Yes, I’m late with this one due to being off for a few days. So I’m posting it on a Thursday. Au contrair!
‘Tonight/everything but me/taken out to sea/all gone’
Yes, I’m late with this one due to being off for a few days. So I’m posting it on a Thursday. Au contrair!
‘Tonight/everything but me/taken out to sea/all gone’
“I don’t wanna say goodbye/When there’s heaven in ‘hello'”
It’s our last day – lets make it a good one. That stranger you spent the night with… I’m sorry to say that you won’t keep in contact with them, but that’s fine – just let it be a beautiful 24 hour romance and long may it remain in your memory.
10 – 11: John Carpenter
I think this one could be a possibility given John’s recent touring and focus on music. I’d love to see the great man live and while I feel that an indoor, night time setting would suit his music better, there’s no way he’s going to headline here and a morning blast of Halloween or some of his Lost Tracks would be superb.
Number Of Times Seen Live: 0
11 – 12: Lovebites
My favourite recent band, there’s no reason why Lovebites shouldn’t be huge. Well, people are idiots, so that’s the main reason they won’t be as successful as they should be. They are a Japanese metal band, but get this – they’re all girls – shock! And double shock, they’re amazing musicians, playing face-melting power metal! I jest of course, but the focus on the band is usually that they are female. Regardless, this is an injection of pure adrenaline and delight, a throwback to the glory days with a renewed sense of fun and exuberance.
Number Of Times Seen Live: 0
12 – 2: Natalie Imbruglia
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here – Natalie Imbruglia is the finest pop star of her generation, to the extent that pop star is too cheap a term for her. She has a huge array of hits released and otherwise, and is an intelligent writer and performer who doesn’t get any of the credit she deserves. A sunny lunchtime outdoor gig would be perfect for her blend of angst anthems and melancholic pop.
Number Of Times Seen Live: 0
2 – 4: The Delays
While we’re on the subject of pop perfection, The Delays are another band who came out at the same time as all of the other ‘The’ bands, but surpass them all in terms of sheer melody. The Delays see one of the finest vocalists in the business – Greg Gilbert – lending his incredible falsetto to some of the most infectious hooks you’ll ever hear. Imagine The Beach Boys crossed with Nirvana and you’re somewhere close to the mark. Unfortunately the band hasn’t released anything in 9 years due to family commitments followed by Greg getting cancer. He’s still fighting, and I’m holding out for a glorious return.
Number Of Times Seen Live: 0
4 – 6: Joni Mitchell
Maybe the greatest living singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell has had her (un)fair share of health issues in the last years but in her early years everything she touched was gold. I’m a much bigger fan of her folk stuff than her later jazz and blues stuff, but a late afternoon 2 hour set from this Goddess would strike the hippy chord which all festivals need.
Number Of Times Seen Live: 0
6 – 8: The Gathering
I mentioned Natalie Imbruglia being an underrated pop star – The Gathering are the best unknown band in the world, an incredible collection of artists who change with each release and can variously be called a metal band, an atmospheric rock band, post-prog, shoegaze etc. I’ve reviewed most of their stuff on this blog already and every music fan should definitely check them out. The band has had line-up changes over the years but for the purposes of this festival I’d love to have Anneke Van Giersbergen and Silje Wergeland on stage together like at their 25th anniversary show. They are definitely a band to enjoy in the dark, so this time of the day should suit them perfectly.
Number Of Times Seen Live: 1
8 – 10: The Beatles
What is this? The Beatles, not headlining? Blasphemy! Well, yes, but I rate my headliner higher and would want to see them more than the Fab Four. The Beatles stopped performing live just as they were hitting their peak in musical releases meaning a tonne of their best songs were never performed by the original band together. But this is fantasy, so my show will see The Beatles alive, well, and together, playing songs from their entire catalogue with no technical concerns. Surely that is the Holy Grail of all music fans?
Number Of Times Seen Live: 0
10 – 12: Michael Jackson
There was never going to be anyone else to close my original festival. Jackson is the greatest and to me personally had the biggest impact on me musically. It’s rare a day passes that I don’t either listen to or play one of his songs in my head. He was a born headliner and he was cruelly taken just before what was sure to be a glorious tour. Here he is free to play whatever the hell he wants with as huge a stage show as he wants, and there’s no-one else in the history of music I’d want to see live more.
