This, being 2004, was one of the finest years for pop music I’ve ever witnessed, is the truth of the matter. The amount of solid-gold masterpieces popping up in the shelves of the CD emporiums was baffling. A year that sees not only the return of Morrissey and Prince, not only the hitherto unthinkable development that sees Har-Mar Superstar become as brilliant as he always assumed he was, but also the arrival of SMiLE by Brian Motherfucking Wilson.
Also, dig this; Commercial pop raised it’s game so high that if you squint on a cloudless night you still can’t see it, so far has it gone into the stratosphere. Natasha Bedingfield produced one of the most sublime pieces of three-minute gorgeousity of all ever in the truly outstanding These Words, and then Girls Aloud, a band created by a TV fucking talent show, managed to be as filthily infectious as Christina Aguillera.
Or, indeed, some virus of some kind.
What this all amounts to is that I have slept about two and a half hours in the last fortnight, so daunting was the prospect of assuming what might be “the best”.
I still can’t decide, so these here are in alphabetical order.
Enjoy them, friends. They rule like motherfuckers.
Ryan Adams – Love Is Hell
Love Is Hell was released as two mini-albums in 2003, a couple weeks after the brilliant, bafflingly under-rated Rock N’ Roll. It was given a proper release this year, though, and is therefore eligible as a motherfucker.
What happened was the record company hated it. Where’s the tunes, they asked? Right there, Ryan probably said, pointing at the tunes. It was too little, too late, though. Depressing they said. Miserable. Suicide music, is what you expect us to give to the kids, with their Limping Biscuits and Slippity Nots.
As if the whole Yankee Hotel Foxtrot debacle hadn’t convinced the world that record companies didn’t know their arseholes from someone else’s elbow, this was just about all the proof we needed.
What Love Is Hell amounts to, is Adams’ Blood On The Tracks, a melancholic, deeply pained series of dignified musings on lost love, and how hellish it all is. I just felt like pointing that out in case maybe you missed the title of the record.
In fact, it’s Adams’ second Gosh My Baby Done Me Bad album, and it’s possibly even better than the first one, his mainly-acoustic debut, Heartbreaker.
I See Monsters is also the most beautiful fucking song I believe I have ever heard. “Baby I know you cannot hear me now, cause you’re fast asleep, but I love you now”, supposedly sung to a very close female acquaintance in the last stages of terminal illness. It makes me wanna beat him senseless with jealousy one minute, then have some kind of homosexual encounter the next. It’s beyond shit like “good” or “brilliant” or “masterful”. To paraphrase somebody or other, if the damn thing could be described with text on a damn screen, then the motherfucker wouldn’t have needed to go singing it.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Lyre Of Orpheus / Abattoir Blues
When I put this in the player, it knocked me half-way across the damn room. What The Duke would suggest, is to start with Abattoir Blues. The deranged evangelical zeal of Get Ready For Love smacks the listener upside the face the second it starts, and proceeds to jump up and down on said individual, smacking the head with the force of twenty-seven tonnes of granite. Although, granted, twenty-seven tonnes of anything would do the same trick.
Granite just seems that bit more appropriate.
These two-albums-as-one have not one solitary below-par track between them, lurching from ecstatic delirium to swampy, croaking, sinister threats with nary a thought for one’s emotions.
Two masterpieces, man. That’s more than, say, John Lennon managed this year. For shame, John Lennon.
Dizzee Rascal – Showtime
Let The Duke be the first to admit this shit right here; If you were to tell me, say five years ago, that five years in the future-time, not only would there be no terminators yet, but also, the three best hip-hop records of the year would be UK in origin, I would’ve laughed in your face, phoned the police, and hid under a shed until you were locked up with both feet tied behind your head.
No motherfucker could’ve seen this coming. Not even Nostradamus, although, granted, he figured the world would’ve ended by now, if those web-sites are to be trusted.
Maybe he just concocted that shit on account of it was more believable than the three best hip-hop records of the year being British.
“Go screw yourself Nostradamus. Fire and death and Nazi’s we can accept, but British hip-hop that’s worth a damn? What kind of prophet are you, anyhow? Some demented fucking variant, that’s what I’m starting to assume. Why can’t you be more like Joseph?”
And so on and so forth.
