Gemma Hayes’s first album was a surprise hit, a success with critics and a select group of fans, but it never made the impact it deserved to on the British or American charts. Selling well in her home of Ireland, and doing okay in other territories it was a sign of a singer songwriter with a bright future. After relocating to LA, and it would appear mulling over what to do next for some time, she returned with this 3 years later. This album is a departure from some of the folk stylings of her first, but keeps the big melodies and hits. The album covers a variety of themes and moves from bleak to joyful in single bounds, but it retains her wonderful voice and much of her arm thrusting guitar work. While not as critically successful as her first album, this is equally good- less experimental but more fluid there are any number of fantastic songs here proving that she isn’t a one hit wonder.
‘Two Step’ opens the album in familiar territory with Gemma’s gorgeous, husky voice playing over soft folk guitars. The chorus bursts open in appealing style and we know that she still has a rock soul burning under her heavy heart as well as an ear for a memorable melody. Lyrically honest as always, she sings of (the central theme of the album) travel, of running away and returning, of the solitude of the road as well as the freedom. The brief middle part shows of her voice at it’s yearning best before returning to the chorus.
‘Another For The Darkness’ begins with tender acoustics and sorrow filled vocals to bitter lyrics. The glorious chorus is only bettered when she plays it live, and with lines like ‘I don’t understand better than most’ she is again baring herself but saying she isn’t the pinnacle some may take her for. A love song, a song about the bad parts of fame she has experienced it is complex but easily absorbed thanks to the delivery and melody.
‘Happy Sad’ is one of the first singles from the album, an up-tempo track with commercial stylings, but it doesn’t really show off her vocals and lacks the edge of Let A Good Thing Go and Hanging On from her first album. Lyrically she shows again her bleeding heart poet side, but there is always hope and sunshine. Typically a love song about her ‘sadder boy’ being the only one who can bring her out of her malaise, it is pretty good but there are other tracks which could have made better singles.
‘Easy On The Eye’ is an utterly gorgeous acoustic ballad, sung in the style Gemma does best- as if it is just you and her in the room and is played for both of you alone. It is her barefaced tribute to the one she loves, emotionally charged and with simple, gentle lyrics which appear highly personal. When played live the crowd doesn’t make a sound- always the sign of utmost respect and adoration.
‘Keep Me Here’ begins in top form with a brilliantly performed dark verse, but the chorus doesn’t fit for me as well as I thought it would. Nice clanging guitars as always and quite lyrically downbeat, singing of the separation we can feel when we are together and there is an air of despair throughout, although this is shot through with acceptance- she is trying to convince the other party that it will never work.
‘Undercover’ is the other main single from the album and I much prefer it to Happy Sad. Everything is so melancholy and honest, the verses sets the tone while the chorus is melodically beautiful and emotional. I often imagine this is heavier than it actually is, maybe I’m used to her rocking more when she plays it live. Either way, either style it remains a great song, I like the siren style backing vocals in the chorus, but mostly it’s the yearning, tearful vocals which stand out.
‘Nothing Can’ is a song I often forget about, I’m not certain why as it is very good. The traveling theme continues and the piano/xylophone melody is effective at creating an energetic mood. Gemma is intelligent enough to recognize that while running away may be a solution for a while, the grass is rarely greener on the other side. She sounds as if she is making a stand here, showing her strength, and being decisive. Some of her chorus vocals are heartbreaking as she blends gentle and husky styles, making this one I should listen to more.
‘Helen’ slows things down greatly, with pianos and strings and her guitar laid to rest. The lyrics look to the past, begin quite placidly, but end on a note of sorrow. Most of the vocals are whispered and it is almost too sweet, but she opts for a pretty anti-melodic lead- this means it is sometimes difficult to remember this song.
‘Something In My Way’ along with EOTE is my favourite song on the album. Everything about this is Gemma perfection- soaring chorus vocals, a gentle, shoulder surfing verse, sublime melodies, rocking guitars and heart felt lyrics. This should have been a single, and it really deserves to be huge especially when compared to most of the other female led dross in the charts. This rolls along at a high tempo, has typically brutal and dark lyrics- like I’ve mentioned before this really becomes timeless when she performs it live.
