A year after The Strokes’ Is This It?, New York bagged yet another defining rock album of the 2000s – Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights. Paul Banks and his smartly clad entourage of twenty-somethings led a Joy Division inspired charge for a post-punk revival.
Kickstarting the album with the ‘Untitled’, the menacing yet stirring opening sets the standard tone for the rest of the album. Carlos Dengler’s dynamic basslines, Daniel Kessler’s pounding guitar, and Banks’ sober baritone all fuse to create one of the greatest – almost theatrical – performances in a while, demanding the listener pay close attention to their many intricacies.
For all its gloom and pretentiousness, Turn On The Bright Lights is 49 minutes of carefully packaged bombast; a quintessential turning point for rock music. If Is This It? was the party of the decade, Interpol followed it up with the best possible afterparty.
In early 2006, four Sheffield lads with an affinity for Adidas wear unleashed their alcopop-charged debut album on an unprepared world. In Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, frontman Alex Turner translates youthful frustration into snarling guitars and hectic drum grooves, through merging the punkish contempt of The Clash, the tunefulness of The Beatles, the blatant Englishness of The Kinks, and the lyrical sharpness of The Smiths, with the more modern, cool approach of The Strokes, and the pseudo-ska of The Libertines, resulting in a whole new chapter of Brit-pop.
Turner conscientiously depicts nightlife in an industrial town; club flirting in ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, taking a chance with the bouncers in ‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’, and the unlikely final act ‘A Certain Romance’, a song that starts by slagging off the local ruffians, but ends up forgiving them. All in all, it could well be any given night out on the Sheffield scene.
The point is, we’ve all been there: whether it’s scrambling for words when trying to impress a girl, or listening to the lies people tell themselves about why they really go clubbing, Arctic Monkeys have expressed it all inimitably, in thirteen solid tracks.
Believe the hype.
The phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ springs to mind with Illmatic – here, the real gold lies past what appears to be an awful attempt at photoshop. Released in 1994, just a few months before Biggie shot up as the king of the East Coast hip-hop scene, Illmatic boasts flawless beats, lyrical genius, and even a cameo from Nas’ own father on trumpet.
Although other rappers might have been more major-league or had more ammunition than Nas, he still manages to describe the fruitlessness of life on the ominous Queensbridge streets perfectly. Quotable lines like ‘No sign of the beast in the blue Chrysler, I guess that means peace’ and ‘I can’t call it; the beats make me falling asleep/ I keep falling, but never falling six feet deep’ delineate what Nas preaches: the menace of inner-city hustling.
Vocally Nas is nothing special; his charm lies instead in his perceptive lyricism, smooth execution, and the clear-cut realism of it all. Whether it’s about his brothers in jail or the futility of New York street life, Nas delivers.
Following his previous lack of commercial success, Beck managed to resurrect his career with his freak-accident-of-a-hit ‘Loser’ in 1993, but that was only the beginning – fast-forward three years and you have Odelay, the knockout album that Beck, pretty much, couldn’t have bettered.
Drawing on influences ranging from Woodie Guthrie to Son House to Beastie Boys, Beck delivers his own signature style of shameless, nonchalant white boy rapping on ‘Where It’s At’ only to then slip into the acoustic, lo-fi, almost hymn ‘Ramshackle’, a few tracks later. Beck rejected the surrounding grunge of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, instead filling his songs with Them and James Brown samples, and layering it with self-confessedly meaningless lyrics (‘Got a devil’s haircut in my mind’, ‘She’s got a paradise camouflage’, ‘Empty boxes in a pawn shop brain’, to name a few). Who cares if there’s nothing serious behind the words? A little goofiness never hurt anyone, particularly on such a laid-back album.
Odelay is Beck at his slick, ironic best. It’s not an experimental art project gone horribly wrong; it’s a reckless musical stunt gone horribly right.
In 2008, Vampire Weekend emerged on the music scene fresh from Columbia University with their eponymous debut album, tailoring indie rock to their preppy look. Sporting Ralph Lauren shirts and Epiphany guitars, Vampire Weekend cover a variety of topics, ranging from campus life at university to the pedantic nature of grammar – ‘Who gives a fuck about an Oxford Comma?’.
Vampire Weekend creates its own sound, through its unique and unlikely blend of baroque countermelodies and afropop grooves. Tracks like ‘M79’ are layered decoratively with harpsichord, whereas ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ features Soweto-style guitar and percussion. As for the rest of the album, it neatly flows over summery keyboard work and an embellished strings section, all topped by the best overproduction since Fleetwood Mac.
It’s unfair to call this album a poor man’s ‘Graceland’; echoes of Paul Simon and Talking Heads might be very apparent throughout with the distinct African beats, but Vampire Weekend transcends that, in some ways creating their very own (whiter-than-white) genre.
Whatever you label it, Vampire Weekend gave indie rock a fresh face. A stunning debut album through and through, these kids really do stand a chance.
Cue the Nineties – the birth of the Internet, computerisation, and pervasive consumerism. OK Computer is the natural child of the information age, its statement being that, ironically, as the digital world unfolds, we become increasingly alienated from reality by these novel inventions.
OK Computer is its own metaphor in many ways: nothing is what it seems. The songs on this album give a nod to a variety of (unlikely) musicians, ranging from The Beach Boys to Bob Dylan, ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ being the most obvious homage. However, the lyrical content of the latter concerns neat suburban scenes and yearning to break away from such a regimental lifestyle, bearing nothing to Dylan.
Shortly after being force-fed the monotonous truisms of ‘Fitter Happier’, you find yourself digesting the bittersweet pill ‘No Surprises’, the almost-epilogue about having been anaesthetised to a mundane life and slowly coming to realise it. All the while, Thom Yorke’s delicate vocals quaver with emotion, with Jonny Greenwood and the rest ready to strum or pound away at his command.
OK Computer is the musical equivalent of ‘The Truman Show’; in an era so nascent, we’ve created a world in which we buy products we don’t want or need without hesitation – ‘we accept the reality of the world with which we are presented’. With corporations ceaselessly injecting and synthesising our fantasies into our realities, who can tell either apart?
If you’re sick of all the artifice, let OK Computer be your final bellyache.
First some history: this album proved very strenuous for The Zombies, due to pressures brought on by a tight deadline and a limited budget. It was released in 1968, and the first two singles were complete flops, until the delayed release of ‘Time Of The Season’ in the U.S., which saw The Zombies reach No. 3 in the singles charts. But by then it was too late, as The Zombies had long since split and gone their separate ways.
Because of its initial commercial failure, this album rarely gets a chance to speak for itself, often being overshadowed by other contemporary psychedelic albums Sgt. Pepper and Forever Changes. But this does not retract from the efforts and genius that is Odessey and Oracle. The ethereal vocals in this album, coloured by the lush string arrangements, are parallel to the orchestration of even Pet Sounds. Overall, the picture painted by The Zombies is a nostalgic and seasonal one; in ‘Beechwood Park’, the lyrics concern the longing for summer and resultantly express the melancholia of autumn. Furthermore, the album coasts gracefully through its baroque and sunshine pop elements, only to conclude on the ominous and enigmatic ‘Time Of The Season’ – the perfect undertone to do so.
Odessey and Oracle is the less adventurous, but nonetheless, near-equal spawn of Revolver, albeit with better vocal harmonies. Colin Blunstone’s tender voice and Rod Argent’s elaborative organ solos make it one of the most unique landmarks of the British Invasion.