Just a note that this post may contain minor spoilers for anyone has not yet read or completed the Dark Tower series. I won’t be going into in-depth detail on characters or plots, but some of my points will veer into minor spoiler territory.
If you’re a movie fan or a Stephen King fan, then I’m sure you’ll have heard the recent news that Sony and MRC have acquired the rights to Kings epic fantasy Western series. Most of us who have been following King for a while will no doubt be aware of the many similar pieces of news which have been published over the years. Only last year it seemed like it was finally going to happen, with Ron Howard putting himself forward as Director, Akiva Goldsmith writing a draft script, and they put together a plan almost as ambitious as the series itself – multiple movies and an accompanying TV series to ensure the screen adaptation remained as faithful as possible to what Sai King put on paper. For most fans it seemed like a dream come true, with daily discussions on hopes and fears being posted on forums and blogs, and over time various A-list actors began being attached to the series. But it all fell apart.
It’s hardly surprising. Aside from the sheer scope of the series, and the budgets that would be involved, there are many factors involved in creating this project. Sure, some lazy company could make a couple of movies loosely based on a gunslinger chasing a man in black through a desert, and through various worlds in search of The Dark Tower, but what would be the point? Every fan has a will they/won’t they/can they/should they relationship with the series. King fans are a ravenous, faithful bunch, and even such heralded adaptations as The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, and Stand By Me have their detractors. For some The Dark Tower is the Holy Grail, and many fans are waiting for an adaptation to fall foul of dubious script decisions, removals and/or additions of plot points. When considering ‘will they’ or ‘won’t they’, to me it seems like the answer is an inevitable yes.
Almost everything King has written has made it to screen in some shape or form, with The Dark Tower being the ever more conspicuous gap. Even though King’s films are not always profitable, even though they are rarely both critically and commercially well received, it has never stopped people making and releasing them. Hollywood is so out of ideas that it will turn to what it knows best – big names, remakes, and sequels. In horror there is no bigger name than King, and already many of his previous screen adaptations are being remade. The flip side of this point is that Hollywood hates to take a gamble, and The Dark Tower could end up being a costly flop. Possibly the idea of movies could be abandoned altogether, and the series as a whole could be translated to the small screen instead. Shows such as Under The Dome and Haven appear to be doing well, and Game Of Thrones has proven that the viewer is willing to follow a complex fantasy series with a massive cast of characters – as long as it’s done right, and with quality. TV is in a different place than in previous decades, pulling in the finest writers and actors and budgets – get the right people involved and the rest should follow naturally.
That takes me to ‘can they’? This may be the most complex question. What approach do you take, how do you get a cast and crew to commit to something so huge – it’s a series that will take up a considerable chunk of an actor/director/writer’s life, and there are iconic characters which are sure to stick with an actor for the rest of their life and beyond. Where do you draw the line between what is considered for a movie, and what for TV? What happens if the first movie is a flop? How do you adequately explain Roland’s determination to get to the Tower, how do you cover all of the important imagery which permeates each story? How do you convey The Tower as the apex of all worlds without showing those worlds, and their tie-in stories and characters? How do you film an insane, riddle-loving bullet train racing through a Wasteland towards its own destruction? How do you deal with the meta nature of the last few books? How do you film sex in A Speaking Demon ring… what the hell is a Speaking Demon ring? Every few pages of each book there will be something problematic for even the greatest writer and director. The simple answer is that the best writers and directors simply make things work. Like magicians or silver-tongued liars, they can convince us of anything… but it will never be easy. Can they do it? Ultimately, yes. I have no doubt that a dedicated group could make this a seminal moment in Televison and Film history; I have no doubt that a respectful company could craft something entertaining. However, I am fully aware that it could be a resounding disaster.
And so my final question, and the most vague and subjective of the bunch – should they do it? I’m not a snob. As I sit writing this on my Kindle, I have a bottle of Estrella to my left, and a plate of half-eaten cottage pie to my right. My point is that I’m just a normal fanboy. King has been a massive influence of my life in many ways, a constant nightly whisper in my ear, and a source of entertainment and inspiration since my childhood. I’ve been reading King since I was 10, possibly younger, although I was a late comer to The Dark Tower, tackling it (ironically) for the first time when I was 19. There are snobs though… movie snobs, critical snobs, and alas, even King snobs. Most of the time I know that those guys will never be pleased, so there’s little point in even considering them. It’s us Constant Readers that are the biggest concern. I’m a member of several online King and Dark Tower fan groups, and there is rarely a standard consensus on even the simplest issue concerning The Dark Tower and a possible screen outing, from casting choices to favourite book or character. Once again though, the simplest answer is that it will be impossible to please everyone all of the time. Hell, we even criticise King for certain moments in the series, so what chance will a movie have? Therefore, the best option is to respectfully ignore such opinions and just go make it. Most of us want to see it, many of us will be disappointed no matter how great it is, but there’s that chance, that hope that it could be something brilliant.
As for me, anyone who knows me knows I often speak in highly hyperbolic ways – I feel The Dark Tower is the single greatest piece of art of the 20th Century. The books have been written over the span of decades, and they relate to almost all of the output of the most prolific and important writer of the last hundred years or so. I want to see this series being made, and of course I want to see it be good, and successful. To finish up I’m going to unleash my inner fanboy and explain what I would love to see for the series. I’m not going to mention casting choices, though I do think underused actors such as Ben Foster, Josh Zuckerman, Michael Shannon, and Michael Pitt should be considered. What I would love the most is if the series branched out to encompass the major tie in novels and short stories. Similar to what Marvel has been doing with The Avengers, SHIELD, Thor, Captain America etc etc – they have created a massive living breathing world with familiar cast members crossing over from one film to the next. Every year there is at least one blockbuster related to the overall series, and although each acts as a standalone, there are clear ties to other films and characters which both serve the world, serve the plot, and act as fan service as the nerds recognise some otherwise throwaway comment which relates to some event in a previous or upcoming moment. This is what I would love to see with King’s work – films with ties to The Dark Tower being made as standalones, but like the books, having enough connections to The Dark Tower itself. Actors passing over, character names and imagery dropped, things as minor as a painting of Roland and the Tower in The Mist, up to the true tie ins such as Salem’s Lot, Hearts In Atlantis, Insomnia etc. One of the most important lines in the series is ‘There are other worlds than these’, and what better way to hype up the importance of the quest for The Tower, by having all of these other films and characters directly reference it?
