Kasabian, Coldplay, The Wedding Present, Arctic Monkeys, Muse - TC's Top 25 Indie Albums Of The Decade
There's been much debate here on GIITTV over artists that have had the greatest impact during the naughties and so I felt strongly compelled to wrap a skip full of flesh around the bones of my own particular selection of the top indie albums of the decade and here it is. Firstly, let me say that this is my own personal selection and not of the site nor an amalgam of views, it's MINE ok?! There isn't one individual out there who will agree precisely with this selection but that's the nature of such trivial lists, it will no doubt, however, prompt a good measure of debate, the preponderance of which will be telling me how wrong I am!
If listings aren't an irritation to you, then pigeon-holing surely must be! Indie is probably the toughest genre of all to classify, for its origins are in routes to market rather than a specific style of music. It was in the eighties, where contemporary music was being splintered in numerous directions and the division of rock and pop became ever more blurred, that we saw the true birth of indie as a genre. As with most new strains of the musical art, it is the Americans that pioneer and us Brits that catch the ball and make all the running, only for the Yanks to leap back in at the end and grab it back from us, as if we'd never been there! For me, R.E.M. were the pioneers of indie, way back in '81 when Radio Free Europe first hit the airwaves. Just six months The Smiths would go on to define the genre for others to follow. The Stone Roses did, then Oasis and then, well the rest is history.
The US of course didn't take to the 'indie' labelling and decided that, unimaginatively, it was to become 'alternative' on their shores. One can only presume it was an alternative to a host of new bands like Mötley Crüe who were content to regenerate 'hard-man' rock in waiting for Kurt Cobain to arrive and do something different with it! We all know what happened in the nineties, when the depth of talent rising up under the indie umbrella passed on by The Smiths and The Stone Roses was rich indeed and almost totally UK based. Into the new decade then and, along with a few worthy historical survivors, the genre has twisted and turned to provide, for me at least, music that has stimulated and re-shaped things for those Americans to grab it back! Here then to my own personal selection of those top albums (with my interpretation of 'indie'). Before that, just a remark that there are no releases from the current year included. I don't think it has been a tremendous year for indie and there is a tendency to place a thicker gloss on those that have impressed, but I am mindful of the fact that that gloss may well tarnish fairly quickly into the next decade. So apologies to The Joy Formidable and The Twilight Sad, whose current releases both knocked loudly on my door and, on future reflection might well be invited in. For now though, this is how it looks:-
25 - The Libertines - “Up The Bracket” (2002)
I'm not a big fan of The Libertines and have many times on this site, aired my opinion of them having been grossly overrated. However, what I can't deny is the influence and impact that they have had on the decade and the wealth of talent that has drawn inspiration from them. The debut album came as an antidote to The Strokes having arrived across the water and this certainly created a will to fight from the Brits. Clear leanings into a punkier realm, with The Clash cited, as ever, as a guiding light, but essentially it was pop music performed with an arrogant swagger and it captured a nation. The exclusion of What A Waster was a disappointment, but it was swiftly added to the reissue the following year.
24 - Ash - “Free All Angels” (2001)
It would be fair to challenge the inclusion of Ash in an indie listing I must accept and their nineties output would suggest they were pioneers in the punk pop movement ably led by Green Day. But after the turn of the century their sound had been chiselled more towards commercial viability, perhaps somewhat cynically in pursuit of financial reward. Whether that was an objective or not, it worked and the album stands as their best seller by some measure. Five back to back singles were released throughout 2001, all bar one hitting the top 20, including the excellent Burn Baby Burn, which stands as the band's best number to this day.
23- Frank Turner - “Love Ire & Song” (2008)
The previous year's debut created a degree of interest, particularly amongst Billy Bragg supporters lying in wait for the 'Bard Of Essex' to come up with something new. Then when he did in 2008, the arrival of Frank's second album a mere four weeks later gave solid notice of a requirement for a change at the realm. Photosynthesis was the song hitting the airwaves and folk were rightly paying attention. The depth of the material on the album though was a leap away from the debut and tracks like Better Half and Substitute were emotionally infused pieces of work amongst a set of tales of personal lament, joy and bemusement. Million Dead seemed a universe away.