Number Of Times Seen Live: 0
Let us know in the comments who else you would add to you festival line-up!
‘But they tell me I’ll be fine/that it’ll all get better/Just try to write it down/or put it in a letter/still the words won’t play/And there’s no easy way to say/Goodbye’
‘The satellite is watching/And then you come home/
And you switch on your sorrow/Boil up a bad mood/ Shaking the hand of bad habits again’
For my money, Natalie Imbruglia is the best female pop artist since the mid nineties. As Glancers will know by now, for me emotion and honesty are more important than originality or fitting in with the current musical scene. Imbruglia fits these personal criteria as well as having a superb, appealing, harmonious voice and being an all round great human and bad-ass. I was a fan from day one. Scratch that, I was a fan from her Neighbours days, long before she hit the charts with her multi-million selling debut. Most people know her for the smash hit Torn and… that’s about it. As great as that song is, it only hints at her talent – the real deal would come out in White Lilies Island her second record which I have called (and continue to call) one of the best albums of all time. It genuinely is – do yourself a favour and get it now – melancholy, brutal, euphoric pop at its finest. A bunch of complete morons gave it, seriously, gave it bad reviews. Jesus wept.
Since then her general popularity has waned, no doubt due in part to a less than frequent series of releases. Five albums (including one entirely of covers) in twenty years isn’t great, but the general quality of those more than makes up for those missing years. Sort of. She has also recorded a large number of B-Sides and rarities, the best of which would make at least one more superb album. From the indie Brit-pop rock of Left Of The Middle, the majesty of White Lilies Island, the mature pop of Counting Down The Days, and even the much maligned Come To Life and covers album Male, Imbruglia has carver her own path and deserves a hell of a lot more exposure and critical acclaim than she has received thus far. I’m giving links to Youtube for each song, where there is a single I’ll give the official video link and the album track as there are usually differences. Here is a rough list of my favourite Imbruglia songs. Listen and love!
We kick off our list with a cover from Male. This droopy-bass heavy is a slow effort with not a lot of exterior instrumentation which suits the downbeat grunge feeling of Neil Young’s original. I will say this – Male is not an album I am super familiar with yet and while a number of songs immediately leaped out at me others did not have the same impact. Songs like this one which I enjoy now may drop out of the list if I was to write it in a year’s time and likewise others which have not been included here could appear. Today is today though, and this is how I feel. I also feel warm, because I’m writing this on a train filled with sweaty types.
If you’re a regular glancer on my blog you’ll probably know I’m not much of a country fan. Country music is an inherent US product, yet also oddly a Northern Irish one. Country music is everywhere in my home crust Earth and I’m biased in that I associate the whole stinking genre with either idiots, scumbags, people who don’t really care about music, or people who refuse to listen to any other type of music. Massive stereotyping ahoy! I do like this as it doesn’t contain the usual whining guitar or vocals which is prevalent in the genre. I haven’t heard the original at the time of writing, but I’ll get to it.
Natalie Imbruglia. Patricia Arquette. Billy Corgan. Blood. This cut from the movie Stigmata is one I liked a lot more around the time that movie came out. I think it’s a movie and a song I thought I liked more than I actually ever did – both are things I wanted to like more but they’re just okay. The song is better than the film; it’s smokey and mysterious and dreamy, almost like a lost Portishead song. It’s a song that doesn’t really sound like anything else Imbruglia has ever done, aside from one song which will appear later on my list. The various contributors to the song are each masters at their craft and ensure it is a ghostly partner to the film it fits. I do love the line ‘am I lonely or am I just alive?’
45. My God
The opening song to Come To Life – Imbruglia’s first album in x years had a lot to live up to for me. It sort of sets the tone of the album in that there isn’t really a tone. Come To Life’s main problem is that it feels like a collection of leftovers or experiments – main problem is that it feels like a collection of leftovers or experiments – My God a pulsating, thronging pop punk thing with strange noises and spirited vocals. It works, but it doesn’t work as well as it could and doesn’t compare favourably with her opening tracks. Still, I include it here because it is an interesting effort.
The second track from Come To Life goes off in a tonally and totally different direction from the first – this one clearly a Coldplay song with their usual mixture of simpering mistakes and pseudo-Radiohead bating. Imbruglia adds a smooth layer of quality, slicing out any pretension and leaving a light, jolly song which is better than I thought it would be.