Below I’ll list the books I’d love to see being linked to The Dark Tower series as per the books, but note that I’m aware many of the below are already in the works and the rights to each will cause obvious conflicts. I haven’t read everything yet by King, so there may be some tie-ins I’ve missed. Let me know in the comments what your hopes and fears for the series are, and what you would love to see on screen. Do you have any preferred actors for Roland and his Ka-Tet? Which directors are worthy of the series and could give a movie their own unique vision?
Salem’s Lot: This has seen a couple of mini-series (and a sequel) already, but the world loves vampires, right? The obvious tie-in is Father Callahan, a figure only briefly seen in Tobe Hooper’s adaptation, but given more weight in the Rob Lowe version. A mini series on Salem’s Lot would be cool, given that it deals with the total destruction of the town, and we could also see the wraparound short story prequel and sequel (Jerusalem’s Lot and One For The Road) filmed for added depth. Could we tie in Little Sister Of Eluria here too?
The Stand: The original mini-series is one of my favourite shows/movies ever, even with Molly Ringwold. Although a movie is already in the works, given that it deals with Mr Flagg himself, it’s a chance to have a major actor crossover and explanation of the many beams and levels leading to The Tower. An excellent story on its own, we would get to learn more about Flagg, including the fact that he just won’t go away.
The Talisman/Black House/Sequel: Although King and Straub have dropped hints of a third Jack novel, it hasn’t been written yet. Fans have been crying out for an adaptation for years now, and the first two books alone would make for a stellar movie or TV series. Once again, there are many connections which would answer questions posed in The Dark Tower, but each book stands alone brilliantly.
It: Again, an existing mini-series that I hold dear to my heart, and one which is getting the remake treatment. We could use this opportunity to go into a little more detail about Beams, Guardians, and the fear/emotion sucking demons which inhabit the many worlds.
The Eyes Of The Dragon: Well, why not. It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent child/teen oriented fantasy story which is equally suitable for adults. I’d love to see this being handled in the same way as many of the 80s classics by masters such as Richard Donner, Stephen Spielberg, and Joe Dante. It’s Flagg again, and we may meet a few familiar faces along the way.
Insomnia: A terrific book, but one that doesn’t exactly have the dollar sign written all over it. Then again, if it was handled in the style of Cocoon, but with King’s darkness thrown in, it could be a sleeper hit. There’s a whole world of older actors out there, many of which would relish some of the roles encountered in these pages. There is of course the large tie-in of Patrick Danville and The Crimson King himself which would shock and impress those who haven’t read the books.
Desperation/The Regulators: Desperation has seen the screen treatment already, and The Regulators is ripe for social commentary given a lot of the suburban fear and paranoia swirling around the world at the moment. These have the potential for good movies on their own merits, and from a connection perspective we can have the villains using certain words/langauge from Roland’s world, although this would be more difficult to recognise on screen than on paper.
Hearts In Atlantis: The screen adaptation was fine, but left much of the violence and Tower related stuff out. Once again we have a fairly major character crossover, and there’s the potential of confusing matters by having the same actor who plays Jake starring as Bobby from Hearts.
Everything’s Eventual: Aside from Eluria, which should be covered in the main series somewhere, we could have the title story too due to another character crossover. Due to the short length, Dinky’s story could be incorporated into another film as a sub plot.
Cell: Although light in direct connections, there could easily be inserted references and hints that the evil force involved could be siding with The Crimson King.
Under The Dome: Not many connections again, but as this show is already up and running, and going in its own direction from the novel, they could easily drop some Tower references.
Apologies for the lengthy post – hopefully Tower Junkies will find something useful or even entertaining here. Just before I leave, as I was writing the connections, it struck me that a standalone TV series could be created -not as a specific series for one of the DT books, but a unique series based on the tie-in novels, and possibly featuring the main DT players. This could be a Hammer’s House Of Horrors style show with a self-contained episode each time which links to DT or one of the stories above, or have a more serialized approach like SHIELD with both currently existing King stories and characters as above making appearances, but also newly written unique stories – an ongoing struggle against Low Men, vampires, demons, the Crimson King and featuring the recruiting of important Breakers, warriors, and some of the many many lesser characters of the DT books and their connected stories. A man can dream…
Wow, there are so many gigs I don’t remember at all. I’ve had to check wikipedia to even see who these guys are. But now I remember their mix of screaming and shouting. A decent band, I haven’t heard anything beyond their first album, but I honestly don’t remember much of their gig, other than the fact that it was sunny….
I do remember this one however, as it was pretty sleaze filled and humourous, and neither the music nor the antics on stage left a lot to the imagination. As crappy as the music was, a good time was had by all.
Aah, one of the most underrated bands out there, they could never seem to catch a break, playing the sort of music which other bands were getting the misguided plaudits for. Their debut, Between The Senses, made my list of favourite albums of 2000-2009, although their lackluster follow-up was a great disappointment. A band with such a talented singer, Gary Briggs, and who made such glorious ballads as seen on their first album deserve to be much bigger. Perhaps if they had tried to crack America they would have succeeded and become much bigger:
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.