Progressing from Guns’N’Roses as `The World’s Most Dangerous Band’, Eminem burst into middle class homes across the world as `The World’s Most Dangerous Musician’. His first album was vulgar, crass, offensive, full of foul language and obscene lyrics, it covered taboo subjects, and was full of violent imagery involving fights, drugs, and guns. Naturally it sold millions and terrified parents and politicians everywhere. The critics failed to see the underlying reasons for the success; it was clever, full of energy and invention, and packed with great music. The Blond rapper from Detroit had a lot to live up to for his second album, not that he cared, and with The Marshall Mathers LP he created a monster, surpassing his first in every way- it is shocking in its violence, hilarious in its unashamed attack on celebrity, musically intense and original, and is easily one of the albums of the decade.
`PSA 2000′ opens the album in similar style to the Slim Shady LP. It sets the tone for the rest of the album with Eminem’s trademark humour and attitude coming through. For those who don’t know it is a spoken word announcement proclaiming how he doesn’t care if you hate his album
`Kill You’ has an ominous tone throughout with it’s dark, yet funky bass and screamed vocals. It covers a multitude of topics deriding those who criticize him, especially those who see him as a violent influence to their kids. Naturally he responds by saying he will kill them. Lyrically it is much angrier than anything in the first album- the dark side of fame has struck him and he raps about the hypocrisy of radio stations, TV shows etc whose ratings are bad so they invite him on expecting controversy. This is a strong first song which sets the darker tone of the album, with only subtle hints at humour 6 foot underneath.
`Stan’ needs no explaining as it was one of the biggest hits of the decade. On first listen it was a revelation- a brilliantly clever story, flawlessly written lyrics and music, it’s haunting chorus which blends seamlessly into each verse. The story of a disgruntled and psychotic fan going too far again shows the down side of fame, how becoming an idol brings shadowy responsibilities that you either don’t want or release you had until it was too late. Unfortunately as it became such a big hit thanks to certain big Radio stations with 1 in the title who played it roughly 48 times a day it lacks the impact it once had. Of course these radio stations played a severely censored version and on top of this Dido inexplicably became popular. Her song which was sampled in Stan is bland and poor when heard on its own, but as part of Stan it works effectively. Now that her song has been played to death it unfortunately gives a second knife in the back of Eminem’s epic.
`Paul’ is another funny spoken insert, featuring someone’s reaction to hearing the album. At only a few seconds long it is throwaway material but still great fun and the album doesn’t sound whole if who skip it.
`Who Knew’ is a more juvenile version of Kill You, mixing funny lyrics and ideas with satirical and harsh ones. Again he explains his hatred of the hypocrisy of American parents, media, and politicians who have blamed him for everything to murder, suicide, and the decline of the American youth. He explains his side in a clever way, replacing the elegance of rhetoric with his own unique blend of madness. Musically it is fairly simple, with a slight bass beat in the background and some synth style strings which are reminiscent of, ironically, Psycho.
`Steve Berman’ continues the spoken interludes and features a record company producer/suit who hates the album. As always it is done in a jaunty style with some funny background music as Eminem sets himself up as a `me against the world’ figure.
`The Way I Am’ is as close to soul baring and honesty as we get on the album, another angry attack on fame, those who hate him and those who love him a little too much. He spits out the words with venom and typically doesn’t hold back. Musically it is as melodic as he gets, with piano and bass mixing together and some church bells in the choruses which add a dark tint.
`The Real Slim Shady’ was the first big hit off the album, similar to what My Name Is in commercial sensibility and melodic and lyrical content. A circus like loop repeats throughout, the chorus is a huge sing along favourite, and the verses are a hilarious destruction of celebrity. He speaks obviously of the split personality which people see in him, and of the thousands of imitators who started to appear, and his anger over being mentioned by other vacuous types now because he’s famous.
`Remember Me’ features various guest rappers, mostly rapping about themselves and their own experiences. This is more typical rap than Eminem’s own work on the album, features great lyrics but fairly bland stoner noise. Eminem’s verse is the best of the lot and raises the song by virtue of his delivery. There is more name dropping, more screaming, and more goodness.
`I’m Back’ sounds quite commercial with its memorable lead line and catchy chorus. Again the target is fame and the hounds which follow whoever is the flavour of the month. Again he dismisses all the nonsense, and injects plenty of humour into the lyrics with various imaginings and one-liners.
