Friday, 12 November 2004

Top 10 Years For Album Releases - #5

Another unmotivated Friday, another blog post :-)

Time to continue the controversial countdown. Good to see more interactivity from the readers lately -- it seems the years I am discussing are bringing back lots of good (and sometimes bad) memories. If you haven't contributed yet, feel free to do so. Just remember - opinions are like assholes. They stink if they are not kept clean.

#5: 2000

Ahhh...2000. The dawning of a new era (as "The Specials" once sang on their eponymous album from 1979). The year when everything was supposed to end. The millenium bug, which turned out to be nothing but propaganda from IT companies wanting to make a quick buck "securing" your system against the possibility that the world was going to end when the clock ticked over to midnight on January 1st. As anyone who lived through this knows, nothing terribly exciting happened at midnight. Hopefully we will be prepared for the Y10K bug. Imagine what will happen when they discover that 4 digits for the date isn't enough! I can see the futuristic scare tactics now...

Anyway, it was still the dawning of a new millenium. This was also the year that Jarvis Cocker of Pulp planned to meet up for a disco, thinking that it would be pretty strange when everyone was fully grown. I was there at 2 o'clock by the fountain down the road, but Jarvis didn't turn up. I was heartbroken. Anyway, it was quite amazing that we actually lived through the changing of a millenium. Not many get to experience this. This was also the year I started full time work, having completed my uni degree the previous year. As you could imagine, my music consumption increased by a huge amount at the dawning of the noughties. More money == More music. So without further ado, let's start talking about the music.

There was two classic debut albums released in 2000. One was by the local Shepparton band Augie March, who released their breathtaking Sunset studies album. These guys are truly one of the most talented bands around at the moment, and this was an amazingly mature album to be released as a debut album. Many bands would take 5-6 albums to release this level of brilliance. The 'March only had 2 EPs, Thanks for the memes and Waltz. Anyway, Sunset studies is not an easily listen (at 76 minutes), but it's an album which grows on you and embeds itself into your soul. You will quite literally fall in love with this album. Each listen will reveal a new track to be your favourite. Some tracks which you initially hated will astound you with their beauty on the 12th listen. It's a tragedy that these guys probably won't get the worldwide recognition their deserve, because they are up there with Radiohead as one of the great bands of today. If you ever get the chance, see them live -- they are sensational, and the witty banter between Glenn (the singer) and Dave (the drummer) is priceless.

Another album which came out of the blue in 2000 was Badly Drawn Boy's debut The hour of bewilderbeast. I remember reading about this album in Q magazine (as I was an avid reader at the time), and really admiring the cover art. Thanks to Kazaa (or maybe it was Napster at the time), I downloaded Once around the block and was very impressed. I decided to take the risk and it certainly paid off -- a masterful indie-folk debut album which was completely original at the time and stood out from a lot of crap that was being released at the time. Unfortunately, BDB (aka Damon Gough) has never been able to top this debut album, although he has released 3 more albums of quality varying from superb to below average.

Another artist I got into in 2000 was Elliott Smith. I purchased his album Figure 8 after a friend (who I don't really keep in touch with anymore) raved about this artist. I had a JB voucher and decided to take a risk and buy Figure 8, which had just been released if I remember correctly. Even though Figure 8 didn't absolutely blow me away at the time (and it still doesn't impress me as much as most of his other albums), it did a very important thing -- opened me up to the genius of this young singer/songwriter. I subsequently purchased all of his albums (in reverse order and at increasingly high costs ;-) and he became one of my favourite solo artists of all time. When I first heard about his death in September 2003 (via an SMS from Matt) I was quite upset. it was a first for me -- the first time an artist had died in their prime while I was a huge fan of their work. Now I know how people must have felt when Jeff Buckley and Kurt Cobain died. I know that Badly Drawn Boy knew what he was doing the night those two gentlemen died.

Then there was Radiohead and a certain controversial album known as Kid A. This was the first time Radiohead had released an album while I was a fan of them. I had purchased all their albums up to this point, but long after they had been released. I was very much into Radiohead and had heard rumours that their new album was going to be difficult, but nothing could have really prepared me for the first listen. Triple J played the album all the way through several days before it was released, and I remember Pete, Andy and I (maybe others but I can't remember) sitting around at Andy's house listening to this new music unfold in front of our ears. I'm not sure if this is how people felt when they first heard Revolver or Sgt. Pepper's, and I can almost guarantee that Kid A will never been considered a classic like those albums, but there's no doubt that I felt like we were witnessing musical history that evening. Maybe I'm being melodramatic here, but it's quite interesting how whenever a band releases a "difficult" album (e.g. Wilco with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), it is termed "doing a Kid A". Another more sombre memory of this album was listening to it on the way to the funeral for a former schoolmate who had died from a heroin overdose in 2000. When I listen to this album, it does bring back memories of that. All in all, not a great album -- but still an important album in the big scheme of things.

