Following on from my rundown of my top 100 tracks of the decade, it’s now time for my top fifty albums of the decade, which starts today and will be concluded next week (I wanted this done by Whitby, and the end of the month).
Like the tracks, this was a tough list to compile, and took a long while to do.
(Also, as I re-post this with new formatting in 2017, this is entirely untouched in terms of what I chose and what I wrote from back then, and will remain so).
The Golden Age Of Grotesque
Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the gorgeous (now ex-)wife, maybe it was just an accident of timing. Whatever happened, for the first time in a while the artist Brian Warner dresses up as and taunts Middle America with had an album of quality tunes to match the scandal and image. Yes, mOBSCENE was overplayed, but it wasn’t as if it was the only track to filled the club here. Every track without exception up to track nine (ignoring the intro) is pretty much MM at the top of his game, and while it dips a little for the second half, it’s this first half that carries it through. It has malice, it has sneering humour, and it has sleaze in spades. In fact, pretty much MM always should have been, but with the exception of Antichrist Superstar never really carried it off apart from this. Obviously, things went seriously downhill since, but I’m happy to stick with this.
A vicious, take-no-prisoners kind of comeback that was the sign of a reconvened band chomping at the bit to take things further. A very, very loud production suited this album fine, as the only way to appreciate it was to play it just as loud. There aren’t any bad songs, but some are certainly head and shoulders above others. Like opener Death & Resurrection Show, whose menacing opening is swept away by that monstrous, tribalesque drumming. I’ve not been mad-keen on the material since, but I’d love to hear some of the older stuff recorded with this kind of power and production…
Alice In Chains
Black Gives Way To Blue
I thought long and hard about including this, with it being so new, but repeated listens have simply confirmed what I thought the first time around – this is one of the most extraordinary comeback albums I’ve ever heard. It simply bristles with defiance, of respect for what came before but also of what can happen now, and is a surprisingly positive sounding album in light of what the core of the band have been through. And then, the new vocalist, William DuVall, fits perfectly into the mix. There aren’t really highlights here, as all of it is. In time, I’m sure I’ll place this higher, but for now it deserves it’s place here.
This should never have worked. “Prog-influenced, ultra-technical metallers release concept album based around Moby Dick” should, really, have had punters running for the hills, but then we all heard lead single Blood and Thunder, and all bets were off. How they pulled this off I’ll never know, but the concept works, and pretty much all of the songs stand on their own, too, which is always the sign of a concept album that was a success.
The Dillinger Escape Plan
Sell out? Hardly. A couple of songs here may have sounded a little less abrasive (Black Bubblegum was nearing pop), but one listen to the vicious fury of opener Fix Your Face should have been enough to remind you who exactly we are dealing with here. Their infinitely complex “math-rock”/hardcore hybrid is still present and correct, just perhaps with a better set of actual songs rather than just blasts of noise as they have occasionally done in the past.
Nine Inch Nails
The best NIN release in years, this, and also the beginning of Trent Reznor’s various experiments in widening the appeal of the band by being more creative with marketing the album, and by simply offering more to the fans – the clever, multiple websites and USB stick tricks being notable at the time. The other notable thing about this album, of course, was a different lyrical angle – rather than the dark introspection of previous albums, this was, in the main, a thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration – and the fury this invoked helped to shape a great album.
Four years on from the techno-house mastery of Homework, Discovery surprised a lot of people, including me. Not quite what I was expecting, really – lead single One More Time was euphoric, vocal house music, and much of the rest of the album had 70s AOR-influences all over it. It’s perhaps a credit to the musical skill of Daft Punk that they managed to pull this off, and it perhaps makes all the more sense when you watch Interstella 5555, which the album soundtracks (in order).
Welcome To Earth
Perfect timing, maybe, but following 7 a few years before, Stefan Groth took things into a far more electro territory than the gothic/darkwave leanings of before, and hit upon his best album by miles. Basically eight songs linked by a number of lengthy soundscapes, much of the album had a space or alienation theme, and even managed to take in Metallica and the Twin Peaks theme along the way. It also probably features three of Apop’s greatest songs (the incredible opening one-two of the trance-futurepop masterpieces of Starsign and Eclipse, and then the lengthy Paranoia), not to mention probably their best-loved ballad in Kathy’s Song. Groth’s desire to move on musically has seen him leave this kind of material far behind, and while his keenness to try other things is admirable, it’s never been the same.
The Dresden Dolls
The Dresden Dolls
Sounding like no-one else before or since musically, lyrically and vocally Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls is much like many female-singer songwriters, in that many of the songs are extraordinarily confessional. But to add to that well-thumbed book comes a wicked sense of humour and that very different musical backing, and a set of songs that are memorable for many different reasons. It’s not hard to see why the band have gained such a devoted set of fansm, that’s for sure.