`Marshall Mathers’ stands out with Kim and Stan as a classic- musically and lyrically it wreaks of brilliance and is swamped with emotion. The confessional lyrics speak of further pitfalls of success- how family members he never knew now come to see him. He covers, Axl Rose style, many objects of his rage from boy/girl groups, useless celebrities and whoever else stupidly falls under his radar. Of course it is all tongue in cheek, but you can taste the annoyance from his relationships with his mother and wife and accusations of selling out now that he is `a big star’.
`Ken Kaniff’ is the final spoken word piece, and the best/worst depending on which way your wind blows. It involves a sexual encounter between 2 characters which ends badly when one mentions Eminem. Juvenile and funny the first time, but not integral to the album.
`Drug Ballad’ has a funky bass line helped along by some female vocals throughout. Eminem speaks of his love of drugs and booze which has become an addiction. He speaks of various experiences as well as what will happen/is happening if he doesn’t stop. The chorus is as catchy as the singles on the album, the lyrics are clever although will be disagreeable to most.
`Amityville’ isn’t one of the best songs on the album. Lyrically it is tongue in cheek, but this time it sounds more like it is trying to offend just for the sake of it. Rather than targeting something genuine and slicing it apart, Bizarre and Eminem find everything taboo and recite like a love of exploitation. Musically it isn’t very memorable, although the ending has some nice additions.
`Bitch Please II’ gets back on the musical tracks with some nice background sounds and catchy melodies. The guests (Dre, Snoop) are more effective this time, the lyrics are more direct with each member adding their own flavour. Silly in parts covering the pride of gangsta stories but with all the humourous content you can’t possibly take the content seriously. As with the rest of the album though, the style and music must be seriously respected.
`Kim’ is the best track on the album, absolutely brutal in content and delivery, heavy metal in style in attitude, emotion, pain, and anger dropping from every word. Every word is shrieked in a demented way, shivers will fly up and down your spine, the chorus is catchy, the guitars and piano are haunting, and the words are utterly horrific. Basically he imagines taking his wife out of the city and murdering her after she cheated on him, the lyrics delivered with frightening authenticity. There is no humour in stark contrast to the rest of the album, it is basically 6 minutes of harrowing rage ending with the sounds of a body being dragged away. Within a few seconds you will forget that you are listening to a song; one of the best songs of the decade.
`Under The Influence’ features D12 rapping along to one of the most memorable melodies on the album, and an extremely infectious chorus. The lyrics are on the `lighter’ side, full of vulgarity and humour and as with the rest of the album pretty offensive if you don’t realize the tongue in cheek nature.
`Criminal’ is another song with South Park-esque humour (and references). Eminem raps about the criminal life that certain areas of society believes he is part of. Murder, bank robberies, kidnapping etc are all flown through with jolly glee, but the message is all about freedom of speech versus conservatism and red faced commentators who have never actually listened to the music.
Eminem’s second album was a huge chart success as well as being a critical favourite. On the flip side the inevitable controversy was huge with celebrities, parents, politicians, fellow rappers, women and gay rights’ groups all ganging together in disgust. There is plenty here to offend, but whether or not it should not be listened to is a futile question given that there is so much to enjoy. It is undoubtedly one of the most important and best albums of the decade bringing hard edged rap into the mainstream, giving a well deserved slap in the face to watered-down music of all genres, and a wake up call to all artists to raise their game or get left behind. Hypnotically weaving its way through the various part’s of Eminem’s psyche it is best to simply relax and enjoy. If you are easily offended you won’t listen and probably won’t be reading this; for those who are not will be treated to an album full of force and aggression, but with a lot of heart, humour, wit, and skill too.
While the (awfully named) Naughties had some terrifyingly bad guitar/rock band trends a miniscule handful appeared to give some respite from the overall stagnance. The decade for music as a whole (at least in Britain and North America) was led by generic R’n’B acts, and bland, MOR reality stars. The decade saw such terrible trends as the angular guitar monotone nonsense started by The Strokes; a rise in lyrically worthless, chorus led British drival such as Franz Ferdinand and The Kaiser Chiefs; Energetic but substanceless groups more interested in how many articles they had written about themselves in Heat rather than their music such as The Arctic Monkeys and The Killers; The less said about Pete Doherty the better. Disenchanted rock fans began the fruitful search though other genres, other countries, and other times to find something worth listening to, many unaware that the (by far) best album of the decade in any country or genre was right on their doorstep.
