Saturday, December 19, 2009

OK--100 Top Albums of the Decade--IN ORDER

I have been coming under some pressure lately to list the top 100 albums of the decade as chosen by me, so I reevaluated many of the albums that made my favorites list and ordered them into a line. Here goes:

99) PRIMAL SCREAM--Xtrmntr
98) PIPETTES--We Are the Pipettes
97) LUCKY SOUL--The Great Unwanted
96) PATRICK WOLF--The Magic Position
95) YEAH YEAH YEAH'S--It's Blitz!
94) VAMPIRE WEEKEND--Vampire Weekend
93) FROU FROU--Details
92) PREFAB SPROUT--Let's Change the World With Music
91) FLAMING LIPS--Yoshimi vs. the Pink Robots

90) DAVID SYLVIAN--Manafon
89) DAVID SYLVIAN & NINE HORSES--Snow Borne Sorrow
88) DRAGONETTE--Fixin to Thrill
87) JUNIOR SENIOR--Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
86) SCRITTI POLITTI--White Bread Black Beer
85) SCOTT WALKER--The Drift
84) LAST SHADOW PUPPETS--Age of the Understatement
83) SCISSOR SISTERS--Scissor Sisters
81) ROYKSOPP--The Understanding

80) ELBOW--Cast of Thousands
79) NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS--Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
78) JENS LEKMAN--Night Falls Over Kortedala
77) MARC ALMOND--Stranger Things
76) HUMAN LEAGUE--Secrets
75) THOM YORKE--The Eraser
74) ARCTIC MONKEYS--Whatever They Say I Am That's What I'm Not
73) BLACK BOX RECORDER--Passionoia
72) THE PRESETS--Apocalypso
71) CICADA--Roulette

69) THE TEARS--Here Come the Tears
68) AMY WINEHOUSE--Back to Black
67) MOLOKO--Statues
66) A GIRL CALLED EDDY--A Girl Called Eddy
65) BASEMENT JAXX--Kish Kash
64) LILY ALLEN--Alright, Still
63) FRANZ FERDINAND--You Could Have it So Much Better
62) PULP--We Love Life
61) SIGUR ROS--Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilium Endalaust

60) LADYHAWKE--Ladyhawke
59) GWEN STEFANI--Love. Angel.Music.Baby.
58) THE KNIFE--Deep Cuts
57) KYLIE MINOGUE--Light Years
56) KEANE--Hopes & Fears
55) CURVE--Gift
54) IMOGEN HEAP--Speak For Yourself
53) SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR--Trip the Light Fantastic (extended)
52) CYNDI LAUPER--Bring Ya to the Brink
51) DARREN HAYES--This Delicate Thing We've Made

50) GUILLEMOTS--Through the Window Pane
49) LILY ALLEN--It's Not Me, It's You
48) DIVINE COMEDY--Victory for the Comic Muse
47) RACHEL STEVENS--Come & Get It
46) M.I.A.--Arular
44) GRACE JONES--Hurricane
43) BLACK BOX RECORDER--The Facts of Life
42) DARREN HAYES--The Tension & the Spark
41) THE KNIFE--Silent Shout

40) GIRLS ALOUD--Tangled Up
39) THE KILLERS--Hot Fuss
38) DRAGONETTE--Galore
37) MORRISSEY--You Are the Quarry
36) DIVINE COMEDY--Absent Friends
34) KIRSTY MACCOLL--Tropical Brainstorm
33) ANNIE--Anniemal
32) GOLDFRAPP--Felt Mountain
31) ROISIN MURPHY--Ruby Blue

29) DEPECHE MODE--Playing the Angel
28) SIOUXSIE--Mantaray
27) TRACEY THORN--Out of the Woods
26) ROYKSOPP--Junior
25) MADONNA--Music
24) FRANZ FERDINAND--Franz Ferdinand
22) LA ROUX--La Roux
21) COLDPLAY--A Rush of Blood to the Head