22- R.E.M. - “Reveal” (2001)
I remember reviewing this at the time and stating that 'R.E.M. don't make bad records'. Well just to scupper me they then went and released Around The Sun next up and their 13th release was indeed unlucky for some! But nothing of that effort here, Reveal was the band's fifth UK chart topping album and whilst they will never match up to Automatic For The People, it had a rich textured brightness to it that was the soundtrack to my particular summer. Writing infectious melodies has never been a problem for the band and songs like All The Way To Reno and Imitation Of Life sit amongst the band's top tunes for me.
21- Kings Of Leon - “Youth And Young Manhood” (2003)
A bunch of Nashville rednecks mixing Southern rock with the blues? They'll never make it will they?! Well four top albums to date suggest otherwise and the impact they've had on the decade has been phenomenal. For me, the debut still stands out as their piece de resistance; it's earthy, raw and displayed rare courage to be different. Tracks like Molly's Chambers, Red Morning Light and California Waiting remain startling to this day and the fact that they've fulfilled their promise is testament to, not only their talent, but to the pure graft they've invested in getting here with four albums that have helped define the decade.
20 - The Strokes - “Is This It” (2001)
Rising up as part of the garage rock revival alongside The White Stripes and The Hives, although there was clearly a lot more polish to the New York quintet. They preceded the album with three-track EP The Modern Age that was extensively over hyped, but at least opened the airwaves up and generated huge anticipation for the album; anticipation that was fully satisfied. Any thoughts of the band being a three-track wonder were blown away; even though there were just a further eight tracks on offer. But not a bad one amongst them, it has to be said. The follow up Room On Fire didn't quite hit the same mark for me but First Impressions Of Earth was another superb effort, with a matured sound. It is the naivety and rawness on Is This It though that makes it the band's greatest offering to the decade. Surprising therefore, that it never even made top thirty in their homeland, yet two years later was included in Rolling Stone's top 500 albums of all time!
19 - Snow Patrol - “Final Straw” (2003)
It took the Scotirish quintet three albums to get recognition, then two more to lose it! But the one in the middle was a wondrous set of songs indeed. Nobody really noticed Spitting Games when it was released just after the album, but once Run and Chocolate had both charted, the re-issue made it a hat trick of top 30 singles and the album was being lauded far and wide and rightly so. I thought both of the following albums were worthy too but the band were up there to be shot at by the media and shoot they did. Their overall contribution to the decade won't be immense but this album alone stands out as a finely crafted piece of work.
18 - Yeah Yeah Yeahs - “Fever To Tell” (2003)
First appearing on the scene in 2001 with the superb debut EP, including Bang which remains my fave song of theirs to this day. Another band that got slung under the garage rock banner but then showed enough polish to render the tag unworthy. With sex kitten Karen O becoming the new Debbie Harry and an arty gloss to their spiky New York punk, how could they fail? Fever To Tell lived up to expectations and included bags of energy, whilst retaining a commercial edge in songs like Maps, Pin and Date With The Night, all of which made it to single format. Then there was the sheer spite of Black Tongue (“Boy you're just a stupid bitch and girl you're just a no-good dick”). The follow ups have shown diminishing returns with me, with the latest getting far too close to Debbie Harry musically too, but Fever To Tell remains a powerful and unique piece of work.
17 - My Vitriol - “Finelines” (2001)
The band that have become the great enigma of the last ten years! Finelines was one of the finest debut albums for a long while, then they teased us with the excellent Moodswings EP the following year and the great new hopes were amongst us! Sadly, intermittent offerings and live shows since, plus threats of album number two being 'due out soon', have meant that the faith has dwindled. But let's concentrate on what they did offer up all those years ago. At the time there was registering of a movement under the label 'Nu Gaze', ably fronted by My Bloody Valentine of course, although where and when the shoe became new is difficult to disseminate. My Vitriol played landscaping guitar-laden melodies with a driving rhythm behind it; it was dynamic and inspiring and gave real hope of something to blow away the tarnished remains of Britpop. It did blow it away but oh had they sustained it we could well be worshiping them as the Gods they threatened to be.