Truth be told, like a few of the records on this list, Showtime didn’t strike me upside the teeth like I had expected on first listening. It was fantastic, of that much we could be sure, but it didn’t seem just as fantastic as the stunning predecessor, Boy In Da Corner. The more it span round in the old CD player, though, the more alive the thing became, and what had initially seemed a somewhat dour affair ascended hitherto undetected heights.
And that voice, man. That piercing yelp penetrating even the densest of Rascal’s self-produced soundscapes. It’s enough to make a man boil with rage. I mean come the hell on, the fella’s only 20 years old!
Drive By Truckers – Dirty South
I’ve loved these maniacs since back when they sang about The night GG Allin Came To Town, but with this here they truly out-did themselves. A series of vignettes dealing with numerous aspects of life in Tha South, this was the alt. country equivalent of 2003’s stunning Deliverance by Bubba Sparxx.
If there’s a more beautiful song about tornadoes than Tornadoes, then I’ve yet to hear the allusive motherfucker.
Green Day – American Idiot
For some reason everybody got all surprised when Green Day shoved yet another masterpiece into their ungrateful fists. The Duke experienced not shock, however, but relief. I knew these motherfuckers were capable of this kinda wonder. Anybody who’s trailed them from Smoothed Out knows full well that the derision utilized by the press when discussing them was always woefully off-the-mark.
9 minutes of Jesus Of Suburbia later, however, and the world wakes up. Now go get your filthy hides in the direction of Insomniac, would you ever?
Har Mar Superstar – The Handler
Who’d a thought a fella who bears such resemblance to both Frodo Baggins and Ron Jeremy would be producing the funkiest record of the year? A record that out-Princes even Prince. What the hell has the world come to? Har Mar Superstar looks like he should be flinging jewelry into volcanoes, not producing solid gold wonders like this right here. Who the hell does he think he is?
The God of all funk, is who he thinks he is, and the worrying thing is that, pretty much, he’s right. Bow down to him and fling your underwear at his balding skull, is what The Duke suggests.
Step out my damn way, James Brown, is what Har Mar has to say about the funk hierarchy. Y’all better be getting me a motherfucking throne, is what. Get up off that thing is right. Get off it and fuck off. It’s the Har-Mar buttocks that’ll be gracing that plateau from now the hell on.
The tunes on this thing are enough to level those council estates Skinnyman’s so damn obsessed with. D.U.I, Transit, Alone Again (Naturally), the damn thing never pauses for to even think about maybe taking a breath one day. It sounds alive, dripping with the oils of sun-kissed drunkards.
Enough to make a man tear his hair out and gain four stone, is what, in the hope that maybe an ounce of that genius is cosmetic.
Kasabian – Kasabian
So what happened was The Beta Band broke everybody’s blood-pump into messy, gore-strewn tatters when they announced that sorry, folks, we’re a bunch a hippies and we can’t be bothered making no more records. In addition, Oasis seem to have been recording the same damn album for the past two years, going through producers like nobody’s business.
Imagine the hurrahs emanating from Mondo Towers, then, when these bunch a motherfuckers by the name of Kasabian release a record that sounds like nothing less than Oasis jamming with The Beta Band, with maybe a few of those Stone Roses wandering in and out the studio for to lay down some phat shit now and again.
Psychedelic without resorting to prog-rock wank, Kasabian also managed to invoke the spirit of the much-missed Verve, except without the more obscenely “trippy” dalliances. Shit like Processed Beats and Club Foot sounded phenomenal, and merged dance music with rock as seamlessly as those Happy Mondays cats, when they could be dragged away from the pipe for five minutes.
Libertines – Libertines
As if The Duke hasn’t waxed enough about how these fellas are just about the finest thing since sliced bread plugged in a Strat way back when, here they are again, producing a fragile, raw, achingly tender masterpiece. Some folks wanna yack about “It isn’t as good as the first one… it doesn’t have any tunes… fucking blah blah blah”. It’s a bit like comparing In Utero to Nevermind, is what, and just like Nirvana’s last “proper” release, The Libertines is a seriously misunderstood piece of work.
Also, it’s a masterpiece. That right there’s another link we can draw, another parallel. Something else for to join up with chalk.
“It’s all about drugs and about how the one who sings sometimes hates the bollocks off of the one who sings the other times and so on and so forth.”