‘Horses’ has a memorable chorus, but something about the rest of the song doesn’t work for me. I don’t think there is anything special here, especially when it is surrounded by truly great songs. This is pleasant enough, but doesn’t stand out.
‘Tomorrow’ closes the album in hopeful tones with the refrain ‘I’ll be here tomorrow’- great news for the fans as, sweet jeebus, Gemma Hayes is great. It is a fairly simple song, similar to Horses with soft melodies. It is a gentle ending which leaves us wanting more.
‘Pull Me In’ is a short hidden track, showing Gemma’s penchant for experimentation and noise. A simple lyric backed up with distortion and percussion it isn’t anything too remarkable, but still a curiosity.
The album isn’t exactly one of two halves, although I prefer the first songs rather than the last few, with Something In My Way preventing the last part from being overly dreary. You could argue that conceptually the first part is about running away, and second about facing things and deciding to return, but most of that is irrelevant. We have another collection of beautiful songs which for the most part will stay in your mind for a long time- I’ll say it again, catch her live and experience some of these songs for yourself.
Gemma Hayes crept into the charts with a series of folksy rock songs, garnering the attention of fans and critics. It wasn’t until her first album was released to acclaim that people started to take note. Nominated for the Mercury Prize (not really much of an honour anymore to be honest) it was a fusion of rock, pop, and folk, with husky Irish vocals, anguished and honest lyrics, gentle melodies, and some interesting arrangements. The chart success in Mainland Britain wasn’t huge, but she became a bigger name in her home land, and a series of tours and festivals spread her name to wider shores. Night On My Side wipes the floor with most singer songwriters which have come out of this decade- those one hit wonders, those one trick ponies who won’t go away- there is a touching quality to her tender moments, and an unchained rage in the heavier songs. Everything is on show here, a dangerous thing for any artist to portray as it can lead very quickly to obsessive fans who feel they know her intimately from the words and emotions on display here. Gemma would leave the madness of, oddly enough, LA while she mulled over her next move. While she has continued to produce great work, this remains her most respected.
‘Day One’ opens the album in a fairly bleak fashion with the raspy vocals, soft guitars, and harsh ideas. It is a folk style song, with a country and Irish twist. The highlight here is the lyrics, covering violent images with dedication and love, but it is over very quickly. It is a decent opener, setting the listener up for what is to come, but I feel she had better non album tracks from this time such as Gotta Low which could have been added.
‘Hanging Around’ opens with distorted riffs and opening refrain from Gemma before exploding into big verse and chorus melodies ensuring that this would be a live favourite for years to come. On the surface a simple love song, the lyrics show greater depth on closer examination as she opens her heart to none and all. Above all though, it is a jump around song with some unexpected guitars from a small blond girl from Tipperary. This one proves that she can rock- when I saw her at Glastonbury a loud guy in the audience kept shouting ‘You Rock!’ at her, and asking her questions- she always answers, another nice feature of her live performances. After a chat between the two of them he made his way to the stage and gave her a shot of whiskey which she gratefully downed to huge cheers before continuing with the set.
‘Back Of My Hand’ starts with almost harpsichord sounding guitars and lyrics of desperation. Gemma’s voice here sounds like she is singing just to one person, just to you- one of the many reasons she has a fairly rabid fan base. This is another tale of lost love where she sings of the pain it can cause, but also that she knows of the strength to move on. The emotions move from the aforementioned desperation, to bitterness, to going on with head held high, mirroring the feelings of a real break up.
‘Over And Over’ slows the pace a bit, an affectionate love song with Eastern strings and deliberately sandwiched between two grief stricken and angry songs. This one deals with almost losing the person you love but preventing it just in time, all played to dreamy guitars and gentle tunes.