The first of the new tracks recorded for Imbruglia’s greatest hits album Glorious to appear on my list, Stuck On The Moon has lovely, poetic flourishes in the lyrics and a fine juxtaposition between the cascading piano and clattering drums. It would have been sad to end her musical career at this point as this song proves she was as capable of crafting a simple yet catchy pop song as anyone.
I’ll let you in on a secret; I’m not a huge fan of Imbruglia’s first album. I like it, obviously, but it doesn’t compare with her second and third, and as such there won’t be many songs from it on my list. This is probably the best example of her twisting the indie sound of the era to her own means. It’s a little bit Morrissette, and a little bit Brit-Pop, but fluid, fun, and the chorus –like many on the album, is designed to be ear sherbet. When you get to the end of the list you’ll see which songs from her debut were left off in favour of this one – I simply find this one more fun.
As above, this one merges independent the rawk girl sound which emerged in the 90s with Imbruglia’s own captivating presence and uniquely sweet vocals. This song feels a little more progressive or different from the more obvious hits on her debut, it still has its heavy indie moments but is infused with jazz and mystery and the sombre undertones which would characterize her next album.
40. Just Another Day
Out of all her B-Sides ad rarities, this one feels most Brit-pop, going as far as reminding me of Robbie Williams back when he was starting his solo career by stealing from Oasis. This was actually a B-Side to That Day so that particular era was long turned over to dust by the time it was released. I’m convinced this was written earlier though and that sound was retained, even if a few touches of instrumental colour were added near the end of the song to expand its sound. All that being said, it’s a bowl full of sunshine, whatever that means.
39. My Own Movie
What I loved about discovering all of the B-Sides and rarities is the variety. Yes, they all still fall into the rock/pop/girl and guitars category, but the songwriting and general styles vary and there seems to be more freedom or less restrictions on what the song needs to be. This one seems to start like a downbeat ballad before the booming chorus floats those notions away. I love the chorus harmonies/filler vocal bits, the jangling guitars, and the strangeness which is allowed to lurk in the melody.
This is arguably the happiest, most obviously joyful song Imbruglia has recorded and I defy anyone who listens to it to not smile throughout. Lyrically, I’m not really sure what’s going on – suggestions of stress and speed and crap with Imbruglia offering herself as an anchor in the storm. The verses are fine, but the chorus is pure grinning heroine. Harmonies, guitars, strings, melodies, happiness!
37. Pigeons And Crumbs
The first expansive song on her debut and another which hints that she was already demanding to break out of the overall sound of that album. The verse vocals are sung in little girl lost style which somehow doesn’t annoy, rather it incredibly adds to the song. Imbruglia may be the only singer who sings in a prominent accent which never irritates me. This is still a simple verse, chorus, verse album track, but it evokes a more epic scope thanks to some angelic production and layering.
I’ll admit again here and now to not having heard the original, knowingly at least. I checked and saw it was by Death Cab For Cutie – a band I don’t know much about but remember laughing at their name when I first heard it. I still don’t know much about them but I admit I lumped them in with a bunch of other pop rock for children American acts which have been charting in recent years. The strength of this cover makes me want to listen to the original and see if the band has any good stuff. I imagine anyone who can write the line ‘Lover mine, some day you will die, I’ll be close behind, I’ll Follow You Into The Dark’ must be a decent writer because, God, that line really gets me every time. Imbruglia’s delivery along with the music and melody seal the deal, and I’ll admit to being tearful when I first listened.
The title track closes the debut, the softest, quietest song on the album but one rich with feeling as Imbruglia yearns for the lover she is yet to find. It’s a great vocal performance, gentle in the verses, stretching to breaking point with each renewed chorus. It’s a very simple song but she again proves you don’t need to have complex structures to get a wealth of emotion and quality across.
A song recorded for Come To Life and written with the singer from British band Ben’s Brother. That band decided to release their version first so Natalie kept her one as a rarity. Again, I haven’t heard Ben’s Brother’s version but this one is great – love the build up to the chorus and the chorus has a fantastic hook. Come To Life is a short album and there’s definitely room for this one to be included. Again the vocals find and highlight the emotion of the lyrics beautifully and the closing chorus where she half-shouts, half-sings is glorious.