The Music had a couple of years earlier an average amount of commercial success with their self titled debut, a mix of funk, disco, and Zeppelin-esque riffs. They were full of life, had a very strong vocalist, and a host of talented musicians, with an ear for a catchy melody to top it off. Welcome To The North was released fairly unceremoniously with some good reviews by the ‘Big Magazines’ and a couple of chart scraping singles. Listening to the album as a whole, any of the 11 tracks could have been a top ten hit with a more musically savvy audience other than the British public. From the opening strains of the title track which could easily grace any club in the land, to the high speed Cessation, from the high emotion of Guide, to the perfection of album closer Open Your Mind, Welcome To The North is a classic in every conceivable way. Like Revolver, like Thriller, like The Bends, it is a genre bending record fuelled by a pure love for music and features something for everyone. Robert Harvey’s vocals soar, his lyrics emotive but hardly anything new, but it is the intertwining melodies, the coherence, the invention, which makes the album truly special. Rather than reading this, go buy it, go listen to it. Perhaps this will be recognized for its genius in the future- it is up to you to make sure it isn’t forgotton under a dark cloud of unoriginality.
The Gathering: Sleepy Buildings: 2004
As with all of these top 15 albums, if you want further exciting information go to the Music Reviews section where hopefully at some point there will be an in depth review of each. The Gathering released several good albums during the decade- every album is a big change with this band, though in this decade they endured their biggest change to date- their singer and figurehead leaving. Before that happened though they had finetuned their latest sound- minimalist rock with progressive influences. Between studio albums they released this recording of their recent semi acoustic live shows, and with it unleashed one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. They trawl through their back catalogue playing some of their biggest songs in an almost acoustic fashion. That isn’t too extraordinary- MTV Unplugged had been doing it for years. The difference is that many of the songs on show here were originally effects laden behemoths filled with a multitude of instruments and more often than not, played loud and heavy. For the group to adapt these into a soft, intimate setting is a triumph- for some of the songs to be changed beyond recognition and still be so good is a talent almost unheard of.
There are many stand out moments and songs, each member showing their abilities and passion. Anneke Van Giersbergen (who millions unfortunately have not and may not ever hear) is one of THE great vocalists and on Sleepy Buildings she puts her entire array of skills on display flawlessly. While the guitars understandably take a background seat, the drumming and pianos fill the void. For beautiful, haunting, shadow filled music you can do no better than The Gathering, and on Sleepy Buildings the band is at their most chilling, their most exquisite.
Muse: Origin Of Symmetry: 2001
The first 6 songs of Muse’s second album are the stuff of myth- note perfect, word perfect, nothing else touches them. From there the album unfortunately but understandably loses momentum and quality, but while later efforts may be more consistent overall, this remains their best. Heralded by some as the savior of guitar music and by others as (falsly) just another Radiohead clone after the success of their debut Showbiz, Muse had a lot to live up to- prove to the doubters that they were unique, and prove to fans that they could get better. Not that they cared as here they simply ploughed on, carving their own individual niche and blasting their competition away. While Radiohead were struggling through self important experimental dirges, Muse were blowing the tops off the the towers of excess and creating something new and exciting in rock music. Matt Bellamy throws off the shackles of the Thom Yorke comparison by displaying some other worldly vocal antics, shrieking about love and despair, paranoia and space age insanity like a man possessed by a demon released from a millienia of torture. While the first album had plenty of musical invention and chugging guitars, Bellamy becomes a full blown guitar hero here, casting off classic riff after classic riff before jumping on his piano for a bit of Bach twiddling. Each song has so many ideas and so much creativity squeezed in that at times it all becomes daunting, but never does it become a self indulgent mess. Classic melodies on the likes of New Born and Plug In Baby will stand the test of time, while the epic Citizen Erased makes Bohemian Rhapsody look like Basshunter. A breathless, breathtaking magnum opus.