‘Let A Good Thing Go’ is probably Gemma’s best known song and a fan favourite. With its instantly recognizable introduction, sad and drawled vocals, big melodies, and excitable guitars it is as much a sing along at live performances as Hanging On. Again we get insight into Gemma’s thoughts and feelings, and her experiences with life and love through her words which never shy away from truth. While other songs on the album speak of people leaving her and the pain it causes, this one talks about the stark realization that she has ended something herself and now regrets it. Regardless of the gloomy subject matter, the audience never fails to bounce around to this one.
‘Ran For Miles’ knocks you offside by opening with gentle notes and beats which would typically make you think of lazy summer nights, then cracks you over the head with the emotional vocal delivery and lyrical content. You can almost hear the tears welling up with each line of the verse, and the tender climbing notes of the chorus never fail to leave you with a lump in your throat. It isn’t until the end that she belts out the final few lines, unleashing all the pent up emotion and you don’t know whether to smile or cry.
‘What A Day’ shows Gemma’s more experimental side with strange noises, chords fading in and out, and a distorted drum loop. Again the lyrics are packed with honesty, but simple, and the melody is soft. I don’t think this one is particularly memorable and something like Evening Sun would have suited the album better, but it’s still an okay song for the middle of the album.
‘Tear In My Side’ brings back the heavy guitars and is probably the loudest song on the album- not that we’re talking growling territory, just distortion and punching the strings rather than stroking them. The song simply repeats the refrain over and over with growing instrumentation and emotion. There are a few breaks in this growth where the background noise fades leaving the second refrain to repeat in a softer manner. This too grows louder before returning to the original refrain with even more feeling and sound. This is another great song which people tend to forget from the album.
‘I Wanna Stay’ is a beautiful track with an ever so minor country sprinkle (good as I can’t stand country music) on top. It is a quiet love song which for another time paints a picture of those lazy summer nights, just you and the one you love challenging the sun to never set. Simple lyrics which show devotion to one and nothing else, soft music, and airy melodies which will float through your mind all day. The song also features a hidden acoustic track at the end, just guitar and the sound of children playing.
‘Lucky One’ opens with mermaid/siren haunting vocals with Gemma insisting that someone is the lucky one. There are soft picked guitars with sudden distorted blasts and noise which increases through the song until it peaks with a blast off. Gemma continues her refrain as the wall of sound swells before fading off to Gemma’s light whispers.
‘My God’ is mostly glorious. The sad thing is that this is never played live. The lyrics are strong, story like, touching, the guitars wavering in the background while the vocals are packed with emotion and pleading.
‘Night On My Side’ closes the album in familiar style with laid back guitars and vocals, a few grains of country, and yearning lyrics. The melody creeps into your unsuspecting memory because everything is delivered in such a gentle, unassuming fashion. The hidden track ‘Pieces Of Glasses’ comes in after this, one of the softest songs on the album where Gemma admits a series of faults in typically tragic style.
Night On My Side is a brilliant debut, showcasing a growing talent. She already had much experience playing the bars in Dublin and releasing 2 EPs before this came out so her performances her are assured and confident. It is in the lyrics where her candor and strength truly lie here, slightly ironic given that she displays and lack of confidence in the subject matter. In an age of dreary middle of the road songwriters, Hayes is a breath of wonderfully fresh air, a unique voice who isn’t afraid to do things her own way rather than pandering to any chart style. If you’re looking for a new female voice with strong lyrics and memorable tunes, look no further.
‘These days I’m surrounded by people I don’t even like/But boy, you are a flower/tonight I’ll be a liar/And tell you, it’s not right/That I don’t understand you better than most/I am just your friend with troubles of my own’
Gemma Hayes: I’ve been in love with Gemma Hayes since I first heard Let A Good Thing Go way back in 01/02. It just so happened then that the first time I saw her live was at my first visit to the Glastonbury Festival. She put on a terrific afternoon show featuring one of my favourote live moments ever.