Then there was a young up and coming band known as Coldplay, and their debut album Parachutes. I bought this one on Pete's recommendation -- I remember his comparisons between the lead singer and Jeff Buckley. Anyway, there are certainly some great tracks on this album -- notably opener Don't panic and Shiver, but it's a very lightweight album which doesn't really reward that much repeated listening. I preferred their sophomore release A rush of blood to the head, which I feel was a nice evolution for them and it took them out of their comfort zone. And that's more than can be said for Travis, who haven't really changed for 3 albums.

Then there was U2, who released their best album in 9 years -- All you can't leave behind. This is a really really great album. There's only 2 tracks I would consider weak -- Peace on earth (a bit too preachy) and Grace (which doesn't seem to go anywhere). Other than those, it's an extremely solid album with some great tunes. Even more considering they were still releasing albums this brilliant almost 20 years into their career.

Belle & Sebastian released their critically panned album Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant. Wow, that's a mouthful. Most critics dismissed this album because it was a much more democratic album compared to most B&S albums -- instead of Stuart Murdoch writing all the songs, several other band members put in contributions. Their criticisms seem to be ignoring several facts. Firstly, their previous album The boy with the arab strap had 4 songs written/sung by other band members. Secondly, Peasant is full of some brilliant songs. It has a little bit of filler (Beyond the sunrise is probably my least favourite B&S song) but it also has some of my favourite B&S songs: The model, Waiting for the moon to rise and There's too much love.