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP: 2001
Already America’s Most Wanted, hated by middle America, politicians, celebrities, and just about everyone else Eminem’s second album was destined to be controversial. What no-one expected was that it would be just about the greatest, and best selling rap album of all time. On The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem bares all; his rage at hypocrites, his satirical rants at musical executives, talentless wannabees, useless celebrities, and psychotic fans. There are no lazy samples with a few commercially edgy lyrics here which poison just about every other rap and R’n’B artist of the decade. Eminem does everything his own way- the music, ideas, and most importantly the lyrics are all his own. In fact, the only major sample he uses turned out to be one of the best ideas he ever had- turning an otherwise bland Dido song into a masterpiece. In doing so he unfortunately gave Dido a career, unleashing her and a cavalcade of soulless, talentless singers onto the airwaves. Luckily for us we can drown them out with such belters as The Real Slim Shady, The Way I Am, Marshall Mathers, and the absolutely terrifying Kim. Eminem’s overall performance on that song must surely rank highly with the best vocal performances of the decade.
No punches are pulled, the melodies, music, and effects are all simple yet highly effective, and there is plenty of humour. By this point Eminem already knew what everyone thought of him, fans and haters alike, and he continues to tantalize both groups by keeping them guessing at the true nature of the mythological figure he has created. Arguably this is the album which brought the genre into the mainstream but none, not even himself have since come close to equaling the power and intelligence on display here. This remains his most personal, most inspired, best work.
Natalie Imbruglia: White Lillies Island: 2001
No-one expected former teen actress of Neighbours to trample all over the footsteps of Kylie and Jason with the release of her hit debut album. Featuring chart toppers like Torn, Big Mistake etc it was a success she has yet to match. Aside from the hits the album was a mish mash of faux Morrisette angst and anger, big vocals and ideas, though now it all sounds not quite clichéd, but ‘we’ve heard it all before’. Rather than being left of the middle it sounds middle of the road, although surprises like Smoke and the title track help to mark it above the rest of the female singer songwriters of the time. What no-one expected was that her second album would be a flawless piece of pop perfection with all new mature lyrics leaving any notions of little angry girrrl behind. White Lillies Island is the best pop album of the decade, easily. Covering a multitude of emotions, featuring unforgettable melodies, powerful vocals it is tinged with darkness, sadness, but also filled with infectious joy for life, love, and music.
Although the singles, particularly That Day are loaded with catchy barbed wire bits and invention it is the rest of the album tracks which make this a classic. Unusually for what most would see as a simple pop album, the songs picked as singles are not the best on offer. Too often nowadays a pop album is thrown out on the basis of two or three hit singles (usually found on the first half of the album, if not the first 3 songs) while the remaining songs are an assortment of guff, rubbish, and murder inspiring drivel. Those of a similar style who have truly stood out in the decade, Lady Gaga (knows how to write a decent chorus, but falls flat on her ever so outrageously painted face in every other respect), Rhianna (needs to lose the commercial R’n’B crap and branch out), and Pink and Stefani even suffer from this to an extent. Although it has sold a million copies it is still embarrassingly overlooked, I would recommend this to any fans of the pop wailers above just as much as I would recommend it to fans of Tori Amos and Metallica. Every song is great, with only Sunlight marginally annoying me 8 years later.With all out classics such as Hurricane, Come September, and Everything Goes it is a Goddess of a record. Counting Down The Days- her third album has some damn good stuff too, and I wait for the proper release of her 4th; this though is her masterpiece.
Nightwish: Once: 2004
Nightwish had been progressing ferociously since their average but promising debut. After the success of Wishmaster and the brilliant Century Child, two albums showcasing that they band were getting heavier and incorporating more progressive elements into their music while remaining as melodic as metal can get it was a great surprise for Once to become such a commercial smash. On the back of two massive singles, Nemo and Wish I Had An Angel, Nightwish finally got recognition beyond Europe and cemented their reputation as one of the biggest European bands. The band are on top form here and achieve the production quality that they had sought long for; a band with such big ideas needs big values and big sound. The traditional mythological and literary references in the lyrics and themes are still present but they cast off the metal clichés and integrate these thoughts and ideas into the modern, real world. Toumas has greatly matured as a songwriter, not only in the lyrics but musically also- most of the songs feel short and sharp even though you won’t find any under four minutes- all the twiddly extra parts which seemed drawn out or unnecessary on previous albums have had the razor treatment- everything is urgent and precise. The two most epic songs here- Creek Mary’s Blood and the mammoth Ghost Love Score are epic in every sense, but never do they feel tired or excessive. The band have also been capable of writing songs over the 6 minute mark and with Ghost Love Score they have created possibly their best song.