Such bantering is to ignore the fact that most of these songs actually pre-date the debut, and whilst a buncha them (notably Music When The Lights Go Out) are granted a certain poignancy in light of recent events, to assume that this speaks to no-one outside of The Libertines immediate circle of Bohemian acquaintances, is to go so far past the point that probably you’re staring at its arse.
Mick Jones has captured a band on the brink of (hopefully short-term) implosion, has committed to wax (or shiny stuff, in this age of your Compact CD’s and what the hell) recordings of such vitality, such urgency, and such motherfucking beauty, that it almost feels wrong to be listening to it with anything so mundane as ears.
Of course, it was wrong, if by chance you were one of those peg-legged sons a bitches who grabbed it off of the web-net a fortnight before release.
Shame on you, is what. Tuts in abundance, man.
Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
I didn’t know what to expect when Loretta Lynn announced she was teaming up with Jack White of The Von Bondies or The Strokes or some “hip” band or other. I would’ve put down a load of the green, though, for to bet that it was gonna be a stark American Recordings-style affair.
Instead, what arrives is an unearthly, ethereal creation, a record that sounds like pretty much nothing else this year, certainly nothing else in Lynn’s back catalogue, and filled with the finest songs she’s written since back when some motherfucker tried to put her wings upon his horn.
Stand out moments include the opening title track, the stunning debut with White, Portland Oregon and the densely atmospheric Women’s Prison.
Jesse Malin – The Heat
Malin’s debut, The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction, was a ragged, torn affair, with the ex-D-Generation frontman’s wailing Neil Young-esque vocals high in the mix. Taking over from Ryan Adams, who produced the first record, the self-produced follow-up was a much more cinematic affair.
On first listen, it appeared somewhat of a disappointment. Couple spins later, however, I was in love with this to such an extent that even the hole in the CD started to look attractive.
I’m not proud of this shit, man. I just hope others can learn, is what.
So what we get here are amazing, soaring ballads and hard-luck narratives swamped in reverb-laden, otherworldly arrangements and balls-out, pounding rock n’ roll.
Also, Mona Lisa name-checks Shane MacGowan, so obviously it rules.
Morrissey – You Are The Quarry
Comeback Of The Year #1
To be all the honest in Kansas, I didn’t for a second imagine that Stephen Patrick would release a record this year. All that fucking around with record companies and hiding in LA and doing not much of a damn thing seemed to suggest that, flawed as Maladjusted may have been, we may as well start assuming it’d be the last we’d hear of Morrissey for a long, long time.
Imagine the motherfucking shock, then, when not only does this record arrive, but it ends up being one of the finest things the man has ever crafted. Not only this, but it sparks a full-blown renaissance, with even the NME (who famously fell out with our bequiffed hero back when he was busy flailing Union Jacks about without having the decency to wait until Oasis were doing it) getting down for to lick his boots and so on in a celibate, plutonic manner.
The tunes contained in this thing are enough to have a fella buzzing like a telly too close to a mobile. Certainly the lyrics are occasionally clumsy, but even the senseless nostalgia of, say, Come Back To Camden is granted a sweeping majesty by the jaw-dropping arrangements, the life-affirming melodies.
Too many gorgeous moments to even begin singling any out, so best just to announce something along the lines of how I Have Forgiven Jesus and Let Me Kiss You are two of the finest songs of the past five years.
Prince – Musicology
Comeback Of The Year #2
There was a lot of buzz and general hoopla surrounding the release of this record, all about how Prince had “returned to form”, i.e., managed to string a coherent melody together in under three minutes for the most part. It’s the most commercial thing he’s done in a decade, but sod that if the tunes had sucked. Thank God, though, they’re catchy as that hospital virus everyone’s washing their hands fleshless over, although much nicer to have around.
No doubt he just felt like showing those young pretenders like Outkast and that Timberlake goon how a man needs to go about shaking his ass with authority.
Selfish Cunt – No Wicked Heart Shall Prosper
With a name like that, it was pretty obvious that Ryan Adams-esque laments were never on the cards. Who’d have guessed their version of Bobby Brown’s My Prerogative would be so thrilling, though?
Fuck you Britney Spears, is what Selfish Cunt would like to announce.
The original material surrounding this most left-field of covers was equally stunning. By terms terrifying and exhilarating, Selfish Cunt channel the spirits of The Fall and P.I.L with nothing more than detuned guitar, a frantic drum machine and Martin Tomlinson’s sneering, antagonistic vocals.