33. Only You
This one opens with some dark, ambient, warbling electronic sound – like ears filling with water. The vocals come in cleanly and plainly, work through a double pre-chours thing before giving way to gentle guitars and a lovely chorus. The song basically repeats everything above but with greater power in those repetitions. It’s all lovely.
You probably know, or can guess I’m not a Coldpay fan, mainly because they’re shite. I didn’t mind their first album but everything since has been pale and bland and painful attempts at cloning Bends-era Radiohead. Normally I wouldn’t mind such things, but it’s so blatant and so clearly missing the point that it’s laughable. But people like them, so fine. Credit where it’s due though, this is a fine song but you can instantly tell it’s Coldplay thanks to that piano and beat and rhythm which appear in several of their biggest singles. Imbruglia does her best to make it her own and I much prefer her vocals to how I imagine Chris Martin would yawn his way through it.
Much of White Lilies Island is sombre and soaked in melancholy, though generally the music covers the angst of the lyrics. Not so with Goodbye – lyrically and musically it is inward looking and despair fuelled, the despair of love voided. We’ve all been there, whether concerning love or loss, the well-meaning comments which suffocate and further distance us, the anger crushed by sadness, and the utter confusion. The lyrics are mumbled semi-coherant thoughts, the verses droned into the bottom of a glass, and the chorus the shattering of said glass against a wall.
‘When I say it doesn’t matter, it matters most of all’. We’ve all seen those silly women cliché posts on social media or in decorative shops – ‘Things a woman says and what she really means’. That opening line always reminds me of such things, but not in a negative way. You can guess then that we have more contradictions in the lyrics, but musically this features the summery guitar driven pop which is a central feature of Counting Down The Days. The melodies and chorus don’t grab or reach as much as others on the list, but the overall warmth of the song ensures you come back for more.
29. That Girl
That Girl always reminds me of a Motown track, the jangled guitars, the beat, the horns in the introduction – it all has the vibe of a Supremes song. The lyrics seem to speak of the multiple personalities we adopt to cope with the many facets of life forced upon us or which we have to cope with – one face for romance, a face for fans, one for friends, family, the smiles and acts which we hone over time for a variety of reasons until one day we see ourselves performing these perversions but fail to recognise the actions as our own. It’s a classy song with lovely harmonies and a great chorus to boot.
28. Always Never
Speaking of contradictions, this one is driven by such thoughts – the clue is in the title. This one is a perfect mixture of evocative vocal performance and verse to chorus melodic wonder. The lyrics are very nice too, once again speaking of the inner and outer self and an inability to cope with that balance until misery becomes the preferable solution.
27. All The Magic
Sounding like a cut from Counting Down The Days, All The Magic is as pure and easy as you could wish for – acoustic guitars and Natalie’s voice dancing through the verses. The pre-chours comes in suddenly, and then the chorus soars into the sky taking the corners of your mouth with it. Yeah, you’re going to smile at this one as it forces you to remember your first love – those excited feelings about getting ready to meet, about catching one another smiling across a room, about allowing your defenses to come down and your feelings to be shared.
26. Be With You
This is how you do piano drive pop – a very simple descending piano line leading in to soft electronic beats and a basic, short verse. It all serves the chorus, it all sounds like typical happy pop stuff except she’s saying ‘I don’t want to live if I don’t want to be with you’. This reminds me of some of the Lifeblood era Manic Street Preachers stuff, at least in terms of production and melody. Regardless, it’s another one which never fails to make me smile. And hop about.
25. All The Roses
The last great song from Come To Life is this brooding, bleeding ballad. It’s slow, led by unusual electronic hums and beeps and punctuated by alarm bell piano. With most of the music stripped back you get a clear shot of the vocals – strong throughout with the best moments coming in the bridge before the final chorus. I like how the song unearths a subtle beat in the final moments which threatens to build and turn into some dance track – instead a little violin takes over and the song comes to an abrupt end.
24. Do You Love
We stay in darker territory, which means we must be back on White Lilies Island. This is a mixture of low register guitars, soul-churning strings, and mournful vocals. The pre-chorus goes grunge, the chorus goes stadium rock, and the song instantly lands in my favourite’s list. The volume and backing sound continues to grow, all the way to the massive final chorus. You should know by now that this album is essential and almost everything on it is fantastic – this song should reach out to a multitude of fans of different genres – like all good music it doesn’t matter what your preference is, you just hear and appreciate.
