60. Supergrass – In It For The Money
The clever “sod-off” to pretentious musicians in the title gives a glimpse of the none-too-serious content inside and, true to its word, there are very few items of canned joy as good as ‘In It For The Money’. Never trying to be too sunny, this sounds more like three close friends going from pub to pub, burning a trail, with the occasional fleeting insight into their messy minds. The lonely ‘Late In The Day’ is far more hopeful than despairing though and most of the time elsewhere it’s a determined escape from the rat race for one day/night at least. The highlight is surely ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ is like that sudden rush of energy you get around 4:30 AM on a sleepless camping trip; the kind of mood where you need to go for a run for no reason.
59. Cornershop – When I Was Born For The 7th Time
Probably the best advert for British multiculturalism since the chicken Tikka masala, Cornershop’s third album is a feast of genre-crossing. Somehow it joins the dots between British pop, British rock, Indian pop, Indian rock, hip-hop electronica, turntablism, country, the occasional foray into beat poetry and a Punjabi cover of ‘Norwegian Wood’ to wrap things up. The lyrics nearly all sound like they were written in ten minutes apiece but that’s part of its charm; musically it’s good enough that it doesn’t really care what it says in words. Sometimes the lyrics surprise you though and turn up trumps, like on the indie-rock love-letter to Bollywood musicals ‘Brimful of Asha’ and the tongue-in-cheek country-rock ‘Good To Be On The Road Back Home Again’. It has its fair share of weird trip-outs too like the slip-sliding braindead euphoria of ‘Butter The Soul’.
58. PJ Harvey – Dry
Ok, you’re a female singer/songwriter and you want to be acknowledged for your talent, not your looks. What do you do? Appearing on the front of the NME proudly displaying unshaven armpits? Alongside an album like ‘Dry’, that’ll do nicely. One of the few genuinely unique records in British rock; it sounds dirty – almost sexual – but in a foreboding and unnatural way. Elsewhere it’s frustrated and uncomfortable disguised as weirdly thrilling. Steve Vaughn’s bass sounds like crude oil swelling from a kitchen sink and Rob Ellis’ has some of the most menacing drum kits around, but Harvey is the clear star. While her grimy guitars and howling vocals are incendiary, it’s nothing compared to her songs which, within their field (whatever that is), are near unbeatable.
57. Mogwai – Mogwai Young Team
If MYT was just the 16-minute ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, it would still be in this position in the list. ‘…Satan’ is one of the high watermarks of instrumental music of the 20th Century – no joke. Simple themes and instruments and quiet/loud dynamics are forced to gradually explode and settle which, on paper, sounds fairly bog standard, but is, in reality, jaw-dropping. The other nine tracks are definitive post-rock; moody atmospheric chasms and convulsive jettisons into space, occasionally punctuated with the odd piano piece or thrashing feedback. The only duffer is the botched vocal track ‘R U Still In2 It’, but aside from that, this is fiercely beautiful and beautifully fierce (but not always together) and still inspires every rock band within ten feet.
56. The Handsome Family – Through The Trees
The husband/wife duo The Handsome Family are about as eerily magical as country gets. Lyrically, it’s largely an enigma; the opener ‘Weightless Again’ may not sound quite right with its stream of consciousness thoughts loosely hanging together in the verses, until the chorus kicks in and you realise what an incredibly poignant piece of work it really is. Musically, it’s rich and warm, but sends chills up your spine when it wants to. The surreal and macabre are clearly favourite subjects of theirs; ‘Down In The Valley Of Hollow Logs’ is a borderline traditional American folklore ballad and makes double suicide sound cosy and romantic.
55. Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible
Discounting Alvin and the Chipmunks’ version of ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘The Holy Bible’ is probably the singular most depressing disc of the last forty years. Remove sharp objects from the room, here’s a list of subjects: American gun crime, fascist dictators, mass murderers, prostitution, anorexia, self-mutilation, the holocaust; it reads like a hundred calls to the Samaritans without ever getting an answer. Brutal the lyrics may be, but they’re oddly mesmerising in how tortured and enraged they are. The member who wrote them, Richey Edwards, has been missing for 15 years. The music itself is melodic and detailed, but somehow still sounds like an empty shell. The guitars chug and snarl, the bass rumbles and seethes while the drums march on as if trying desperately to hold things together. The clear highlight is ‘4st 7lb’, probably the best song ever written about anorexia with a chorus that sends chills down my spine today: “I want to be so skinny that I rot from view”.
54. Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill
Surely every women who suffered a messy breakup has a well-worn copy of ‘Jagged Little Pill’. Still, this isn’t the only reason why it’s in 8-digit sale figures, since it’s full of great pop songs with just enough sharp edges to reach a rock audience. Coming to define the “confessional singer-songwriter” genre, Alanis Morissette confronts each of her demons: sub-standard boyfriends (‘You Oughta Know’), pushy parents (‘Perfect’), depression (‘Mary Jane’) and a fractured Catholic upbringing (‘Forgiven’). On the other hand, when she’s in a good mood, it’s like the bad times never happened: ‘Head Over Feet’ is one of the best and most charming pure-and-simple love songs of the decade. She’s one of the few people of the last few decades to sell as much as she did and still sound like she means every word.
53. Pixies – At The BBC
Friends, rock bands, hip young gunslingers, lend me your ears and I’ll show you why you’re not as exciting as the Pixies. They never sounded as dangerous as they do here, the guitars are more muscular, the bass rumbling like a tank driving over a flimsy bridge. The most obvious change however comes from Frank Black’s vocals which never sounded better on record, whether they’re being eerily seductive or the sound of a million bandages being torn from open wounds. The easy highlight is ‘Caribou’ which beats the original version on ‘Come On Pilgrim’ with quieter quiets, louder louds, and Black’s unholy howl of “REPENT!” springing out of nowhere like some biblical punisher.
52. Daft Punk – Homework
‘Homework’ is house music. It’s also a good album. I’ll let you read those sentences again so you can absorb them properly and scratch your head in mild disbelief. Unusually creative and possessing a feverish energy found virtually nowhere else, ‘Homework’ stands the test of time very nicely indeed; in fact bands like Justice owe most of their career to it. The key to its success is the fact that it doesn’t usually sound influenced by other house music, rather than funk, rock and hip-hop. Generic sweaty Chicago house is a mere chassis that these two French guys dress up with bits and pieces from every other style going with a huge desire to annoy the grumpy landlady in every stereotypical hip-hop video. Easily danceable (even for me who hasn’t danced properly since 1997), creative and infectious with bizarre sounds you won’t find anywhere else, ‘Homework’ is one of the most important dance records ever made.
51. Global Communication – 76:14
The tracks on ’76:14′ are, like the album itself, named after their running times, so as not to influence your interpretation. These ten beautifully pulsating sound paintings represent a comprehensive cross-section of ambient; there is literally no better beginners guide to the genre. While in one or two places it may have dated just a little (‘4:02′) or in other places a little overlong for some (’14:31’), it’s faults are overcome tenfold through composition alone. It covers all the bases: ‘9:39’ is like searching signals from a sinking submarine; ‘8:07′ is an urgent drive home in the pouring rain while the beatless ’12:18’ only just side-steps cliché by being wrought with primal, naked emotion. Its most technically impressive moment however comes from ‘7:39′ which gives the illusion of changing rhythm every time a new part is added. Like all ambient it’s not meant to be solely concentrated on but provide space for thought or an atmosphere and ’76:14’ is bang on target for being all-consuming. For better or for worse, the duo never tried to succeed this watermark, making this a timeless anomaly.