As We Fall
IR had always been good, but nothing more, in my opinion – until an early version of the title track from this arrived on a Das Bunker compilation, and suddenly it was IR taking their sound to another level entirely. The thing is, when the album arrived there were a number of other songs on it that plainly and simply knocked the title track into the shade. They don’t do anything too unusual – dancefloor-friendly electro-industrial (or hard EBM, if you wish) – but what they do, they do very, very well indeed. The follow-up album to this – Minus All – continues in the vein of high quality, too.
Everybody Hates You
Love it or hate it – and I’d say of people I know there are probably equal numbers of each – this was Combichrist’s breakthrough album, moving a little from the aggressive, heavy-duty, and mainly instrumental, industrial of debut album The Joy of Gunz towards a more accessible, more vocal-based dancefloor attack, and it paid off in spades. I can think of few other albums in the wider industrial scene where of thirteen songs, no less than ten of them will fill the club dancefloors still, four years after release. Yes, bits of it are grossly overplayed, and people in clubs could really do with requesting other things once in a while, but perhaps this never-ending torrent of requests for tracks from it suggests one thing, at least – Andy La Plegua delivered exactly what the punters on the dancefloor wanted, and that was pounding industrial-electro to dance to, and not to have to think about too much while doing so.
Truth Is Fanatic
This album – in fact, the band – kinda snuck up on me and a fair number of others, as many of us discovered them as support for Assemblage 23 way back in the mists of time. They were quite a find, too – somehow balancing the fine line of heavy-duty club beats with a sense of melody and songcraft that had tripped up so many in the past. And pre-Dalek-sampling days, they were still a fascinating proposition, with a debut album full of dancefloor epics that frequently actually engaged brain as well as body, a rare commodity in the scene nowadays, sadly. I could take or leave the acoustic ballads, frankly, but rest of the album is so sodding good that I’m beginning to wonder if they will ever top it – and that’s saying something seeing as they’ve barely put a foot wrong since, either.
This release, much like the rest of Opeth’s output, was met with euphoric reviews, but this album deserved them more than any other they’ve done. Despite the album’s vast length, not a second is wasted, and the songs move effortlessly between sections and genres without any jarring. The return to the crunching guitars from the mellow middle-section of Ghost of Perdition is one perfect example (the soaring guitar solo that follows is simply glorious), but there are any number of moments that have you just mouthing “wow”, and everything – while musically complex – seems so effortless. Not noly that, it may be verging on prog, but it’s an utter joy to listen to.
It’s taken until their comeback this year – and three albums – to even come close to matching the enormity of this album. By the time this album was released, anticipation was, to put it mildly, pretty fucking high. It had been nearly four years since the release of Sehnsucht which had brought the band worldwide attention and notoriety for their spectacular, fiery live show, and the great thing was that Mutter delivered on every level. It had the crunching, stadium-sized metal tracks, it had the ballads without sounding too twee, and then it had tracks like Zwitter that reminded us of their wickedly dark sense of humour. Probably one of the few bands to crack America while rarely straying from singing in their native German, that very fact perhaps speaks volumes about their appeal, and this album is without a shadow of a doubt the place to start if you’ve not really heard them before. But then you need to work back to the early material, before coming back to the new one…
It took me ages before I really paid much attention to this band – having long been wary of “indie” bands being hyped to a ridiculous degree by the music press – but by the time I did I was kicking myself for not having paid attention sooner. Somewhere between Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine’s more melodic moments and sixties doo-wop, the entire album is an enthralling listen, it’s gritty tales of life in Glasgow all really quite affecting. Top moments? The impossibly sad tale of the boy who hasn’t come home in Flowers and Football Tops, never mind it’s use of You Are My Sunshine, Geraldine‘s tale of a social worker, and most of all, the devastating, withering Daddy’s Gone, that in some respects I can relate to far too much (although more about my mother, obviously). Quite how they follow this, of course, is another question…
Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike
An album so unhinged at points that it’s a wonder that it doesn’t all fall apart, the majority of this album sounds like it was recorded at one of the best parties of all time. And that’s one of the things that is so great about this band – a motley gang that sound like they are having the time of their lives, and the songs simply jump out of the speakers at you and drag you into the maelstrom. Obviously material like this is best experienced in the live environment, but even on record it’s a whole bag of fun, and at points – Start Wearing Purple, I’m looking at you – it’s madder than a box of frogs, too…
Explosions In The Sky
The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
One of the more interesting “post-rock” bands, and arriving a little later than many of their peers, this lot could have been written off as mere copyists were it not for the fact that so much of their material is so heart-stoppingly gorgeous. Working within the confines of the usual “rock” set-up of guitar-bass-drums, they somehow create lengthy soundscapes that evoke strong emotions, admittedly mainly of sadness and loneliness, but there are parts that are sheer, total joy. But it’s that almost wilful manipulation of emotions that is the most remarkable thing here – proof perhaps this is music that really does transcend it’s humble origins and make you feel part of it. And all without vocals.