A sad song about distance, a happy song about looking forward to being together again. This one kind of lost out a little when the single trimmed parts of an already short song – stick to the album version. It starts out as a tear-jerker with John Lennon’s Imagine piano and Imbruglia’s vocals bemoaning the fact that she is apart from the ones she loves, but holy crap the pre-chorus with it’s tiny guitar piece, and the chorus itself are exquisite. Moving back into the verse feels like a come down meaning the song plays a little with your emotions and expectations – none of which I have a problem with. Then the Christmas/Wedding bells come in at the end to confuse me even more. Still time for one last Hawaiian guitar bit and another chorus!
22. Against The Wall
My favourite new song from her Glorious Greatest Hits album is one which wastes no time – thronging guitar chords and more summery melodies. Imbruglia is a master of that segue-way from verse and chorus as I have written about already and this is another prime example. It can fall apart if you don’t have a pay-off in the chorus, luckily here all three pieces are flawless. You already know I love the bridge too.
What can you do to a beloved The Cure classic to make it your own? Why this of course. Whatever the hell this is, that’s precisely what you do. It’s a little bit country, a little bit weird, and a hundred percent marvellous. As mentioned earlier, some of the songs from Male may go up and down drastically in my preferences as I’m not as familiar with them as everything else but I don’t see me ever not liking this. The first time I listened to this I almost literally laughed my balls off. I mean I laughed, yes, but then a few minutes later as I was driving some old fucker pulled out in front of me leaving me with no choice but to pound the breaks futilely and smash into him. My balls remained in check, and in sack, but my car was a write off. True story. Do I like this more than the original? That’s hard to say – they almost feel like different songs. In the end, both give me the same feeling of euphoria, and that’s all that matters. It’s an achievement because it includes two things I hate – Country music and hand claps – yet it’s inexplicably wonderful. SATURDAYYYY – WAIT!
20. Talk In Tongues
We need to calm down after that last one – back to White Lilies Island for another downbeat, heads-down-walk-in-perpetual-rain-uphill-to-nowhere song. This opens a little like Lucky by Radiohead – similar guitars for a few seconds anyway. There are bizarre little moments throughout, little digitized ticks and strange jangles, and explosive vocals blast in the bridge where the song changes almost entirely, only to be pulled back down by the old-black-and-white-movie strings to the somber chorus once more.
Pop perfection. Imbruglia announced her return with this first single from her third album, a song which ended up being the most played on British radio in 2005 apparently. I don’t recall it being played at all. I assume then you’ve heard it, but if not get listening now. There’s the usual sense of melancholy, but it’s more underplayed here thanks to the warmth of the melody.
Covers are funny things. I had not heard the original by Daft Punk, and I’ve never been a huge Daft Punk fan anyway. After hearing people raving about the original I went back to it and found it too twee. Imbruglia’s version feels much more emotional to me, or at least it speaks to me much more. That’s the funny thing about cover versions – we usually like whatever version of a song we hear first. Thanks for writing the original guys, but Natalie beefs it up into a soul-searching, heart-rending ballad and blows your one away.
If you were around in the 90s you heard this song. You saw the video. Presumably you fell in love with the song and the singer. It’s perfect, but I’ve heard it so many times and it’s such a part of the public consciousness that it doesn’t top my list. Technically a cover, it’s Imbruglia’s entirely – can you think of any other version which comes close to this? If I’m picky I prefer a live version without those silly digitized drums. My favourite parts? The way she changes the vocal slightly for one of the final ‘I’m cold’ lines and the way she sings the first ‘That’s what’s going on’. I don’t know why.
16. I Won’t Be Lost
Lovely lovely lovely. One of my favourite vocals from her, mainly because the lyrics have so many vowel sounds and soft sounds – row, vertigo, unaware, billionaire – and the way her accent tackles them is gorgeous. Then there is the pleading, breathy delivery. Then there’s the superb ‘Don’t you give up on me’ section. I will understand fully if people see this as boring, but for me it’s among her best ballads, beautiful, sweet, defiant.