Musically the band has never been so inspired up till this point, and thankfully there are non of the cheesy moments which marred past songs. The guitars are fast and furious when they need to be, and restrained for the lighter songs such as Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijian and Higher Than Hope. Tuomas keyboard and piano work is moved to the forefront of many songs, while Tarja’s vocals are as strong as ever on what would prove to be her final album with the group. Jukka’s drums are frantic and forceful while Marco give’s his trademark growling vocals when needed. The band employs what sounds like a choir and orchestra of a hundred in many of the sounds meaning every song sounds huge, and it is this addition which truly pushes the album into stardom. While Evanescene were teaching a generation of adolescents to whine and that it was ok to like sub par pop music as long as it employed guitars and dark clothing, Nightwish were breaking the boundaries of the fading symphonic metal genre, teaching jaded metal weirdos that it was ok to like female singers, and making groundbreaking, heavy music which everyone can and should appreciate.
JJ72: JJ72: 2000
Early in the decade this Irish trio of youngsters with a penchant for Joy Division and melodic, quiet/heavy rock burst into the charts with a string of hits from an album which failed to start any musical revolution, a band which failed to become media darlings- all good, but unfortunately the band never lived up to their early potential and split after an equally good but ill received second album. With an ever so pretty lead vocalist and writer, his sensitive lyrics juxtaposing the often barbaric vocals and with an every so pretty female bass player the band seemed destined to become something special. It seemed though that the band were out of tune and out of time with the Zeitgeist though as a new wave of talentless American one chord guitar bands would slope into the hearts and minds of the brainless, tuneless generation. Perhaps the band will become more appreciated in the future for now the loyal fans will have to contend themselves with this, with I To Sky, and some of the great B-Sides and tracks from the unreleased 3rd album- check them out, all good stuff.
JJ72 opens in blistering style with October Swimmer an emotionally charged rocker with melodies to die for and a chorus made for moshing. This along with other singles Snow and Oxygen showcase the band’s trademarks- catchy verses building up to shout along choruses- kudos to anyone that can follow Mark’s vocal peaks on any song. The album is full of tender moments like Not Like You, Improv, but especially Willow- a beautiful song which is so fragile that it might break if you listen to it. The album at times feels bare, with an unknown record company and probably not much production behind it but all of this gives a haunting tone. Closer Bumblebee is THE gig closer, and possibly the best album ending of the decade. On record you can barely hear the verse; turn up the volume at your peril though as the chorus is loud enough to make you go blind through your ears. Played live this is a monster, band and crowd alike becoming possessed, jumping around and generally breaking stuff. For such a young band there is great innocence and maturity here- all scars are ripped open and put on display, all ghosts are released from the proton packs and held in suspense for us to witness. For whatever reasons the record company didn’t back the second album and everything collapsed. Either album could be featured here- the second is probably more complete, but the first has all the hits, and all the youthful exuberance of a band that should have been, but never were.
Manic Street Preachers: Journal For Plague Lovers: 2009
15 years after Richey said goodbye, and possibly 3 or 4 albums past their best work according to some, the Manics returned with this beast. Choosing not to release any singles this is as much a gift to the fans as it is a tribute to Richey. It is his lyrics which are used throughout, giving Nicky a break from his writer’s block. As everyone will know the band has been on a rollercoaster of fortunes since The Holy Bible, with Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth being massive hits. Know Your Enemy remains their worst album while Lifeblood breathed some life and venom back into the band. Send Away The Tigers proved that the band still had the potential to be hitmakers, featuring some big singles and many short, sharp, punk edged songs. When 2009 came around, the furore concerned the new album of ‘Richey speak’ and rumours of a new (which has now been lauded as their greatest work) Holy Bible. True, there are many similarities between the 3rd and ninth albums- Richey’s lyrics move between stomach churning rage to lung deflating fragility, from humour to hatred, and from political to incomprehensible. If you got the special edition of the album you’ll know that many of these lyrics were edited, and once you’ve listened to the music and how everythings fits perfectly you’ll appreciate the band’s skill as songwriters all over again.