20) KATE BUSH--Aerial
19) RUFUS WAINWRIGHT--Want One & Two
18) M.I.A.--Kala
17) RADIOHEAD--Kid A/Amnesiac
16) JUSTICE--Cross
15) GOLDFRAPP--Seventh Tree
14) BJORK--Vespertine
13) CUT COPY--In Ghost Colours
12) PET SHOP BOYS--Fundamental
11) ROBYN--Robyn

10) SAINT ETIENNE--Tales From Turnpike House

These require a little more explanation, as I feel if they were important enough to make it into the top 10 of the decade, they were pretty damn good. While Saint Etienne produced one other exceptionally good album in the 00's (Finisterre), it failed to make the list. So what makes Turnpike House so special? After Etienne temporarily disbanded in the 90's for a couple years, they reunited to make a decidedly acoustic album, Good Humour, followed rather quickly by 2000's experimentally austere Sound of Water. While these albums were quite good in their own right, it took Etienne a few tries to rediscover what made them so perfect in the first place. While Finisterre had many good things going for it--a fantastic lead single in "Action", and lots of electro-clash referencing, it didn't have a solid organic feeling that many of their earlier records did, more like they were trying styles on for size. Tales From Turnpike House (2005) brought all the important elements back together: the catchy melodies, the retro references, the variety of arrangements, and most importantly, the Englishness. Speaking as an American who has always loved many things English, this may be one of the most English records of the decade. Even better is the fact that it plays as a day in the life of an English community, from morning till night. Beginning with the lovely "Sun in My Morning", followed quickly by the epic mini-suite of "Milk Bottle Symphony", only to be followed by the smashing "Lightning Strikes Twice" (a mantra for the band if I ever heard one), the punch of these three opening songs makes it hard to believe that none of them were even officially released as singles. Other standouts would have to be the toe-tappy "Good Thing" (an Etienne single-template if there ever was one), the haunting "Slow Down at the Castle", the stroll-worthy "Side Streets" with its fantastic vocal arrangement, the Carrie Bradshaw-baiting "Stars Above Us", and the superb "Teenage Winter", which has some of the best spoken word lyrics of any pop song, ever. All this closes with the tender "Goodnight", replete with Brian Wilson references. While some people don't approve of the David Essex-crashing "Relocate", the song is rather endearing in a grandfatherly sort of way. Strangely enough (or not), the US edition of this album (which was released nearly a year later), features a completely different running order, and removed "Relocate" (Americans cannot handle Essex's voice apparently), and replaced it with three new tracks, "Dream Lover", "I'm Falling", and the rocky "Oh My", which is more in the tone of "Relocate", and features some great lyrics about Brad Pitt, James Spader, Mozart, M83, Stevie Nicks, and Josie and the Pussycats. What shows the strength of this album best is that, even in its newly mixed-up state, it still shines. What is even best is combining both versions to make an ultimate edition. That is the true test of a good album--it can hold together in almost any configuration. Etienne nailed it here, and now with their recent remaster campaign, I cannot wait to see how they release a definitive version of this album. Even Xenomania produced "Lightning Strikes Twice", and it was NOT a single. Blasphemy!

9) ANNIE--Don't Stop & All Night EP

I don't really know what to say about this album that hasn't already been said, but basically, Annie came up with some fantastic songs over the course of several years, and even with the many producers involved, it holds together quite well in similar fashion to the previously mentioned Etienne album. What sets this apart from her debut, Anniemal, is the advances in writing and production, and basically Annie's refusal to let this project die by persuing every avenue she could until this album had a legitimate release. The songs that were cast aside for the All Night EP were every bit as good as the songs which made the album ("I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me" was even the lead single; "Anthonio" was one as well), and deserved a place alongside the album tracks, hence their inclusion here. The new songs by producer Paul Epworth particularly shine ("Hey Annie", "Don't Stop", "I Don't Like Your Band", "All Night"), but the other songs can hold their own as well, with favorites being "Bad Times", "Songs Remind Me Of You", "Sweet", and "Marie Cherie". It all comes down to perserverence and panache, and Annie had both in spades. It may not set the charts alight, but rarely does that happen anyhow.