The opening Corporate Slut sounds like a motherfucking riot, and if you thought shit like Fuck The Poor, Britain Is Shit and Authority Confrontation were gonna lessen the pace any, you better get the old brains looked at, since they’re obviously screwed to the guts.
William Shatner – Has Been
I still can’t believe this shit, is what. Look. It’s a Best Of 2004 list, and there’s William Motherfucking Shatner sitting alongside the likes of Loretta Lynn and Selfish Cunt.
Incidentally, that’d be just about the best dinner-party a man could ever hope to gate-crash.
This shit here is so far-fetched that if it was the plot of one of the sonna bitches telly shows about space you’d fling a remote at the screen. Distant civilizations I can buy, Shatner, but you doing a credible Common People? Get the fuck off my television.
Funny, humane, witty, cool as all frozen Nebraska, and genuinely unique, in an era when folks wanna complain about “I want something different”, and then when they get it, they ignore it, on account of I think Simon Cowell’s produced another record about “baby”.
Skinnyman – Council Estate Of Mind
Well this was a pleasant surprise, is what. Although Skinnyman had been doin’ the hip-hop thang for next to forever, this was as much as The Duke had heard of him;
This right here, though, his debut record proper, was nothing short of stunning. Inter-cutting the tracks with lengthy speeches from Alan Clarke’s Made In Britain, Council Estate Of Mind seems less of an album than an impassioned address to Britain’s working class youth.
Lofty and pretentious that might seem, but it works, and works in a way folks hadn’t heard since back when Billy Bragg first plugged the hell in for to sing about “When one voice rules the nation…” and so on.
He talks about other things, too, like the music business, for example. The bile evident in Fuck The Hook is enough to have a man’s home smelling of pure orange juice for weeks.
Todd Snider – East Nashville Skyline
The Duke has been singing the praises of this fella over on The Mondo MP3 Digest for some time now, and with good reason, is what. East Nashivlle Skyline sounds like Another Side Of… era Bob Dylan, a playful set of mostly acoustic based songs, dealing with both the political and the personal.
Every damn track is a winner, from the opening Age Like Wine (concerning a rock star who’s “Too old to die young, now”) through Alcohol And Pills (detailing the addictions of Hank Williams Snr. And Elvis Presley, amongst others), the brilliant Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight White American Males (about how the folks of the title detest “tree-huggin, peace-loving, pot-smoking, porn-watching lazy ass hippies like me”) to the closing rendition of Enjoy Yourself, East Nashville Skyline has a fella smiling like a goon one minute, then angry as all fuck the next.
A startling piece of work.
If you hurry, you can hear Conservative Christian… at the MP3 Digest before it goes off next week.
The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free
Just edging out Skinnyman and Dizzee, Mike Skinner offered us mere wretches the finest hip-hop record of 2004. A concept album, would you believe, full of the kindsa minute observations worthy of the finest of stand-up comedians.
Chorus of the year;
“I saw this thing on ITV the other week,
Said that if she plays with her hair she’s prob’ly keen,
She’s playing with her hair well regularly,
So I reckon I could well be in.”
Not for Skinner the bling nor the bravado nor the rat-a-tat-tat. Whilst So Solid Crew were squandering their potential by indulging in the kinda uber-macho gang squabbling that so blighted US hip-hop eventually, The Streets were producing records that folks could actually relate to.
When you live in a council estate in The County Antrim, you don’t see many drive-by’s. There ain’t many “turf-wars” going on in the back field.
“Dry your eyes, mate. I know you want to make her see how much this pain hurts, but you’ve got to walk away now, it’s over…” That was shit a man could nod knowingly to, and then cry over for much of the friggin weekend.
Brian Wilson – SMiLE
Comeback Of The Year #3 – Album Variant
I don’t even know what to say about this, man. It’s a soul-scarring experience. The sound of a fella going so far over the edge that it takes him thirty years to crawl back and assess the results.
A hymn to some mythical American landscape, a “teenage symphony to God”, a heart-breaking masterpiece.
It’s not that often you wanna hug a record. If it gets you in the right mood, this thing will reach into your motherfucking being and touch your spirit.
Also, goes someway towards redressing the shameful lack of bovine in pop music.
Well, that’s your lot folks. Between now and sometime later, tracks from these records will be peppering The Mondo MP3 Digest, so go have a look, have a listen, and then buy the motherfuckers.
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