’ve become attuned to such breathy, off the wall epics. Eerily contemporary, the rest of Big Science is even better, the title track, ‘From The Air’, ‘Example #22’ and ‘Let X=X’ transforming it into a strangely compelling and surprising album of wonky tunes and future prophesy lyrics.
THE POLICE / SYNCHRONICITY (June 1983)
1 / Best Track ‘Synchronicity II’
The Police remain the favourite group of every no good, middle aged, stab-you-in-the-back, corporate manager I’ve ever had the misfortune to tangle with so I thought it was time I made the effort to discover how the three non-amigo’s continue to exert such a hold over that especially slimy corps of the Thatcher Youth. And believe it or not I think I’ve found the answer. Harking back to an age where efficiency was more highly regarded than anything remotely resembling passion, The Police’s clinical, soulless songs are the pop equivalent of the fascistic, Victorian values the Female Fuhrers bastard offspring were raised on.
HUSKER DU / ZEN ARCADE (July 1984)
6 / Best Track ‘Pink Turns To Blue’
Husker Du were the perennial outsiders in a cliquey American hardcore scene which explains why they were the critic’s group of choice. Zen Arcade has long been considered their highpoint yet while there’s just about enough variation in their typically gruff, thrash pop to keep me interested, when they stray from their well-honed formula into folk, noise instrumentals or backwards psychedelia, I can’t help feeling they were trying just that little too hard to be different.
PREFAB SPROUT / STEVE MCQUEEN (June 1985)
9 / Best Track ‘Bonny’
Paddy McAloon’s reputation as a new pop Elvis Costello put me right off his curiously named combo, but quite how this wondrous album continued to elude me is mystifying. Carrying a guile, grace and above all an intelligence that today’s so called tunesmith’s would do well to study, the opening quintet of ‘Faron Young’, ‘Bonny’, ‘Appetite’, ‘When Love Breaks Down’ and ‘Goodbye Lucille #1’ are five of the loveliest, saddest pop songs you’ll ever hear.
PAUL SIMON / GRACELAND (August 1986)
8 / Best Track ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’
It’s taken me an age to catch up with Graceland but I’m glad that finally I have. Born out of a middle aged storyteller who’d lost his muse and the controversy surrounding apartheid era South Africa, the albums captivating rhythms, stirring harmonies and memorable lyrics, particularly on the Ladysmith Black Mambazo collaborations, really are are quite dazzling examples of two opposing cultures bridging the divide.
TOM WAITS / FRANK’S WILD YEARS (August 1987)
6 / Best Track ‘Yesterday Is Here’
There’s no getting away from it, Tom Wait’s is an acquired taste. Selecting Frank’s Wild Years was my umpteenth attempt to get into the grizzled, old, hobo and once again I failed. Of course, like any decent film or play the songs here are all very accomplished, but the best albums are those that take you to another place and then allow you to create your own images and meaning. My problem with Tom Waits is that he is so literal he leaves nothing to the imagination.
TRACY CHAPMAN / TRACY CHAPMAN (April 1988)
1 / Best Track ‘Mountains O’ Things’
I couldn’t remember anything about Tracy Chapman and listening to her forgettable brand of bluesy folk I can understand why. Pushing a condescending, naïve kind of ideology, it only seems to work on her more personal subject matter, notably ‘Fast Cars’ and ‘Mountain O’ Things’, neither of which are particularly memorable.
THE CURE / DISINTEGRATION (May 1989)
10 / Best Track ‘Disintegration’
Of all the albums here, Disintegration came as the biggest shock and the greatest delight. Best heard on headphones in a darkened room, it’s a magnificent, all consuming epic, the grinding intensity of the music constantly weaving its hypnotic spell to reveal a lyrical wonder of the most despairing kind. The heroic gloom and doom of a deeply troubled soul, for 72 minutes I became fully immersed in Robert Smith’s sorrowful wonder until the wheezing strains of ‘Untitled’ faded and I was able to rise from the depths and embrace the light once more. Incredible!
LL COOL J / MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT (September 1990)
7 / Best Track ‘Eat ‘Em Up L Chill ’
Still barely in his twenties, in 1990 LL Cool J may have been a onetime colossus of the mic but creatively he was on the scrapheap. Mama Said Knock You Out sounds like it was a return to form of sorts, packed full of LL’s typically boisterous, braggadicious rap but with his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek rather than up his own arse.
TEENAGE FANCLUB / BANDWAGONESQUE (September 1991)
2 / Best Track ‘Star Sign’
A few younger folks I know recommended Teenage Fanclub because of the pedigree of their influences. What they didn’t tell me was that Bandwagonesque is guilty of such blatant plagiarism, I had to check to make sure I hadn’t selected Big Star by mistake.
PAVEMENT / SLANTED & ENCHANTED (April 1992)
7 / Best Track ‘Here’
Much like Teenage Fanclub, everything about Pavement screams indie and American indie at that. But you know what? While the last thing I’d normally choose to listen to is this bunch of musical luddites, with its genuinely catchy, lo-fi tunes and surrealist poetry, Slanted & Enchanted does possess a certain charm.