When this kicked off Come To Life on my first listen, my first thought was ‘Holy Heavens, she’s done it again’. The album as a whole doesn’t live up to this first track, but it’s a brilliant opener and should have been a single. There’s enough of a beat to dance to it or blast from your stereo, it has the mixture of love, hope, and sadness that she conveys so well, it has glorious backing strings, and a chorus which deserves to be performed live by thousands of adoring fans.
We’re now at that point in the list where the songs are all so good and I love them so much that there isn’t much difference between them. This B-Side to Wrong Impression could easily have made it on to White Lilies Island – it certainly fits the general anguish and strength coursing through that album. This is absolutely gorgeous, note-perfect piano, flawless vocals, I love how the strings and guitars drift in and fade away, I love the weird wind instrument piece in the middle – everything is so underplayed as if she just walked into the studio one day and announced she’d written a new song and the band added their own pieces in a single take.
My favourite song from Come To Life is a ballad and was planned as the second single. I’m not sure how well it would have performed, yet in our current climate of bland Adele love pap, this one deserved to soar to the top of the charts. The lyrics have a wealth of honesty, you can feel each word like a slash at the wrist, the performance an undressing of bandages and a presentation of the scars. It’s simple, brutal, wonderful. There is a more up-tempo, earlier version out there but I’ve only heard live versions of it – I prefer the album take.
My favourite song from Left Of The Middle, and the first sign that Imbruglia was much more than a pretty face and a decent singer. Smoke is entirely apart from everything else on that album – unnerving, majestic, cryptic, mesmeric. It’s also a greater vocal performance than anything else on her debut, but for me it’s all about the mystery and fear which is conjured. When the strings come in and the volume increasing around the ‘you’re pushing me’ line – my gawd. For the longest time I assumed she would not top this, but then White Lilies Island came out and.. well, you’ll see.
11. Starting Today
The opening track of Counting Down The Days just missed out on my top ten. That’s meaningless though because this is another nigh-on perfect song. A song of realization, opening your eyes to your self, your worth, and what is on front of you, a song of moving on, on leaving behind but not looking over your shoulder, looking ahead, head held high. Each time I hear this I forget how slow it is – something about it makes it seems faster than it actually is. Favourite part here? ‘Eve-RE-day, ev-RE-day, ev-RE-day-ee!’
10. Come On Home
Top ten now, and we start hitting songs that have some weird single moments that I love – putting them in my personal pantheon of best single moments in music. For Come On Home that moment occurs late in the song when Imbruglia suddenly wails on one of the last ‘Come on homes’. It’s completely unexpected and brilliant, for me at least. I don’t see anyone else getting as much joy out of that moment as me, but it helps to push the song high on my list. The rest of the song is great, that goes without saying, mid-rock, plenty of pounding pianos and chugging guitars.
Remember I mentioned earlier about happiest songs? Well, this may be one of the happiest songs by anyone, ever. None of that Pharell balls. If you don’t find yourself repeating the ‘do-di-do’s then you need to be put down, stat. Every single note here is joyous, heavenly. You can feel the smiles in her vocals. There’s a cyclical nature to this song and several others on White Lilies Island – you know, songs that start out a certain way and end the exact same way? I don’t just mean verse chorus verse, I’m talking a complete mirror – intro, verse, chorus, verse, outro. Enough of that nonsense, this is just fun beyond words.
Another hit single now, albeit one which starts out with a hilarious fake classical intro. Man, I love the pronunciation on some of the ‘I want you’ lyrics. This is another sublimely sunny song, especially given the general dark tones of the album. What else do I love? The key change at the end, standard pop fare I know, but it works even better here. Also, the dragged out ‘didn’t want to leeeeeavve you there’.
It’s another example of those times when the B-Side is as good as, if not better than the single. This is better than Counting Down The Days – both terrific songs, but this one is special. Sure on the surface it’s another soulful ballad about lost love, but it’s so damn genuine and drenched in truth and feeling that it’s painfully universal. Every melody is perfect, the simplicity doesn’t require a single extra note or instrument, she does that cool vowel thing that I love when she sings ‘no’, ‘go’, ‘know’, and ‘hello’ and the chorus with its central lyric will rummage its way around your brain for days after a single listen.