Basement Jaxx made a better-than-decent debut record with Remedy in 1999, but really upped the ante with 2001's Rooty, a record which made people beg the question, "Where's Your Head At?" This album was the sound of modern techno-funk in the new millennium, and it was so good, they've been chasing it with mixed results ever since. Kish Kash (2003) was pretty damn good as well, while 2006's Crazy Itch Radio and 2009's Scars were more hit and miss affairs with diminishing returns. Jaxx took a template they learned from the Chemical Brothers by infusing their albums full of songs co-written and sung by many guest vocalists, some well-known, and some unknown. Rooty remains fresh to this day due to the lack of previous expectations, compact song structures (a new rarity in the era of house music), and the sheer joy Jaxx have experimenting with a massive array of styles. "Romeo" opens the record by being one of the catchiest songs of the year, and featuring the diva-esque vocals Jaxx have become so famous for, surrounded by a carnival atmosphere. Daft Punk had made good with their Discovery album a few months earlier, and Rooty was its funky soul-sister, as exemplified by the Prince-inspired track, "Breakaway". I'll never forget the first time I heard this song in the car, and the bass literally slammed me to the floor. In fact, Prince is probably the biggest touchstone for this record, in the way that it has the funk, but also suggestive lyrics verging on nasty, as with "SFM" and "Get Me Off" (an homage to Prince's "Gett Off"?) "Jus 1 Kiss" is euphoric house music with a latin-flair, while "Broken Dreams" goes even further into latin-spiced balladry. "I Want U" and "Crazy Girl" have a bit of the Vanity 6 vibe, while "Where's Your Head At?" sampled Gary Numan to great new-wave effect, and "Do Your Thing" was featured heavily in TV ads as some goofy 1920's flapper tribute. Kish Kash came along next, and featured star turns from many celebs who could keep up with Jaxx vocally, including ex-N'Syncer JC Chasez, Me'Shell N'Degeocello, Siouxsie Sioux, and Dizzee Rascal, but rarely were the Jaxx ever this spontaneously funky again. Still, they have yet to make a bad record, and they have five under their belts.

7) GOLDFRAPP--Supernature

Or the album where Goldfrapp cemented their mass appeal pop-status. Supernature was a special record, because, as with every Goldfrapp album, it took them to the next level creatively and in notoriety. Featuring a fantastic cover shot of Alison Goldfrapp's bare back and a dress made of peacock feathers against a glittery stage curtain, Supernature was the kind of album that exuded class and elegance while exploring sounds of the past in challenging new ways. The electro-stomp of "Ooh La La" was glam updated for a new generation, featuring silly lyrics to an incessently driving beat. Kylie Minogue would copy this a few years later with "2 Hearts" (single AND video), but Alison was there first. In fact, much of Supernature feels like the album Kylie Minogue has been trying to make for a dozen years, not that her albums are bad, they just don't feel as authentic. Prince is a similar touchstone here, with "Lovely 2 C U" and "U Never Know" being particular reference points. "Ride a White Horse", one of the great singles of the 21st century, is definitely glam-inspired (T.Rex in many ways), but has the heartbeat of disco. "Koko" and "Beautiful" seem Numan-esque, while "Satin Chic" updates electro-cabaret to new levels. Of course, it wouldn't be Goldfrapp without lush ballads, so "Let It Take You" and "Time Out From the World" are rather seductive John Barry-ish offerings. The real stunners on Supernature may be two of the best singles, "Fly Me Away" and "Number 1", being two of the most direct and emotional lyrics Alison has ever delivered from paper to microphone. They are wonderful, concise songs that would continue to influence her songs like "A&E" and "Caravan Girl" from the follow-up, Seventh Tree, another great album in a completely different style, which just shows that if the material is good, it can withstand many transformations. Supernature was super on my stereo in 2006.