16 - The Music - “Welcome To The North” (2004)
I'm guessing that many would have plumped for the eponymous debut from two years earlier, but for me the follow-up showed a lot more dexterity from the Kippax boys. Lead single Freedom Fighters followed the path previously set but there was greater depth on tracks like Bleed From Within. The NME rated it highly but few else did. By the time the third album Strength In Numbers was upon us, a further four years had elapsed and, despite Robert Harvey's much improved hair styling, the world at large was predominantly disinterested. A shame, because it completed an excellent trio for the band, placing them as one of the most proficient acts of the decade.
15 - The Cooper Temple Clause - “Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose” (2003)
One of the great travesties of the decade was that a band of the ability of TCTC could receive such poor acclaim as to call it a day after such a short existence. The band moved away from the harder core of sound created on See This Through And Leave and fashioned a superb blend of grunge and pop ('prunge'?). Whilst the vocal style was dangerously close to Liam Gallagher's, the quality of Blind Pilots as a song must surely lay undisputed and was one the decade's very best singles for me. There were some experimental moments and a hint of electronica in places, with Music Box standing out as a solid example of the depth here. The follow-up perhaps went a bridge too far and, without major label backing, served as the band's epitaph.
14 - Placebo - “Sleeping With Ghosts” (2003)
In the fickle music world we live in, successful bands that stick around for a long time get much greater scrutinisation on each offering, with a view to a kill. Established bands that didn't gain major commercial success are the ones who get hailed as 'influential' (Pixies, Gang Of Four, My Bloody Valentine). Placebo fall into the former of course, as they have now released six albums, five of them hitting top ten in the UK, but of course they never influenced anybody! Sleeping With Ghosts was the band's fourth set and the only one that didn't hit top ten. It opens with the instrumental Bulletproof Cupid, a blistering two minutes of drive that sets the album up neatly. There were four tremendous singles extracted from it, including the excellent The Bitter End and, for me, the band's deepest moment on Protect Me From What I Want. Both Meds and Battle For The Sun have followed it and each taken them a tad away from their pedestal, although neither enough to suggest they should be shot at.
13 - The Killers - “Hot Fuss” (2004)
Leaders of the American pack when it comes to indie and rightly so with three solid albums thus far (four if you count Sawdust). All three topped the UK chart but failed to do so in the US. The debut remains the class act, with a vibrancy and shine to it that was a breathe of fresh air in 2004. Somebody Told Me had been released three months prior to the album and had created a stir of anticipation that was not to be denied. Mr.Brightside followed up and the world was theirs for the taking. They headlined the following year's NME Award Tour ahead of Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party and The Futureheads and then took the summer festivals by storm. They've slipped a little from those dizzy heights in the meantime, but remain a very prominent force in the indie world.
12 - Editors - “The Back Room” (2005)
Everybody wanted to hate Editors because of their blatant leanings on the eighties and Joy Division in particular, but of all the bands that perpetrated such an act this decade, Editors pulled it off. The band released three singles from this album prior to its release, with each one winning the public over slightly more - a couple of quick re-releases and they had made it. The album bore start to finish commerciality but with a combination of Ian Curtis vocals and The Edge's guitar strokes giving it a lush finish. The singles Munich, Blood and Bullets all stand out in the set and, for me, this is one of those albums I can play over and again and not become tired of. An End Has A Start moved the band forward but lacked the commerciality of the debut, then In This Light And On This Evening had too much varnish and not enough vigour for my liking, but a solid trilogy for sure.
11 - Elbow - “The Seldom Seen Kid” (2008)
Elbow will become one of those influential bands that remained on the fringes because of their non-conformity; The Seldom Seen Kid was the album that tickled the mainstream though, thanks in the main to the Mercury Prize. But on reflection it IS their finest hour. I remember hearing Grounds For Divorce for the first time on Jools Holland and wondering why Radiohead had remained so aloof from commerciality. The album was a well rounded affair though, with the experimentation of past somehow hitting a level of realisation. Mirrorball, Weather To Fly and The Fix all juggled between familiarity and obscurity with both finesse and frivolity. An accomplished set indeed!