Another track which begins with extravagant strings, which you should know by now I’m a sucker for, and then leads into what seems to be a depressed verse until you realise the the lyrics are actually positive and touching. Another brilliant vocal, just acoustic guitar, Natalie, and the strings, an entirely charming song to melt the stoniest soul.
It’s only in relatively recent years that I tracked down Natalie Imbruglia’s b-sides and rarities. I knew Identify and Glorious from their respective releases, but I never bought any of her singles even though I bought each album around the time of release. I can’t remember what b-side I heard first, but the moment I heard this one I knew that she was one of a select few artists capable of recording varying material which could be just as strong as her album tracks and singles. I’m not talking just a handful of flukes, but at least an album’s worth of rarities which would be just as good as any of her official releases. Shikaiya is one of the finest B-Sides (here it’s the B-Side for That Day) I’ve ever heard, an unashamedly beautiful ode, a song of new life, new love, of dedication, one to play surrounded by blue skies, white sand, and blistering sunlight.
White Lilies Island again, and another one of those cyclical, perfectly symmetrical songs. By this point in the album you already know it’s an all time classic, songs like this popping up everywhere. By this point in the list I don’t need to explain how I feel about these songs or how good they are – perfect verses, perfect pre-chorus and chorus, guitars, strings, vocals, everything. I love how chaotic the chorus gets and then how the verse sucks everything back in and calms the mood, I love how she switches up which part of the chorus comes first each time around, and I love how it ends as it began.
I still remember the first time I heard That Day – the first single from White Lilies Island. I caught the video and was immediately smitten – it was very different from her previous stuff and had a more mature and dense sound – the 90s were long gone and this was Imbruglia’s personal blend of pop and rock, still replete with everything that made her special. The video is pretty great too, simple but a sign of the defiance and spark of the album – everyone and everything pushing against her but she is walking on regardless – a simple motif, but it works. The album version is of course superior but the single gets the jist across – great riffs and melodies, but my highlights are simply how many words there are in the song meaning the vocals become a frantic rushing of thoughts. My second highlight is the way the line ‘I lay down beside myself’ is changed every single time – a different inflection, or word selected to pronounce more heavily or emphasize, or give it slight melodic twist. What the hell – my third highlight – which shouldn’t really count, are the bizarre overdubbed harmonies on ‘it’s supposed like this’. They sound like mistakes which were accidentally left in, but again they somehow work.
2. Come September
White Lilies Island comes to a close with this downpouring of loveliness. The opening drums suggest it will be a heavier affair but then the swooning guitars and vocals join in and we know this is more of a mini epic ballad. Her vocals are never more angelic than here, the way she pronounces the word ‘die’ is maybe my favourite moment in any of her songs and yet the rest of the song is filled with similar little moments. It all feels so effortless, from the subtle introduction of the strings to the chinking piano loops, to the celebratory key change leading into the final verse. The lyrics are wonderful too, my only issue though is that I hate September and can’t bring myself to agree that everything wrong’s gonna be alright come September.
My number one song has basically been my number one since I heard it, and yes we’re staying on White Lilies Island for it. If you trust anything I’ve said in any of my music posts (and I’ll admit my tastes are pretty weird) then go and buy that album now. Hurricane starts off with a slow guitar arpeggio or note progression played through a filter which makes it sounds like it’s from some old timey 1910 era sepia movie. There are some sort of seaside noises too, or at least that’s the sense I get while listening. Then the vocals start, creeping through the verse’s undergrowth, lyrics about shock and confusion, before the song emerges into the clarity of the chorus with perfect string section building and guitar change. The second verse is more of the same with the addition of bass and off kilter percussion and then, as we have come to expect with this album, the two part chorus is again switched around so that the second part comes first. Everything peaks and we drift off into the sunset. It’s simple, symmetrical, and if it isn’t one of the best songs of all time then I think I’m finally done with the human race.
Phew. I think Natalie Imbruglia as an artist is someone who can appeal to any music lover and if you have dismissed her as pop pap or sub-Morrissette/Brit Pop stuff I would urge you to give her another try. Hit a few of the links above and let me know. If you have any special thoughts or memories of any Natalie Imbruglia song or if you want to share you favourites then drop them in the comments below!
The Music: Welcome To The North: 2004:
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.
For a terrifyng visual representation of this list, check here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN5uvBDnYPY&feature=channel_video_title
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