This is not an easy album, and not one which will grab you immediately. The trouble is, each fan was expecting something but in all likelihood the finished result is not what you expected. After getting over this initial shock you should see that the album is their best in years. The artwork is Bibleesque, as are the song titles, and there are many sound effects or guitar/vocal moments which recall certain songs. But the band has moved on, becoming more accomplished in most ways. Opener Peeled Apples starts with an ominous bass riff, second only in power to Archives Of Pain, closer William’s Last Words is a tear jerking Nicky vocal- don’t let that put you off as his singing style is honed in and he merely speaks the words with a 4st 7lb lump in his throat. In between we have the potential singles Jackie Collins Existential Question Time and Me And Stephen Hawking, as close to massive hits since Design For Life, angry blasts such as She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach and Marlon JD, and softer moments such as Facing Page Top Left and This Joke Sport Severed. However, my personal favourites as always come in the shape of the lessor known album tracks- Virginia State Epileptic Colony and All Is Vanity. This is as good an album for any non fan to get as an introduction (though as always you should start from the beginning) and for any jaded Manics fans- Welcome Back.
Mika Bomb: The Fake Fake Sound Of Mika Bomb: 2001
Most people may know the band after Lamacq called them the best band ever to come from Japan on the unlistened to destroyer of music that is Radio 1, back before it collapsed completely. Whether or not this is true (there are tones of excellent Japanese bands) this amusingly lyriced, firey debut is one of the most energetic and exciting albums of the decade. Also true is that their second and final album could have made this list, but I think the first edges it for sheer fun and unashamedness. Mika Bomb are primarily a Japanese/British girl punk band. Usually that would be enough for me to fall in love with a band, but more often than not such bands become irritating quickly. Not so here, with songs such as Super Sexy Razor Happy Girls, Garage Superstars, Contact Tokyo, and Heart Attack ripping to shreds similar American male fronted punk bands of the time. You can keep your Blink 182/Offspring/Sum 41 etc with their ‘humourous’ naked videos, ‘innovative’ blending of rap, and ‘good’ musical qualities. Even most of the song titles here are worth the money alone, but once you here the band rip into one of their million mile an hour 2 minute songs you’ll never go back. They even manage to get a soft love song in there with Don’t Speak amongst the madness of Super Honda, Underwear, Yellow Danger Babies and the rest. Song topics include computer games, superheroes, motorbike racing, playing music for the love of plying music, the Wizard Of Oz, martial arts techniques, who knows? The guitars are sublime, crashing chords and jangly riffs flying about everywhere, epileptic drums and bass, and vocals which will probably take the uninitiated a few listens to get used to. Once you absorb it all you’ll be jumping around like Yoshi after he realized he’s eaten Mario’s favourite mushroom.
Gemma Hayes: Night On My Side: 2002
Gemma had been touring the pubs and clubs of Dublin some time before this was released. Although it didn’t have many hit singles (unlike Mercury Prize Winners and Nominees of today- if you don’t have a number 1 or a song covered by Winehouse, don’t bother) it nevertheless became the best Irish album of the decade. Most female artists of the time were singing of independence to convince us that they aren’t actually the empty, attention seeking, male driven harpies that we know they are. Gemma was doing and singing exactly what she wanted to, with rock songs such as Hanging Around and Let A Good Thing Go, to more gentle, emotional songs such as Ran For Miles Tear In My Hand. There is a beauty here which any folk artist would strive for, an ease of style and writing which even the best struggle to reach. Gemma’s lyrics are open and honest, singing tales of love and anguish, loss and joy. Her acoustic stylings were the perfect antedote to my daily doses and nightly blasts of metal, although she is just as passionate and at times angry as anyone. While songs such as Back of My Hand could have been big singles, Gemma has never been one to chase the spotlight as seen on subsequent albums- plenty of commercial songs, plenty which no radio would touch as they are too personal or too uncommercial. We see her humour, her influences, her skill as a writer and guitarist, and a sign of things to come. Her voice on this record sounds as if she is singing on your shoulder, as both a guardian angel and occasional imp of mischief. When I saw her in Glastonbury she frequently chatted with the crowd, eventually accepting and dowing a show of Whiskey from one screaming fan. Similar things have happened in other gigs I’ve been to. Her next two albums would also showcase her trademark charm and songwriting beauty, but it is her debut which has the rawness and the tenderness which make it her best.