10 - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - “B.M.R.C.” (2001)
Another band that sit uncomfortably under the 'indie' tag, they have released five studio albums during the decade, although two of them need to be given a wide berth (you know which ones!). The other three, however, have all been rather fine recordings, but it's still the debut that defines the band for me. It was both powerful and sleazy, with a deep underground feeling to it. Songs like first single Red Eyes And Tears, whilst clearly drawing from Joy Division, furnish the mysterious darkness the band harness to themselves. Yet the commercial drive of Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll and the thunderous beauty of Love Burns showed a band who were not only confidently accomplished, but were prepared to stretch the boundaries.
9 - The Dears - “Missiles” (2008)
A good number of you won't have caught word of The Dears and it is likely that even fewer will have had the privilege to hear this astounding album, as it was released on a low key label and the band virtually disbanded before its release. It is a haunting traumatic piece of work and most certainly not for the feint hearted. Those of you who do recall the band will probably have come across them in 2003, when head honcho Murray Lightburn was being hailed as the 'Black Morrissey'. But, whilst there are clear vocal similarities, musically they touch on a variety of genres, including gospel, jazz and blues. Missilles is a harrowing outing, with tales of pain and sorrow, delivered with real passionate despondency - it is little surprise that the band collapsed at the end, but one has to question if such a masterpiece would have resulted if there had been greater harmony.
8 - JJ72 - “JJ72” (2000)
Front man Mark Greaney suggested more potential than any song writer since Crispin Hunt of Longpigs 'fame'. The quote marks are necessary because neither received the acclaim they merited, as neither managed to follow up their superb debut albums. Greaney had the appearance of a lost school boy and the voice to match, with an astounding vocal range. Musically, the band packed a solid punch too, with grandiose melodic pieces like Snow and Oxygen. The album hit top 20 in the UK and went gold but the follow up, I To Sky, despite also making the top twenty, failed to take that early promise to fresh heights, so the UK lost interest and the rest of world remained oblivious. Greaney has made various noises of a solo project since but without the arrival of new material, so maybe his talent has to go down as a tragic loss.
7 - Bloc Party - “A Weekend In The City” (2007)
Over the course of just three years, Bloc Party went from being the great hopes for British music to be being mocked for their radical crossover into a more dance influenced arena. For me, all three studio albums were of high merit but were probably done no favours by the various remixes that were pumped out. The debut album Silent Alarm was groundbreaking and many would have cited that as being worthy of inclusion here. Perhaps my aversion to including more than a single entry for each artist was the only reason it isn't. Although for me, A Weekend In The City was a brave excursion for the band, taking them away from the debut, with an eloquence and skill that was quite frankly startling. The Prayer, whilst giving early indications of the move towards dance, stands as the band's finest single and tracks like Hunting For Witches and Uniform illustrated a confident band prepared to enter into experimentation. Tagging on Flux for the repackaging took something away for me, as the song marked the real shift for the band that rightly met with cries of disparagement!
6 - Idlewild - “The Remote Part” (2002)
Scotland's finest band ever for me, although they have never really been granted the level of success that they truly deserved. The Remote Part was their finest piece of work and their only album to go gold (2007's Best Of amazingly only reached 79 in the chart). Lead single You Held The World In Your Arms gave notice of something exceptional and by the time American English had been released, there was huge anticipation for something special from the album - they didn't disappoint. There was power, passion and pop in abundance and Roddy Woomble was being lauded on high but afterwards the departure of bassist Bob Fairfoull led to a period of diminishing returns from the band. They have, however, released five albums during the decade, which is impressive in itself and they have helped define the period for me, with a string of great songs and superb live performances.
5 - Muse - “Origin Of Symmetry” (2001)
First hitting the scene at the tail end of the nineties, Muse were automatically dubbed the 'poor man's Radiohead' and, although critical acclaim had accompanied such accusations, they needed to step out of the shadows and prove their individual worth. This they duly did with the superb Origin Of Symmetry. Plug In Baby had already given illustration of the force to follow, so by the time New Born was hitting the airways, the album was guaranteed a huge uptake. It was on the money, as it showcased a band on top of its game and ready to take on the world. Powerful yet melodic, it was a set of superb tunes that set the band up for a magnificent decade. They even managed to get away with covering a Nina Simone song, which certainly wouldn't work for them now the hounds are calling for their blood, given their latest operatic offering!
