Thursday, November 27, 2008

Albums of the Year Lists. Yay! Nay?

It's that time of year again, when music magazines like Q, Mojo and Uncut release their lists of the best albums of the past year. So here's a look at the top 10's:

Q Magazine:

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
09. The Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
08. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
07. TV On The Radio - Dear Science
06. Duffy - Rockferry
05. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
04. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
03. Coldplay - Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
02. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
01. Kings Of Leon - Only By The Night


10 Neil Diamond - Home Before Dark
9 The Bug - London Zoo
8 The Week That Was - The Week That Was
7 Glasvegas - Glasvegas
6 The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
5 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
4 Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
3 Paul Weller - 22 Dreams
2 The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of The Understatement
1 Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes


10 Paul Weller - 22 Dreams
9 Kings Of Leon - Only By The Night
8 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
7 Neon Neon - Stainless Style
6 Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
5 Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
4 Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
3 TV On The Radio - Dear Science
2 Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
1 Portishead - Third

And now for the best bit: let's bitch about the lists. It has to be said that the presence of the Kings of Leon at number 1 really is a new low for Q. Only By The Night is an album that moves even further away from their Creedence/Skynyrd-influenced Southern roots and closer to the streamlined, stadium-ready songcraft that seems to attract so many bands who get the sniff of a crossover. Liam Gallagher said it better than I ever could:

"I like Kings Of Leon, but I don't know about this fucking new record. I like the old stuff. I like (Caleb Followill’s) voice. When they first come out I was going, 'Who the fuck is this?' They were cool, and now they've all got their sleeves cut off. It seems to me they've gone for the bucks, man. I'm not dissing them because I fucking really like them, but it's like they've got this U2 sound and you can do better than that."

Exactly, but then that's what makes their presence at number 1 so depressingly predictable: Q, more than any other mainstream publication, rabidly encourages this stadium band nonsense. Just check their blurb on the 'album of the year': 'Kings Of Leon are making big rock music to fill big spaces, without resorting to hot air or empty posturing.' Have you ever heard anything so tedious? The thing about Q is when you actually read the magazine you can see that there's some very good writers on their staff, but for whatever reason (and maybe it's an editorial thing) the overall attitude of the magazine seems to be: 'how mainstream is this band? can they fill stadiums? how accessible is the production?' etc. etc. It's as if this is their only criteria for judging music (it isn't, in fairness, but it's easy to get that impression).

Then there's Coldplay at number 3. You'd think Q would have learned their lesson after raving about the substandard X & Y and giving it the 5-star treatment, but nope, apparently Viva La Vida - an album that was greeted with a resounding 'meh' by most discerning listeners - is 'their Unforgettable Fire. Their first properly great album. U2 arrived next at The Joshua Tree, so expect even better to come'. Ooookay.
Moving on...

It's similarly predictable, if somewhat less disagreeable, to see the strong showing of Fleet Foxes in the Mojo and Uncut lists. As great as the album is, it could conceivably have been made at any stage in the last 20 years, and these magazines do tend to favour music that (a) sounds like it could have been made decades ago, (b) is made by artists who are decades old or (c) falls under the broad term 'Americana'.

You sometimes wonder whether it's too much to ask to have a music magazine that attempts to cover genres and styles of music equally, and not be biased towards stadium rock, Americana or trendy fads (hello NME!). Then you realise that it's no wonder music magazines are losing readers to the internet and websites like Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound.

Anyway, enough bitching, there are some great albums in there, with the likes of Elbow, Nick Cave and Bon Iver getting some fully-deserved approval across the board. Come back here on December 31st for Electric Whipcrack's Top 10 albums of the year. Or maybe early January. I don't like being rushed.

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