Blind Guardian: Night At The Opera: 2002
Blind Guardian had been doing the whole European power metal thing since the 80s and had become one of Germany’s and the continents most successful bands. Their later albums had taken on a magnum opus feel with each being an attempt at a grand concept album. Most of these albums didn’t work as well as they should have and are mostly notable for a few very good stand out tracks. In 2002 though, Hansi, Andre and co. finally got it together with this blistering, over the top, ultra complex beast. Lyrically we are on familiar ground with A Night At The Opera, songs are filled with classical references as well as songs about Jesus, Neitzche, and Tolkein. Everything is on a much grander scale though and a glance at any of the lyrics is quite daunting due to the size. Most importantly though it appears that the band have found a sound which suits them best, sounding like they are thrashing around in the middle of a war with choirs and orchestras all crashing together. The whole thing is ridiculous yes, but it is also ridiculously better than every rock and metal album of the year. Vocally Hansi has never sounded better, reaching insane highs and galloping through melody after interweaving melody.
Like Origin Of Symmetry it is the first set of songs which take the breath away, the huge opener Precious Jerusalem making way for overwhelming behemoths like Under The Ice and Sadly Sings Destiny. Each of these songs progresses through several different parts reaching ominous lows and emotional highs. Remembering though that the band are seen by fans as travelling bards they reign in the mayhem for more acoustic songs like The Maiden And The Minstrel Knight and Mies Dies Dolor. There are plenty of classic riffs, faster than Linford Christie solos, apocalyptic drumming, but it is the layered vocals, string and brass sections, and the grandeur of it all which makes this most memorable. If there is one good thing about this decade it is that a new, smarter breed of metal has emerged. With bands such as Lamb Of God and Mastodon amongst many others proving that the genre isn’t just a silly pile of noise, the older bands had to catch up with the times. Metallica finally sorted themselves out with Death Magnetic and British stalwarts Iron maiden have been untouchable since Brave New World. A Night At The Opera is above all of these though for its sheer bombastic nature, and remains their best album.
My Vitriol: Between The Lines: 2002
Possibly the most cult band on the list with the most fervent supporters, My Vitriol released their first and only album Finelines in 2001 amid a blur of impressive live shows and a couple of average selling singles. I’ve included Between The Lines instead, basically the American cut of the album with an extra cd of B-Sides and covers. The band stopped touring and vanished off the face of the planet for about 5 years, although recently they have come back by releasing a great EP and playing something well received live shows. Their album is a mixture of jagged punk riffs, angsty lyrics, and high paced melodic rock. Highlights include Always Your Way and Losing Touch which each come with an instrumental (or distorted noise) introduction track before blasting into the song. Frantic guitar playing though pretty much solo free, emotional lyrics and delivery but without any whiney attachments, short, simple tracks which immediately get trapped in the head. Other tracks like Ode To The Red Queen and Infantile merge haunting vocals with nightmarish shrieks, while more mellow tracks like Under The Wheels provide a distraction from the rough edged, effects laden guitars. Comparisons with the Manics and Radiohead were frequent (and rather odd) and perhaps the weight of expectation was too much. With the re-release a year later we were treated to more of the same with Vapour Trails, Moodswings, and Deadlines all proving to be near perfect angry rock songs. The band showed a more mature side with All Of Me and Wait A Minute, two extremely catchy songs which could easily grace any album, while acoustic versions of favourites and a Madonna cover rounded off the eclectic mix. This was again the sign of a promising new start which never came, swiped away by less talented more Top Shop friendly bands. Signs are though that the band will finally be back soon. Yay.