Another 2009 album I feel I have already said a lot about (just look back at my past reviews), but let me say that choosing to work with star producers like Xenomania after doing an album with star producer Trevor Horn was an inspired choice, one which they hoped would bring them more mainstream appeal (it didn't really). However, it was the best album they made in nearly 20 years, and while some may quibble with that statement, I feel it was their most consistently well-produced and uplifting album in a while. That does not mean I don't think Fundamental was brilliant (I mean, it is #12 here), and Nightlife and Bilingual great as well (maybe Release less so), but what's not to love here? "Love Etc." is a catchy little earworm that won't let go (and does that disaffected irony they do so well), "All Around the World" has THAT Tchaikovsky sample (talk about a big-sounding song), "Beautiful People" has that element of "are they serious?" while still managing to be touching, "Did You See Me Coming?" is a play-on-words euphoria with kick ass melody and Johnny Marr on guitar, and "Vulnerable" has that spinning melodic quality that Neil harnesses so well with his turn of phrase. And that's only side 1! (Yes, I own the vinyl). "More Than a Dream" is their best radio song in a while that didn't get played, "Building a Wall" both comical and scary simultaneously, "King of Rome" their most beautiful melody since Behaviour, "Pandemonium" a song Kylie would (or should) kill for, "The Way It Used to Be" one of their best dance ballads EVER, and "Legacy" brainy only in the way that Neil Tennant puts things together--epic. Add in the throwaway bonus track duet with Phil Oakey, "This Used to Be the Future" (this album's "Fugitive"), and what else can be said. Perfection.

5) MADONNA--Confessions on a Dance Floor

Madonna hired Stuart Price has her tour band leader a while before plunging into studio work with him on Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005), her best album of the decade. Madonna had a serious pop comeback of sorts after Evita with Ray of Light (1997) and Music (2001), being known for always pushing the envelope visually, and becoming known moreover for sonic exploration. Apparently Mirwais was good for a couple singles, but having him produce virtually all of American Life (2003) sent Madonna's career spinning. The singles tanked, and while a critical success on many levels, for somebody who built their career on selling records, this was a big problem (the album struggled to reach a million copies in the US). Call in Price, a guy becoming famous for his Thin White Duke remixes of many pop records, and hot new producer extraordinaire. What Price did with Confessions was to put the fun back into Madonna, and remove much of the self-conscious political posturing present from the previous album. COADF plays as a continous party album from beginning to end, with no breaks and no letdowns. Most know this album for the ABBA-raping "Hung Up" sample for "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!", but what makes it special here is the way it becomes integrated into the music, not content to simply act as a hook. One thing this album also became known for is the popularization of that "underwater" effect with everything getting soft and muffled before gradually building into an explosion of frenzied dance music, and "Hung Up" as a track displays this perfectly. Followed by "Get Together" and "Sorry", two of the best singles of that period, Madonna recaptures the excitement she had from the opening three songs from the Music album ("Music", "Impressive Instant", "Runaway Lover"), proving that the excitement is back. Here, she keeps the energy going with the "I Feel Love" sampling, Indian off-beat melody of the drifty, pulsing "Future Lover", the lyrically batshit-crazy "I Love New York" (why wasn't this a #1 hit Jay-Z?), and the string-y, reflective "Let It Will Be", wrapping up the first half. The second half features Madonna's second song (and the better one) to be called "Forbidden Love", Pet Shop Boys-inspired "Jump" (another fantastic single which got little love), electro masterpieces "How High", "Isaac", "Push", and the defiant "Like It Or Not", closing the album up in a fantastic box. In retrospect, while much of the songwriting here is quite good, the songs from her recent Hard Candy album may be nearly-or-as-good, but the Timbaland and Pharrell arrangements just killed it. Madonna does best when surrounded by the extraordinary, and desperate grabs at a hip-hop audience don't do her any favors. COADF put her back on top with sales and image (less leotard now please), and was an avenue she would be wise to travel close to again.