4 - Arctic Monkeys - “Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not” (2006)
The band that put Sheffield back on the map and fuelled something of a musical uprising in South Yorkshire. They also created a phenomenon in their whole self-marketing, primarily via the internet, prior to having made any releases. When I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor came out, the High Street queues were of an unprecedented length, but boy did they come up with the goods! Then, as part of the hysteria generation, they kept us waiting a further four months for the album, but again goods were produced…and how! With a lyrical wit not heard since Billy Bragg and a sound so crisp and vibrant, it made The Strokes sound dated. From the sheer pace of The View From The Afternoon to the utter charm of Mardy Bum, topped off with the downright cheekiness of Riot Van, they produced the complete finished article. The next two albums gave diminishing returns for sure, but the band remains one of the decade's most influential acts, and not just in Sheffield.
3 - The Wedding Present - “Take Fountain” (2005)
“What tha fuck?!” I hear you say, well if you haven't heard it (and most of you won't have done) then you really have missed a gem. The Weddos were part of the original UK indie scene back in the eighties and David Gedge has been writing material ever since, some of it with the below par Cinerama. Amazingly then, this was only the band's seventh studio album, but hell is it their best by a country mile. Also, it was originally recorded as a Cinerma album, prior to Gedge splitting with Sally Murrell and reforming The Wedding Present. Some credit must be allocated to Gedge having upped his Leeds roots for American soil. Take Interstate 5 for example, where the guitar sound strums, jangles and builds to a thunderous climax until collapsing into a country rock exit. But there's still the poignant 'grumpy old Yorkshireman' lyrical content, like on I'm From Further North Than You (“I admit we had some memorable days but just not very many”) and then the set closes with Gedge's most beautiful piece to date, Perfect Blue, probably written about Murrell. Whenever I became disillusioned with current music, I would often dig out some old Weddos stuff, so to get a new album like this was like manna from heaven.
2 - Coldplay - “Parachutes” (2000)
I have no doubt in my mind that Chris Martin has been the decade's most accomplished songwriter. He's also shown himself to be level-headed, charming and spiteless…and the press hate him for it! There is a distasteful trend in contemporary music for us to build up new artists to the point where we want them to fall over of their own accord. We did it with Snow Patrol, we did it with Razorlight and far too many amongst us crave to do it with Coldplay! Yet throughout the decade they have released four top quality studio albums, all with a flawless ease, with the last two going to number one is every single country they were released. Rewind then to the start of the decade when indie was faltering in the hands of Travis and Stereophonics and boy did we need a shaft of laser to cut through it - Coldplay provided the solution. I remember hearing Shiver the first time and sensing something special was upcoming, then of course Yellow was being played on every radio station in every town and the band were indeed the new messiahs. It was pop music but with true feeling, tremendous melody and real depth, like on Trouble or Everything's Not Lost. The other three albums can sit side by side with Parachutes, but because of the impact it had, it stands as an influential piece of work that deserves ultimate recognition.
1 - Kasabian - “Kasabian” (2004)
Kasabian have been slated in most quarters and I know their inclusion at the top of this particular stack will meet with disdain, but let's examine what they've done. They extracted everything that had collectively created and moulded indie, knocked it about, pumped it back up and then welded it back together again into that souped-up race car that everybody said wouldn't perform as well as the original models did. There was nothing unique about the blend of music they played, but the invention in its execution was stunning. They had already released Processed Beats, Reason Is Treason, Club Foot and L.S.F. prior to the album coming out, so there was real danger of an anticlimax once it did. But not so, the set brought together the energy of the previous singles and had an easy flow between tracks. The clever dance beats pounded whilst the bass pumped and the anthemic songs bore genuine power. They define the decade in indie because they define indie.
Remember this is TC's view, but what albums defined the last ten years for you? Look out for more features on the noughties in the run up the new year, including Heroes and Villians of the Noughties, cult albums of the noughties, and maybe some more lists of albums/artists that shaped the last decade.