I mentioned the other week that this was the band’s real breakthrough to the mainstream, and in retrospect it’s filthy lyrics and sound make it somewhat miraculous that it wasn’t censored in some way. But then, the overt sexuality of the album it part of the attraction, and, er, stripped of it this album wouldn’t be half as good, or as fun. It’s the full-on, uptempo electro numbers that are the core of the album (the domination/submission of Strict Machine, the sexual demands and orgasmic heights of Twist, the barely disguised innuendo of Train, for starters), but the ballads are equally deserving of your attention.
It’s worrying me to realise just how old this is, particularly as, I seem to recall, that many songs on this album had been kicking around for a few years previously, too. One of those classic examples of an album ahead of it’s time, perhaps, freed from the confines of Skinny Puppy Nivek Ogre and Mark Walk clearly let things take some very different directions to the parent band. This is, at least in part, extremely twisted synthpop, and up to the point of it’s release sounded like pretty much nothing SP had done. Subsequent album SunnyPsyOp was not half as rewarding as this, but then, little else has been since either: there is simply so much going on that it’s fun going back and listening again and again. Quite a trick, really.
It was a long, long time coming, this, but it was worth it in the end. A staggering technical achievement, of course, but the songs are what made it so good, not just the musical mastery on show. It’s not just a rehash of Ænima, either, instead having a very different atmosphere and feel and perhaps that is what made it so successful as an album. Like all Tool material, it rewards repeated listening to the whole album, rather than individual songs, trying to get your head around the songs, their complex construction, the insane time signatures (Lateralus itself is apparently based around the Fibonacci sequence both musically and lyrically!) and deep lyrical detail. So, not one for the casual listener, but worth it all the same…
Call them a British Fear Factory if you must, but Interlock were always perhaps a little more varied than that tag might have suggested. Despite something of an unstable lineup in their later years – and then splitting for good on the eve of the second album’s release (which never did ever see the light of day, sadly) – the one full album they did deliver is awesome. From the full-on industrial roar of Skinless and Straight to the surprisingly tender ballad of This Waking Moment, they managed to cover far more bases than I ever would have expected, and as a result ended up with an album that was pretty special. Nowadays, by the way, my favourite track is the last one – the stomp of In Stasis that gets better with every listen. Gone, and missed, this lot.
Turning Season Within
A glorious album of romantic doom metal, that didn’t put a single foot wrong and perhaps was never quite as appreciated in the UK as it should have been. A shame, really, as it was easily a match for anything the homegrown kings of the genre have put out in recent years, and indeed went one step further by including dual vocalists, with the sweet tones of the female vocalist being used to spectacular effect and adding that extra dimension that many of their peers so sorely lacked.
Alter der Ruine
The Giants From Far Away
There was a marvellous sleight-of-hand pulled off by ADR here. The previous album State of Ruin was dark, and pre-occupied in part with a bleak present and future. The follow-up, going on press releases and apparent theme, seemed to suggest more of the same, so it was something of a surprise to say the least when it turned out to be a blast of bouncing, *fun* noisy electro-industrial, riddled with humorous and cleverly-placed samples – oh, and the best use of Chris Morris in music for a while, too. And along the way, they’ve managed to widen their fanbase, too, if the reaction to this band’s material in clubs (and my partner loves this album, too, which was a little bit of a surprise) is anything to go by…
Nine years had elapsed by the time this, the follow-up to SuperCoolNothing finally arrived, and remarkably, perhaps, it was well worth the wait. More electronics, more crunch, more tunes, in fact it was the archetypal “turn up to 11” that worked in spectacular style. Ok, so there were a couple of tracks that I wasn’t especially keen on, but an album where I like every song on it is bloody rare. Either way, it’s worth it alone for tracks two through to four, which are probably three of the best industrial rock tracks ever recorded.
Icon of Coil
Serenity Is The Devil
Back in the days BC (that’s, Before Combichrist), Icon of Coil were one of the most thrilling of the “Futurepop” bands by some distance, and this reputation was plainly and simply thanks to the early singles and the extraordinary first album. Starting out with the lengthy, Strange Days-sampling intro to Activate, the icy, detached vocals perfectly matched the smooth, sleek music that at points was nearing trance-techno, but always had that extra gear to shift into that set so many of the songs apart. The use of female vocals (in the form of the sultry tones of Computorgirl) on a handful of songs was a good move, too, as it provided some variety (even if the single version of Situations Like These, remixed with a slamming beat and Andy on vocals, was even better). None of La Plegua’s projects have sounded as unique, or as brilliant, as this since.
Next week: Countdown: 2000s: Albums: 25-01