SNOOP DOGGY DOGG / DOGGYSTYLE (November 1993)
5 / Best Track ‘Pump Pump’
The skit is the curse of the hip hop album and Doggystyle is full of them. Unfortunately it’s also full of the kind of offensive gun toting, macho, sexist bullshit rhymes that turned nineties hip hop into a grim old business. Luckily the music is so pump, pump, pumpin’ it’s worth 5/10 on its own.
GREEN DAY / DOOKIE (February 1994)
3 / Best Track ‘Longview’
In the early noughties, without realising it, for three consecutive birthdays a onetime friend of mine gave me a copy of Dookie without removing the price stickers. Clearly I ranked highly in his estimation. Of course, I wasn’t interested in the slightest so never played any of them but it was intriguing to see how the price reduced each year. In the end it was being given away for a quid. Having wasted 80 minutes of my life listening to its simplistic, pop punk, there’s no way I would even have paid that for it.
LEFTFIELD / LEFTISM (January 1995)
9 / Best Track ‘Inspection (Check One)’
This is more like it. Unbeknown to me, the duo who somehow converted John Lydon to the dance music cause also managed to cross the gaping chasm between techno and the mainstream on Leftism, their own, unique manifesto of sublime chill out, bass heavy dub, African tribal chants and snarling dance punk. Expertly sequenced, irresistibly spiky and with such diversity, why would anyone bother with Green Day when they could listen to this?
BELLE & SEBASTIAN / IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER (November 1996)
7 / Best Track ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’
Fearing the irritatingly twee type of indie pop that trades on a kind of extended childhood, If You’re Feeling Sinister triumphs where others get bargain binned solely because of Stuart Murdoch’s clever, barbed lyrics. Best illustrated on the title track, a wonderful five minute sneer at religion, his sarcasm and witty bitterness make this an album of unexpected delights.
RONI SIZE REPRAZENT / NEW FORMS (May 1997)
5 / Best Track ‘New Forms’
‘Brown Paper Bag’ was a favourite in our house yet something stopped me following it up with the parent album. Almost twenty years later, the first thing to notice is how much EDM has moved on since 1997. Sounding horribly dated, and with its unnecessarily long tracks stretched out over two discs, ultimately New Forms is repetitive, disappointing and dare I say it, a bit of a snooze.
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL / IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA (February 1998)
8 / Best Track ‘Holland, 1945’
An obscure ‘classic’ even those in the know don’t know, Neutral Milk Hotel beat Teenage Fanclub, Pavement and Belle & Sebastian hands down by weaving their strange magic from a baffling array of historical instruments and references impossible to pin down. Said to be inspired by Anne Frank’s diary, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’s flailing weirdness, vivid imagery and emotional honesty place it firmly in a league of its own making.
THE FLAMING LIPS / THE SOFT BULLETIN (May 1999)
5 / Best Track ‘What Is The Light?’
There is so much about The Soft Bulletin that I should like yet The Flaming Lips sound so besotted by classic rock all I can hear is Neil Young fronting 10cc. In other words, another bunch of wise guys who would have made a far better album if only they’d toned down the pretentiousness a notch or two.
BADLY DRAWN BOY / THE HOUR OF THE BEWILDERBEAST (June 2000)
4 / Best Track ‘The Shining’
Damon Gough’s trawl through every facet of the indie songbook packs a lot into The Hour Of Bewilderbeast’s 18 tracks; neo psychedelia, Americana, piano ballads, instrumentals, even a disco pastiche. Versatile and capable it’s got the lot which is possibly why it never gets going. Naturally it does its utmost to be quirky and interesting but by the time I got halfway through, my mind had already started to wander, never to return.
MUSE / ORIGIN OF SYMMETRY (July 2001)
4 / Best Track ‘Darkshines’
Bombastic, fantastical and on occasion seriously rocking, I’ve always had a soft spot for Muse’s stupid glam prog hokum and Origin Of Symmetry is business as usual. Of course, I know it’s inconsequential and has no true artistic value but at least it’s a right good laugh.
WILCO / YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT (April 2002)
9 / Best Track ‘I’m The Man Who Loves You’
Lavished with praise and hyperbole, in the critically stitched fabric of Rock’s Rich Tapestry, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is held up as Wilco’s grand statement. The strange thing is that it doesn’t sound very grand at all. Laid back, spontaneous and homespun, no matter how serious their subject matter, at heart the likes of ‘Jesus. Etc’, ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’, ‘Ashes Of American Flags’ and the melodically remarkable ‘I’m The Man Who Loves You’ are all strummy, acoustic singalongs with that extra special ability to beam a little sunshine into your day.