Opeth: Ghost Reveries: 2005
Mikael Åkerfeldt is one of the best musically creative minds of the decade, making classic album after classic album of poetic rage and structurally complex songs which you can’t believe could possibly be played live until you see it for yourself (without even the slightest mistake too). Opeth fans are known to be particularly rabid in their support with complete and utter devotion shown. Anything less and you won’t be seen as a fan. After a string of heavy albums the band began to experiment more with other sounds, other genres. Their previous album Damnation which was a soft, albeit overwhelmingly dark, rock album had been well received and it seemed that the band could do no wrong. Hearing the opening few seconds of Ghost Of Perdition and you know the band are back to their heaviest, and most epic. Fusing jazz, prog, with death meatal vocals spewing between clean, heartfelt ones it is one of the best metal songs of the decade, and each track progresses from there. Isolation Years shows the band at their softest, but the bleak, grave-like hallmark tone pf the band remains. Few bands regardless of genre are so ambitious, so experimental, and it puts to shame notions that all metal is stupid. Nothing falls into the ‘up their own ass’ category as this is the only way the band knows how to play. Mikel’s vocals are as strong as ever, though more than ever does he mix styles, his and Lindgren’s guitars are on scintillating form, crushing at one moment, silk like the next, with overlapping chords, riffs, and solos that you need a dictionary to decipher. The drums are as galaxy shattering as always- play this in a vacuum and you would still hear it. Lyrically the band follow the same path, all focused on sadness and pain though steering clear of the usual cliches which would usually follow, everything suits the mood. Next album Watershed would prove to be even more ambitious voted by many publications and fans as album of the year, but Ghost Reveries edges it for me as their return to loud, gigantic sounds.
Haven: Between The Senses: 2002
Haven are the band that should have been as successful as the dreary, emotionless Coldplay currently are. Now split up after an average second album each member has gone on to different things, but for a while in 2002 they had the potential to be huge. Between The Senses was heralded (and produced) by Johnny Marr as something exciting and the band had some success with grat singles like Say Something and Let It Live. However, for whatever reason even after much touring no-one seemed interested. Although the album is made up of simple, soft rock songs about love, hope, despair, it is the way they are built and performed which makes them better than they had any right to be. Gary Briggs is, hands down, the best commercial male vocalist of the decade. Give him any song, any note, and he’ll do it better than perfectly. His writing on every track here is top quality, the only let down being that there isn’t really anything new, anything experimental. When you look at pop and rock as a whole though, and what constitutes success, this doesn’t need to be a major flaw. Marr’s musical influence isn’t overly clear as the guitars are simple yet effective, there is no need for any twiddly guitar hero stuff here. It’s all about the emotion and the mood, songs such as Still Tonight, Till The End, and Lately are anthems, heartfelt ballads which deserve to be heard by more people. It is the sweeping nature of these songs which makes the follow up album look worse as it lacks any of the hooks or melodic hugeness of its daddy. I’ve always thought the band needed the confidence gained from success to spur on their imaginations and writing but sadly this never came. Luckily we still have this album, truly a gem, and probably the album on this list which would appeal to the most people.
Lene Marlin: Lost In A Moment: 2005
Most people will know Lene for the twee, girlish pop delight of Sitting Down Here, and the edgier sister Unforgivable Sinner from her smash hit debut album. Being from Scandanavia most music-lite music fans shoved her in the same crazy category with Aqua, Abba, and Lord Help Me, Wigfield. Closer inspection of that first album, and everything since shows that Sitting Down here is her most unusual, most offbeat, most ‘unlike her’ song. First album Playing My Game is cold, lonely, sparse, but nevertheless filled with killer melody. Lost In A Moment is Lene’s 3rd album and for those who know her features her usual mix of sadness, cautious hope all played to heart tearing music. Although her 2nd album showed bigger production and expanded musical styles it is her 3rd which shows the biggest step forward. There is greater structure, bigger and smarter instrumentation, and more varied styles and emotions. Most importantly though her voice retains the familiar tone though now sounds more world weary, more experienced, and the music is as sublimely catchy as always. Tracks like How Would It Be and What If are filled with strong guitar riffs, while Never To Know, Hope You’re Happy, and Leave My Mind have a gut wrenching string section or downbeat choir noise. As with everything she has done, once you’ve heard a snippet of any song you will want to hear the rest, and once you have it will be trapped in your head all day. It is just that on this album she has found her niche, adding pianos where needed, low bass and strings, rather than the girl and guitar nature of her other albums. Although there is nothing particularly dancy here, nothing sexy, it puts other female pop artisits to shame. Emotionally, and musically she is miles ahead of her contemporaries; in fact they don’t warrant being called contemporaries given how far ahead of them she is. She has gone past such distinctions and is in a category of her own. Her latest album’s great too.