I'm fairly sure that I am in the minority when I say that I prefer this album to its more critically acclaimed successor Elephant (from 2003). While I would probably nominate Elephant as the more cohesive of the two albums, this is the one I find myself wanting to return to more.
Why? Because it has the tunes! Yes, Elephant has the wonderful Seven nation army (probably their most well-known song). But I'd controversially argue that Hotel yorba and Fell in love with a girl are better songs.
There's some lesser-known tracks throughout which have amazing melodies, in particular I'm finding it harder to be a gentleman, The same boy you're always known and I can't wait. The chord progression and lyrics of Offend in every way never fail to make me happy whenever I listen to it. We're going to be be friends sounds musically like a lost Kinks song, with its lyrics something that we can all relate to: the nervous excitement of the first day of school.
Then there's the song fragments, like Little room, Expecting and Aluminum. You could argue that they are needless filler, but for some strange reason just add to the charm of this record.
And talking of charm? Dig the middle section of The union forever where Jack White just decides to start singing There is a man from Citizen Kane, a song which was also parodied in The Simpsons. And what about the dynamic theatrics of I think I smell a rat? Wonderful stuff. These moments give the record a fun unpolished feel, making it sound more like an amazing jam session than a record that has been approved for release by a record company.
This is a great garage rock record which doesn't take itself too seriously.
The early noughties were an exciting time for Super Furry Animals fans. They had just released 4 albums of quirky Welsh pop: highly acclaimed debut Fuzzy logic (1996), career peak and masterpiece Radiator (1997), eclectic mix-tape Guerrilla (1999) and the gothic folk of Mwng (2000), the latter of which was recorded entirely in their native tongue of Welsh. For those keeping count at home, that's 4 incredible albums in 5 years. That's close to what the Beatles achieved during the 60s.
Then they were signed to a major label (Epic), a well-deserved move for a band who deserved much wider acclaim. Rings around the world was their major label debut. I was already a big fan by this stage (thanks Pete!), so this was high on my "most anticipated" albums list. When I heard that it was going to be the first album to be released simultaneously on CD and DVD (in glorious 5.1 surround sound), the anticipation levels rose even more.
Major label debuts can often be disastrous for bands who don't know how to use the extra money and studio facilities tastefully. Thankfully these quirky Welshmen found a good balance between their earlier DIY sound and pushing forward in new sonic directions.
Every song on this album is a perfect microcosm of what makes SFA so great and what differentiates them from almost every other band on the planet. Book-ended by its two mellowest tracks (Alternate route to Vulcan Street and Fragile happiness), Gruff Rhys and co. take us on an eclectic adventure through a wide palette of sounds: Beach Boys on acid (the title track), bouncy pop vs. caveman death metal (Receptacle for the respectable), dark folk vs. epilepsy-inducing techno (No sympathy), synth-pop re-imagined for the 2000s (Juxtaposed with u), and the alt-country of Run! Christian, run!
Even the songs which sound more wide-screen and accessible than anything they previously released (It's not the end of the world?, Shoot Doris Day, Juxtaposed with u) could hardly be called sell-outs, as they still fit in with their M.O. of delivering quirky Welsh pop to their legions of fans.
The album is gloriously topped off by Presidential suite, their response to the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal of the late 90s. That they are able to juxtapose such a filthy lyric with such a stunning melody is testament to their quirky genius. This song would be the highlight of a lesser band's entire career: here it is merely a cheeky highlight of an album full of them.
Critics often refer to the concept of a "sophomore slump", where a band who released an accomplished debut album fail to follow it up with a high quality second album. In many ways, I think the 3rd album is more important: you can quite easily forgive a band for resting on their laurels for their 2nd album (they are probably tired from all the touring!) but they better not release a carbon copy for album number 3 if they don't want to feel the wrath of the critics (I'm looking at you, Strokes!1)
Something For Kate were thankfully a band who didn't peak too soon. Debut album Elsewhere for 8 minutes (1997) was a fairly lo-fi and rough affair with a few really great songs (Captain, Pinstripe), but I'd be lying if I said it didn't sound like a debut album.
Follow-up Beautiful sharks (1999) showed how they had matured since their debut, learning how to use lightness and shade to stunning effect. It's an album where you knew that they could go the distance. All ears were open to hear if they could follow it up with an equally impressive effort.
Then they released Echolalia (2001), their first album of the new decade and millenium. From the moment the stunning opener Stunt show started playing on that first listen, all doubts were quickly put to bed. You could hear straight away what gigantic leaps they had made in the songwriting (and particular melody) department.
Beautiful sharks had some superb songs on it, but a lot of the appeal of that album was also in its intangible vibe which grew over repeated listens. Echolalia showed that Paul Dempsey and co. could write songs which stood on their own merits -- in particular, Three dimensions, Monsters and Say something are some of the finest rock songs of the last 10 years.
As good as those songs are, there really isn't a duff moment on the record. From the dark character study of Jerry, stand up, to the exciting dynamics of Feeding the birds and hoping for something in return, to the understated beauty of closer White, this is a remarkable effort from a great Australian band who showed that they could play in the big league.
1Okay, So First impressions of earth wasn't exactly a carbon copy, but it was definitely a patchy affair.
There's a lot of albums which appeal to me because they evoke memories of certain times of my life, and this is one of them. A lot of the songs on this album bring back memories of the early years when my wife and I started dating. Romantic nostalgia aside, this is an album that I still find myself returning to often. While not as innovative as their superb career peak Achtung baby (1991), it has aged a lot better for me than their critical darlings The Joshua Tree (1987) and War (1983), amongst others.
Humility has never been one of Bono's strongest traits, and what makes this album play so well for me is that it eschews the political in favour of the personal. Other than its token cringe-worthy moment (Peace on earth), most of the songs are about things that we can all relate to on one level or another. Almost every song is a highlight -- there's the storming opener Beautiful day, the touching Michael Hutchence tribute Stuck in a moment you can't get out of, the romantic In a little while (with one of Bono's best vocal performances) and the atmospheric story-telling of New York.
This album will go down in history as one of Bono's rare moments of lucidity in a sometimes pretentious discography. You don't always have to change the world.
The Libertines (fronted by Pete Doherty and Carl Barât) only released two albums in their short career, and this storming debut remains one of the great indie rock albums of the decade.
Simultaneously powerful and melodic, this album is evidence of Doherty's talent -- if only he could stay off the drugs for a while, who knows what else he could accomplish? Credit needs to be given to producer Mick Jones (formerly of The Clash) who managed to find the perfect balance between their rock (Vertigo, The boy looked at Johnny), pop (Up the bracket, Horrorshow) and more subdued (Radio America) sides. The diversity of the sound which the band and Jones achieve on this album, and its sense of dynamics, is what makes it such a pleasure to return to time after time.
But what makes this more than just "another indie rock album by the latest flavour of the month" is the story-telling ability and vocal delivery of all of the songs here. Like Mike Skinner of the Streets, Doherty and Barât know how to engage the listener: each song is a self-contained gem which puts you (the listener) in the middle of the action. From the "please kill me" refrain in Death on the stairs, to the class struggles depicted in Time for heroes, to the New York (Soho) tribute in The boy looked at Johnny ("everybody goes La de di la de di da diddy") -- there isn't a boring moment on the whole album.
Full of remarkable twists, turns of phrase and more hooks than a pirate convention -- this album is the dog's bollocks.