To set the scene- some live performers fly through their set without giving the audience a second thought, while others put on a bombastic show with a ‘Hello, Wembley’ here or there. Others though are happy to chat and banter with the crowd, and depending on the size and drunkeness of the crowd, and the confidence of the performer, this does not always end well. By afternoon the many thousands were already 3/4’s cut thanks to various cider mixtures, but the glorious sunshine and kick ass music kept everyone happy. Gemma is known to be quite chatty during performances, often answering questions and comments shrieked at her, but for this performance one bald, rugby player looking type kept heckling her. Nothing offensive, you understand, and everyone was taking it in a good natured way. It started from the usual chanting of ‘you rock!!’ and somehow moved onto the subject of booze. He was shouting questions at her, and she was laughing and answering, until the question of drinking whiskey came up. Gemma made some comment about enjoying whiskey every now and then and the crowd thought that would be the end of it. But no; materializing from nowhere (as frequently happens at Glastonbury) a bottle of Whiskey appeared which baldy proceeded to the stage with. Offering Gemma a drink, she obliged and sunk a shot to the rapturous applause and ‘chug chug chugs’ of the crowd. I got (non-digital) photos which I must find and upload.
I’ve seen Gemma 3 other times around Belfast, and each time there is similar interaction with the audience. She is always super friendly, chatty, and most importantly consistently brilliant. Many of her album tracks are soft, gentle, breathy affairs, but when played live they can transform into either a distorted rock/noise fusion or cuttingly tender moments. Live renditions of Hanging On are always raccuous, while gentle pieces like Easy On The Eye and Evening Sun are pin-dropping. I can only implore any readers out there to grab her albums and catch her if she’s playing anywhere within 200 miles of your house. For now, here’s a Belfast pic:
Guns ‘n’ Roses: The first band I ever got into, back when I was 6 or 7 or younger, G’n’R introduce me to guitars, rock, metal; basically they introduced me to music and shaped by tastes as a music lover. Of course, by the time I was of the age to start attending concerts, the band I loved was long gone. Rumours of Chinese Democracy and reforming were brought up every year, but aside from the odd movie single or South American live show, nothing ever happened. Until it did happen. G’N’R arrived in Dublin in a fury of hype- was Axl popping off to an oxygen tent between songs, what special guests were there, would they even show on time etc etc. I made my way down on The Venue bus, met up with some friends, and watched as Axl and the gang came on stage right on time. Blasting through every song you could wish for (except my all time favourite Think About You) it was about as perfect a gig as you could expect from the new line up. There was the usual banter, a few tracks from the then unreleased Chinese Democracy were played, and a great time was had by all. The RDS is a bit of a duff venue (pardon the double pun) but even that couldn’t take anything away from a special night and day.
David Gray: I never got David Gray. I mean I understand that bland, inoffensive music has it’s place but just not anywhere near my ears. Of course, i’m probably missing something given the acclaim of albums like White Ladder, but anytime I see that head bopping from side to side I get a sudden urge to pop it off. Likewise, that awful Babylon song has caused my ears to vomit on at least 3 separate situations. So why did you see him live then, asshole, you may rightly ask. Well, Glastonbury again, and my friends were casual fans. I thought I would give him a chance. Like Coldplay, Gray can perform and whip up the crowd, but when all it takes to whip up a crowd of his fans is a couple of head bops that isn’t really saying much. I’m sure many people who were there would say it was a great gig- a variety of hits were played, blah blah bland. Yeah, not my sort of thing.
The Gathering: Phew, we can finish on a high. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about The Gathering when I saw them at Glastonbury (but they have since become my favourite band on the strength of that performance). I knew of them, I knew that the were a female fronted metal band, and I think I may have heard Leaves and Strange Machines before but hadn’t paid too much attention. They were touring as promotion for new album Souvenirs which saw a further departure from the style of music which made them famous. I saw quite far back from the stage for the whole show and let the dark, ambient moods flow through my soul. The weaving of the melodies with Gilmour-esque guitars, foreboding bass, and of course the nearest-thing-to-God-on-Earth vocals of Van Giersbergen were a revelati0n. Suffice to say, when I got back to normality I snapped up every album, starting with Souvenirs and was hooked. All there is left for me to say is- buy any of their albums now- I’d recommed Mandylion, How TO Measure A Planet, or Sleepy Buildings to start. All epic, all different, all the best thing you’ll ever hear.
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.
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