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Albums of the Year: 2000

October 21st, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Perusing the calendar, I was shocked to realise that the current decade — what some people call the “Noughties” — is almost over; that we’re about to start the 2010s. And here I am still getting used to the idea of the new millennium. So, with this decade coming to an end soon, it seems right to review my top 10 albums of this period. I’ll try to avoid joining the critical consensus (which probably agrees on albums I either never heard of or don’t like), and obviously I can’t list albums I don’t have. So, no Kid A here.

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1. Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man

cash_solitary_manIt’s not necessarily the best album in Cash’s American series, but probably the only one that’ll top one of my annual charts. It certainly is a fine album, with an astute song selection (no peculiar choices such as Personal Jesus, which appeared on the follow-up). Cash had previously taken a Sting song, Hung My Head, and entirely appropriated it, leaving Sting’s original sound like a pale, inadequate and ill-advised cover version by an inferior hack. Here Cash repeats the trick with One, lending gravitas to a song that in Bono’s hands sounds overwrought (Bono really meant it, man). But it is what Cash and producer Rick Rubin do with Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat that blows me away. For this album, Rubin roped in a few heavy-hitters, including Tom Petty and Will Oldham. I’m not sure it was necessary to do so.
Johnny Cash – One.mp3
Johnny Cash – The Mercy Seat.mp3

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2. D’Angelo – Voodoo

d'angelo_voodooAfter 2000, I began falling off Planet Soul. Voodoo was the genre’s last high-water mark, even if the likes of india.arie, Erykah Badu and (to some extent) Alicia Keys proceeded to release decent albums (and I suppose John Legend isn’t bad either, even though I own nothing by the man). Before too long, it became a law that soul singers must have uniformly nasal, almost pre-pubescent voices and sing about sex a lot without projecting any confidence that they really know what to do in the sack. D’Angelo, on the other hand, left us in no doubt that he knew exactly how to create a concerto of orgasms.

In terms of soul, D’Angelo fused all that came before, plus a strong dose of hip hop and a shot of Hendrix in one album, creating a whole new, exciting and intensely sexual sound. It had taken him five years to follow up the gorgeous Brown Sugar, and I believe a new album is imminent. Whatever happened before or will happen, Voodoo is Michael Archer’s masterpiece. Had Marvin Gaye lived, this is what he’d have sounded like.
D’Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel).mp3

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3. Elliot Smith – Figure 8

elliott_smith_figure_8Smith’s final album in his lifetime — he died three years later — may not be his best, but even then, it is lovely and affecting. It could have done with some trimming, and the cover is unattractive. You don’t pick up an Elliot Smith album to cheer you up, but the charge of miserablism often levelled against seems unfair to me. There is beauty in Smith’s sadness — made all the more poignant by his apparent suicide (there are theories that Smith didn’t actually kill himself). We owe Smith a huge voter of thanks for his part in inspiring so many of the great acoustic artists that emerged in (and, perhaps, from) his wake.
Elliott Smith – Somebody That I Used To Know.mp3

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4. Colin Hay – Going Somewhere

colin_hayThe solo albums of the former Men At Work frontman tend to be frustrating; amid the near-perfect gems there is so much indifferent filler material. Best, really, to put together one’s own compilation. But then one would not find that some of the mediocre stuff is actually pretty good, but required a few more listens. Going Somewhere does not suffer from this. It is one of two albums on which Hay re-recorded his better songs and a couple of new ones, here mostly acoustically. And it works wonderfully. Highlights include opener Beautiful World (which features the brilliant line “where a man can still be free — or a woman if you are one”), I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You, Looking For Jack (about an encounter with Mr Nicholson), Waiting For My Real Life To Begin and Lifeline.
Colin Hay – Lifeline.mp3

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5. Jill Sobule – Pink Pearl

jill_sobuleSobule kissed a girl and liked it long before Katy Perry did so — and Sobule meant it. Sobule is an engaging lyricist dealing with often unexpected subject matter, ranging from anorexia to the case of a teacher who had sex with her pupil. In turn she can be insightful, funny, ironic, cute, tender and daring. Her music is neither particularly challenging nor bland, and some of the tracks on Pink Pearl are excellent, especially the Bacharach-via-Spektor-sounding Rainy Day Parade. But it’s for the lyrics that I return to it. This, from the also outstanding One Of These Days, always makes me laugh: “One of these days I’m gonna touch the sky. Like that awful song ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, [pause for effect] I believe I can fly.” Download free Jill Sobule tracks from her website
Jill Sobule – Rainy Day Parade.mp3

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6. Lewis Taylor – Lewis II

lewis_taylorI’ve read that Lewis Taylor has retired from the music business because his albums didn’t sell. That is a pity. Lewis II (which, you will have worked out, was his sophomore album, following the more psychedelic self-titled debut) is a likeable soulful and funky effort. When white soulsters arrive on the scene, they tend to be matched with their likely influences, invariably from the ’60s and ’70s (usually Curtis Mayfield with a bit of Motown). London-born Taylor escaped such labelling, or at least its accurate application. He drew from the treasury of soul through the ages and created his own unique sound. The album features a fine cover of Jeff Buckley’s Everybody Here Wants You.
Lewis Taylor – The Way You Done Me.mp3