4) DAFT PUNK--Discovery

While I hesitate to laud praise on this duo--I mean, this album came out almost 10 years ago, and they've been milking it ever since, it is an absolute classic, and set the stage for many other albums that followed it. All the more depressing that since its release, they have made one bad album, (Human After All, 2005), a bad movie (Electroma), a great live album from a great tour (2007), and lended many tracks to Kanye West for his electro-raping tendencies. However, no exceptionally good music for nearly a decade is hard to dismiss, so let's look back on the brilliance that was Discovery. At the time, Daft Punk were considered just another techno band, the French equivalent of the Chemical Brothers, but less dreamy and more house-y than Parisian counterparts, Air. Daft Punk really took a leap on Discovery, looking back to classic disco for inspiration, while giving it a shiny new electronic sheen. Some of it became a bit repetitive (an idea they exploited too far on the next release), but it was mostly a fantastic flash of color and rhythm in an otherwise teen-pop era. From the killer opening of "One More Time", a party anthem if there ever was one, to the ten-minute closer of "Too Long" (not really), Discovery is infused with the sounds of the 70's anew--hell, top notch single "Digital Love" even sits somewhere between Supertramp and the Buggles. "Aerodynamic" became famous for its keytar solo, and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" for its appearance in commercials and West association. What pulls this album together is its flawless segues and consistent energy throughout, mixed with an ebuillence they need to locate again. There isn't a duff track here. Even the under-two-minutes interlude of "Nightvision" is a lovely 10cc homage. Brilliant--I'm gonna go play it now!

3) GOLDFRAPP--Black Cherry

I think I've already touched on my love for this duo, but let me say this is their cornerstone so far. Goldfrapp's first album, Felt Mountain, was mostly quite dreamy, and felt like it was made in some desolate Swiss chalet. Even the singles, "Utopia" and "Pilots" had a somewhat cold and clinical sensation--the former being some operatic electro-anthem, the latter a lost James Bond theme. So when Black Cherry opens with the hard electro-thump of "Crystalline Green", it comes as a bit of a shock. If that weren't shocking enough, the twitchy analog glam that is "Train" makes one wonder if these were even made by the same people. "Black Cherry" is possibly the most beautiful, lush ballad of the decade, fractured and direct, it comes from a place of real heartbreak. "Tiptoe" seems rather naughty, and is quite dark electro which came along during electroclash, but seems more inspired by bands like Cabaret Voltaire whom Alison cite as an influence. She even sounds very masculine at the beginning of the song as well. "Deep Honey" and "Hairy Trees" follow (very sexual titles, no?), and seem like very uneasy electro ballads, with buzzy vibrating synths in the background, and somewhat intentionally garbled lyrics. Two of the best, and I mean THE BEST singles of the decade follow: "Twist"--carnal carnival electric disco, and "Strict Machine"--Kraftwerk meets Bowie in electro glam heaven. Just when you think it cannot get better comes "Forever", and incredible electro ballad, and then the album closes concisely with the dada-esque grind of the mainly instrumental "Slippage". Goldfrapp also had some great B-sides in this era (notably their cover of "Yes Sir I Can Boogie"), and also had some wonderful songs that were never released on album, although it did seem as though a bit of time had passed between the first and second album, and they didn't really seem content with revisiting any themes from the past here. Black Cherry was definitely the album that moved Goldfrapp forward, and it became a trademark of theirs to always expect the unexpected, something they have maintained over four albums in a decade. The fifth releases in early 2010. Will they be able to keep the momentum?

2) LADY GAGA--The Fame Monster

I believe I said everything I wanted to say about this album in my recent year-end 2009 post, naming it #1. You can read about it in the following post below.