And now to some other notable albums from twenty-dickity-zero:
  • Cosmic Rough Riders - Enjoy the melodic sunshine (there certainly is a lot of melodic sunshine to be enjoyed here. These Glaswegians, like Teenage Fanclub, sure know how to write a nice tune.)
  • The Cure - Bloodflowers (considered to be the final installment in their gloom trilogy started with Pornography and Disintegration, luckily this wasn't a Godfather Part III. Quite a beautiful album in parts, even if it's not the masterpiece it was trying to be.)
  • Placebo - Black market music (there are some excellent songs on here including Special K -- which was originally titled Fruit Loops before Brian Molko decided it was too autobiographical. I can't help but feel that their formula had been overused by this point though.)
  • Super Furry Animals - Mwng (SFA release their all-Welsh album! There's only one thing that can be said about this album. Ond ar y cyfan roedd y camau yn weigion, Y swigod coch yn llosgi fel gwreichion, Um cam ymlaen am ddwy aneffeithlon!)
  • Dandy Warhols - Thirteen tales from urban bohemia (many may be tempted to call their guys a novelty band, but this is a really solid album with some great musical moments. It has its fair share of novelty moments as well, many of which are brilliant -- like Get off.)
  • Doves - Lost souls (the debut album from this Manchester band is a beautiful one but they would reach their full potential on the follow up The last broadcast.)
  • Grandaddy - The sophtware slump (some great play-on words in the album title, luckily this wasn't a sophomore slump for Grandaddy. In the vein of OK Computer, this was a concept album on mankind vs. the fast paced world of today -- albeit in a much more direct way. This album has a song on it called Jed the humanoid, about a home-made robot who drinks himself to death. Need I say more?)
  • XTC - Wasp star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (the follow-up to the excellent Apple Venus, this is a harder rocking album -- relatively speaking. Some great songs on this album, but I can't say I have listened to it for a while.)
  • Ed Harcourt - Maplewood (Ed's first EP, this is very different from his first album proper Here be monsters. He seemed to be much more influenced by Tom Waits on this album, while on HBM he showed off his beautiful singing voice more.)
  • Gomez released 2 CDs this year. There was their B-Sides and rarities compilation Abandoned shopping trolley hotline which had a lot of interesting stuff, and a lot of filler as well. Then there was their EP Machismo which had its moments, but nothing to write home about.
  • PJ Harvey - Stories from the city, stories from the sea (this one was very critically acclaimed and while I appreciate it for what it is, it's not something that I have the urge to listen to very often.)
  • Powderfinger - Odyssey number five (this is their most commercial album to date, and I think it may also be their highest seller. In a similar vein to their previous album Internationalist, it has a much more polished production but unfortunately the songwriting quality isn't as good.)
  • Goldfrapp - Felt mountain (a very moody and atmospheric album. Not one of my absolute favourites, and not something I find myself listening to very often, but still rewards me when I do listen to it.)
And finally some of the disappointments of 2000:
  • Oasis released 2 albums this year. Firstly, their was their 4th album proper -- Standing on the shoulder of giants. After their 2 classic debut albums, a solid yet overlong and self-indulgent follow-up Be here now, and a superb B-Sides compilation in The masterplan -- fans were expecting more. What really peeved me about this album was their reluctance to change -- this was simply Oasis-by-numbers. But even Oasis-by-numbers would be okay if they had the songs to back themselves up, and this album is severely lacking. Way too much filler on this album. They also released a double live album Familiar to millions. I think I've listened to this once since I purchased it. Maybe twice. I think that pretty much sums it up.
  • St Germain - Tourist (I know some of the other guys who will be reading this are much bigger fans of this album than I am, but this album has never really done it for me a heap. It's got some amazing songs, notably So flute, but as a whole I find it has a bit of a yuppie cafe feel to it. When I say that, I mean it reminds me of something they would play in a trendy establishment to make the place seem hipper than it is. If I get an urge to listen to jazz, I'd prefer to listen to something by Miles Davis or John Coltrane, rather than the electro-jazz on this album.)
  • Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (Billy Bragg & Wilco's first collaboration was a brilliant album that came out of the blue - a superb wedding of alt-country tunes and Woody Guthrie's lyrics. When listening to this sequel, one can only feel like these were the offcuts from the first album. Kinda like Amnesiac to the first album's Kid A.)
  • Primal Scream - Exterminator (this one got rave reviews. I am a huge fan of their '91 album Screamadelica. While that album successfully fused rock with the dance culture of the Madchester scene, Exterminator can be summed up with a simple word -- ugly. The music is heavy, the lyrics are dark -- but unlike The holy bible by the Manics', this album simply doesn't work for me.)
  • Bluetones - Science & Nature (this album is too novelty for my liking. I actually bought this without hearing anything by the band, and unfortunately it was one of my risks which didn't pay off. Their first album, Expecting to fly, is much better. But even that album has its faults.)
  • Muse - Showbiz (a decent debut album, but quite patchy. By their second album Origin of symmetry, they would improve immensely.)
  • Embrace - Drawn from memory (quite a nice sounding album in parts, but this band is really let down by Danny McNamara's weak vocals which need an injection of character.)
  • Tom McRae - Tom McRae (some stunning songs on this album, but lots of filler. And his voice is definitely an acquired taste which, like licorice, I have yet to acquire.)
  • Rivertribe - Journey (this album has the most interesting story on this list. I was at Knox Ozone shopping centre, and there was a chillout jazz/rock band with a definite Aboriginal influence playing there. I was very impressed with their music, so I decided to buy one of their CDs on the spot for $25. I asked one of the musicians about which CD I should buy, and after some discussion I purchased this one. It's a decent CD, but it's simple chillout music and thus nothing groundbreaking. But I guess $25 for a cool story is [kinda] worth it :-)
And that pretty much sums up the year. 'Twas certainly the dawning of a new era -- the noughties.

1 comment:

  1. A quick post for me (before heading off to the Agilent Ball!).

    What a year for music. You hit the nail on the head with most of the review. Let me reitterate...Sunset Studies and the Hour of Bewilderbeast will always rate as some of the 'prizes' in my collection.

    Figure 8 and Kid A (as you said) are two important albums from two of my favourite artists - though it's not their finest hour.

    All You Can't Leave Behind is a solid offering from U2 as is Odyssey Number 5 from Powderfinger (don't underrate this album it's still a winner from Brisbane's finest).

    Stories From The City... is a wonderful album but I don't listen to it a lot - not because it's not good - it is - but just because it's not really my kind of thing. But I like it all the same. PJ Harvey is the epitome of the rock chick.

    Parachutes is an amazing debut if you ask me - and I still like it more than A Rush of Blood... (which is, don't get me wrong, still good). Doesn't reward repeated listenings? Really?

    But yeah, you're on drugs if you can't hear the beauty of's a magnificent album! Although So Flute is the pinnacle there just isn't a bad song on the album. My only complain is that Ludovic Navarre is taking too long to release a follow up... :)

    And here's some others you missed (a bit outta left field):

    Britey Spears Oops!...I did It Again Who can forget that red skin-tight outfit? ;)

    Fatboy Slim Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars One of the more disappointing releases after the terrific You've Come A Long Way, Baby.

    A Perfect Circle Mer De Noms A strong, dark album - Judith is a highlight.


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