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7. K’s Choice – Almost Happy

ks_choice_almost_happyIn my view, Almost Happy is the Belgian brother-and-sister act’s best album. The title track and Another Year are most affecting, beautiful songs dipped in sadness but not despondency. Both of these, and other K’s Choice songs, find an echo in the music of the wonderful Weepies (another female/male singing and songwriting combo). The stand-out track is the almost gothic (though not goth) Shadowman, a song about depression.
K’s Choice – Shadowman.mp3

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8. Ben Kweller – Freak Out…It’s Ben Kweller

ben_kweller_freak_outI know, EPs aren’t albums. But I’m not going to list my favourite EPs of the decade (hmmm, or maybe I should), so Ben Kweller’s debut on disc gets in. And what a debut it was. The stand-out track here is In Other Words, which features a few duff lines (including references to passive-aggressive butterflies) but has a tune and, especially, an arrangement that one might not expect from an 18-year-old. The piano and banjo interplay in the song’s climax is exquisite. Kweller later re-recorded In Other Words, as well as the brief How It Should Be (Sha Sha), for his first full album, 2002’s Sha Sha. Both songs are superior on this eight-song EP.
Ben Kweller – In Other Words.mp3

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9. Richard Ashcroft – Alone With Everybody

ashcroftI’d include this for Brave New World alone. And I‘ll cheerfully admit that I don’t really like about half of this album. But the other half is better than most music he created with the Verve. From his former group, we knew Ashcroft was rather given to kitchen-sink productions, and there’s little here that could be described as sparse (quite in contrast to Elliott Smith). At times the onslaught of instrumentation is sumptuous, at other times one yearns for some respite. Not a great album, but one with great moments. I’d recommend You On My Mind In My Sleep, A Song For Lovers and On A Beach; and strongly advise against Money To Burn, which I think was the lead single.
Richard Ashcroft – Brave New World.mp3

10. Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour Of The Bewilderbeest

badly_drawn_boyThe album title merely hints at the punnery Damon Gough engages in here. I like the wordplay in Badly Drawn Boy’s lyrics, even if I find them unnecessary in songtitles (Everybody’s Stalking!). Like almost any studio double album (and how audacious to release a double album on debut), there is a lot of unnecessary music here, and the brief interludes are annoying. But in the day of WinAmp, one can happily re-sequence an album according to one’s tastes. And doing so with this set is a very rewarding experience.
Badly Drawn Boy – The Shining.mp3


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  1. October 21st, 2009 at 03:48 | #1

    Wow. Thanks for reminding me of a lot of albums I’d loved and forgotten about, especially the Richard Ashcroft.

  2. October 21st, 2009 at 05:48 | #2

    In total agreement with you on numbers 1 and 10.

    Have not listened to any of the others (I don’t get out much). Will explore them now thanks to your introductions.

  3. October 21st, 2009 at 14:43 | #3

    In total agreement with you on numbers 1 and 10.

    Have not listened to any of the others (I don’t get out much). Will explore them now thanks to your introductions.
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  4. October 21st, 2009 at 17:04 | #4

    On the soundtrack of the Australian film, He Died With a Felafel In His Hand, there’s a live acoustic version of The Mercy Seat by Nick Cave that imho blows away his original studio version. It’s just Cave’s voice and a piano. I highly recommend it if you can track it down.

    That being said I do think that Cash’s version is also superior to Nick Cave’s original studio version of the song.

  5. Shaun
    October 21st, 2009 at 17:50 | #5

    I seriously came here with the intention saying, “What about Badly Drawn Boy’s debut album?” And right there it is. Good call, man (though I like almost all of the interludes)! Also, what a tremendous fall from grace for Badly Drawn Boy.

  6. October 21st, 2009 at 21:06 | #6

    Great list as per usual, some great ones that I love (Cash & BDB) and a couple to try out (Sobule & K’s Choice.) I may be inspired to run with the idea and make my own list, but then I enjoy any excuse to make another good list of great music.

  7. Colin
    October 22nd, 2009 at 20:19 | #7

    Technically, the decade runs until December 31st 2010, so you have another year of picks. No point in selling yourself short :-) Terrific site!!!

  8. October 22nd, 2009 at 22:43 | #8

    ….’and obviously I can’t list albums I don’t have’.

    No, quite right, and good for you (as ever) foe not doing the obvious.

    Interestingly….I don’t have any of these!!!! (apart from the Johnny Cash) x

  9. October 22nd, 2009 at 22:44 | #9

    ‘foe’ not doing the obvious? Check out me and my Southern Soul talkin’.

  10. whiteray
    October 23rd, 2009 at 00:49 | #10

    I will have to revise my want list: I have none of these! Thanks for the suggested riches!

  11. October 23rd, 2009 at 06:00 | #11

    A perfect description of Colin Hay’s solo work. I’ll hear “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” and think, wow, he’s a (relatively) unknown genius. Then I hear more, and a lot of the other tracks are almost good, but forgettable. Going Somewhere is indeed his best.

  12. Krabby
    October 23rd, 2009 at 15:33 | #12

    One rumour I heard was that Lewis Taylor retired from music not just because`his stuff wasn’t selling, but because he was approached by Joss Stone’s management with a view to writing an album for her.

    For which he would have been paid handsomely, and paid for her to pass all the material off as her own and keep his mouth shut in perpetuity.

    He declined and gave up the business of music in disgust.

  13. October 23rd, 2009 at 19:44 | #13

    Wow, if that is true (and, actually, I’ve heard that before), then I admire Lewis even more.

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