WHITE STRIPES / ELEPHANT (April 2003)
6 / Best Track ‘Ball And Biscuit’
Over the years I’ve written so many long, disparaging treaties about The White Stripes it’s gotten kind of boring. Besides, these days I seem to have far more of an appetite for their punky blues party. In fact, when Ol’ Jack manages to get his guitar screeching à la Jimmy Page on ‘Ball And Biscuit’, it sends a shiver right down to my groin.
THE KILLERS / HOT FUSS (June 2004)
1 / Best Track ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’
As a wise old punk once said: ’Oh fuck it’s awful. I hate songs like that. Stop it. Torture’.
THE MARS VOLTA / FRANCES THE MUTE (March 2005)
3 / Best Track ‘L’Via L’Viaquez’
Featuring just five tracks that vary in length from six minutes to over half an hour, Frances The Mute is predictably mammoth, supremely proficient yet insultingly pompous. Of course I knew it was never going to be an album of short, hummable pop songs although strangely, it is possible to detect some very decent tunes buried somewhere within its unwieldy, barely indistinguishable, prog-a-like movements.
AMY WINEHOUSE / BACK TO BLACK (October 2006)
4 / Best Track ‘Me & Mr Jones’
It strikes me that Back To Black’s immense impact and reputation has suffered somewhat under the sheer weight of R&B traditionalism it inspired. Listening to Amy Winehouse’s heartbreaking, boozy blues, soul and jazz in 2015, the songs sound so full of production tricks and clichés that her indomitable spirit and incredible voice get lost in a functional, retro pop album that to all intents and purposes is just one step away from Adele.
THE NATIONAL / BOXER (May 2007)
3 / Best Track ‘Apartment Story’
When American bands like The National persist with the kind of huffy puffy, white boy, college rock that’s at least two decades past its sell by date, I tend to throw my hands up in despair and question just how much modern music culture really has progressed. Seriously, who can be arsed with ineffectual crap like this?
PORTISHEAD / THIRD (April 2008)
10 / Best Track ‘Threads’
After my obligatory two plays, I marked Third down as 5/10; an album of unrelenting misery by a once majestic group who had regressed to sound like the runners up in some early eighties local band contest. And yet a feeling that I’d missed something kept gnawing away at me until I relented and played it again and again and again. Only then did Third’s full majesty reveal itself. Unsettling and unbearably grim it may be, and with Beth Gibbons sounding so exhausted and completely devoid of hope it does come across like the last, startling broadcast from a post apocalypse bunker, but then where is it written that brilliant albums have to be cheerful. And Third really is brilliant!
FLORENCE & THE MACHINE / LUNGS (July 2009)
2 / Best Track ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’
Manufactured rock by numbers for middle aged dinner parties. Never believe the hype.
KANYE WEST / MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY (November 2010)
9 / Best Track ‘Runaway’
I fell out of love with hip hop ten years ago but after hearing this I might just have to start listening again. Publicly Kanye West is a fairly loathsome egomaniac but if My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is anything to go by, the man still possesses at least a spark of genius. ‘Lost In The World’, ‘Hell Of A Life’, an extended ‘Runaway’, in fact the entire album carries a musical brilliance and wide eyed honesty that is both exhilarating and rare, certainly in the dying embers of rap.
ADELE / 21 (January 2011)
1 / Best Track ‘I’ll Be Waiting’
Retro soul for the X Factor generation, Adele is a reminder of how the public gets what the publics wants; a great big black hole filled with hollow, soap opera sized emotions equating to nothingness. Positive proof that the albums that sell are those bought by people who don’t like music.
FRANK OCEAN / CHANNEL ORANGE (July 2012)
8 / Best Track ‘Forrest Gump’
By restoring some much needed credibility to R&B’s faded reputation and artistry, Frank Ocean has done something I no longer believed possible. Channel Orange is not quite perfect, but the occasional splash of avant-garde weirdness and the open minded self-confidence of songs such as ‘Pyramids’ and ‘Super Rich Kids’ prove that you don’t have to be an industry puppet or a media whore to sell truckloads of albums.
ARCADE FIRE / REFLEKTOR (October 2013)
3 / Best Track ‘Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)’
In 2009, Arcade Fire sent my son off to war with the grandeur of Neon Bible ringing in his ears. In 2010, the quiet desperation of The Suburbs helped me come to terms with the overwhelming sorrow of his death and start living again, albeit tentatively. In 2013, Reflektor was an album I kept meaning to hear but never did, perhaps because subconsciously I knew it could never match the importance of its predecessors. And like a sad, self-fulfilling prophesy it doesn’t, being so ordinary I really struggled to find a favourite track.
RUN THE JEWELS / RUN THE JEWELS 2 (October 2014)
9 / Best Track ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’
Following months of listening that took far longer than predicted, I was mighty relieved to finally get to Run The Jewels 2. I’d completely forgotten how time consuming albums could be but I also knew that if I hadn’t decided to go through this exercise, Run The Jewels would never have crossed my path. And that would have been a shame because the rabble rousing, incendiary noise they make is remarkable. In fact it’s so good that together with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it has renewed my faith in hip hop. What more could I ask for from any album?