1) ROISIN MURPHY--Overpowered

Some may find this a bit of a surprise that this was #1 for me for the entire decade, but this album not only rocks, it rocks my world. It came along at a time when there was some turmoil at my job and things were somewhat chaotic in my personal life, so it was an album I could always escape to. That being said, I believe Roisin is a true star and icon, and although she would probably not admit to that as she seems so humble and rather nice, I think she has an amazing talent for somebody with no real formal training when it comes to writing, singing, and performing. She is fearless when it comes to pursuing what it is she wishes to pursue, and Overpowered was both a reaction to the lack of sales success of her solo debut, Ruby Blue (2005), and her new deal (although possibly short lived) with EMI. If she never makes another record with EMI, at least she has forged some tremendous musical alliances which should carry her for quite a while. She had a baby last week (congratulations!), which is probably her #1 release of the decade(!), and she's got a new album waiting around the corner containing one crazy cut-n-paste funk jam we've already heard, "Orally Fixated". But this is about Overpowered.

First of all, the music. The title track opens the record with its rather understated sequenced squishy synth against a ticking metronomic rhythm. Her voice rides like a soothing mantra atop the waves of chimes and spooky electro--a song so thoroughly modern and in debt to retro at the same time. "You Know Me Better" follows, a song deserving of so much more attention--Madonna wishes she had done this. "Checkin' on Me" is more funky, sorta like some Lisa Stansfield blue-eyed soul funk, but Ro's vocal is absolutely effortless and flawless. This leads into one of her best vocal performances ever, and one of the greatest songs of the decade, "Let Me Know", which opens with a tentative vocal over tinkly piano fills, only to explode into disco/house grandeur. "Movie Star" is a fantastic driving electro song, channeling Annie Lennox in her glory days (if Annie would only do things like this more often). "Primitive" is the quirky kind of dark electro-soul ballad that simply simmers in Roisin's hands. The second half of the album is no less filled with excellent material: "Footsteps" is fun and Prince-y, with a bit of bounce and some great vocals, "Dear Miami" is almost hip-hop, with it's jittery guitar and sparse electronics, "Cry Baby" positively chugs a disco cowbell for 6 minutes, "Tell Everybody" is a rather underrated funk ballad with some shades of Timbaland, and "Scarlet Ribbons" ends proceedings as a lovely soul-reggae ballad dedicated to her father, sharing some similarities with Grace Jones' "I've Done It Again". If that weren't enough, two bonus tracks follow which blend seamlessly with the album--the funky "Body Language", and the brooding electronica of "Parallel Lives", produced by Richard X.

It is also a testimony to Roisin at the amount of great songs which were either released as B-sides or demos, or not released at all, that show what an immense sense of self and grasp of her talents she possesses. Additionally, there were an amazing set of photos used for Overpowered, which included putting Roisin in fantastical fashion creations, mainly Viktor & Rolf designs, in ordinary settings--a park, a diner, a streetcorner. Many of these themes also carried over into the music videos. The title track featured her riding a bus home after a show in a couture gown, only to sit on the toilet and go to bed in it. "Let Me Know" turned a diner into a disco, where she wore some crazy outfit she could dance around the patrons in. "You Know Me Better" depicted her almost like a shut-in in a house full of couture clothes and wigs, and was beautifully shot almost like portraits. The final clip, "Movie Star", was like a John Waters casting couch gone insane, and featured a motley cast of cross-dressing ghouls and a big red lobster with an appetite. All of these elements add up to what was undoubtedly the best album of the decade, with not one single weak song, B-side, or video. Far from the biggest selling album of the decade, it deserved so much better. But then again, it's kind of fun keeping her as a bit of a secret. If I keep layering praise like I am here though, people might eventually get the hint. Some want a Moloko reunion, and while I liked Moloko for what they were, I think Roisin can do many things on her own, and doesn't really need that situation again. She can do whatever she wants--the world is her oyster (or lobster).

Happy now haters? (just kidding)