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« The State of Irish Literature 2010 | Main | Twitter & Tweets: Who Can Read What (And How And Why To Use The Dot). »
Tuesday
Dec012009

Best albums of the noughties?

CDs and lots of them. Not sure who took the photo (contact me!) From http://www.jazzchicago.net/

I've been asking friends and strangers all week on Twitter about the best albums of the past decade. (A mixture of the joy of conversation and research: I'm discussing the decade's albums tonight - Tuesday, December 1st 2009 - on RTÉ's Arena program at 19.30 GMT, with Luke Clancy and others.)

In a spirit of internetty openness, here's a copy of the email I sent last night to the producers of the show, with some thoughts on the subject of music, albums, decades, technology, Twitter, and the Long Tail...

 

Please do add your thoughts and comments...

 

"Hi Penny, hi Luke,

That sounds fine. Here's a rough overview of my thoughts: I'd quite like to step back and talk about the whole idea of an album, and how it changed over the past decade. I suspect this might be a bit more original, and interesting to the listener, than my own personal taste in a top three (though I will give that too!)

That would mean talking a little about the technology. It's technology which secretly shapes musical eras. Pop music as we know it became possible with the 45rpm single, and the pop single.  Then the 33rpm, 12" vinyl disc made albums possible, so people bunched some songs together. Then multi-track recording allowed the Beatles to happen (and thus allowed rich, complicated, overdubbed albums to happen). Transistorised electronics allowed Kraftwerk to happen. Digital technology allowed techno to happen. And so on.

But you could argue that the invention of the CD meant albums were suddenly a bit too long for listeners to comfortably pay attention to all the way through. (The human brain can only stay focused for about 45 minutes before it needs a break.) And that, in the noughties, with the rise of  iTunes, iPods, and the iStore, the album as a collection of songs in a particular order is beginning to disappear, as people download individual songs off an album, or listen to their music at random, on shuffle. (As the great music site Pitchfork pointed out, the decade is a few months younger than Napster and only a year older than the iPod.)

So lists like the NME's favour quite a retro thing, the old-fashioned, short sharp rock album. The Strokes, at number 1 in the NME poll, are incredibly old-fashioned. They're rich kids who met at a Swiss finishing school, and pretended to be a gritty, streetwise New York 1970s band. It's absurd to say they sum up the noughties. In fact the NME's list is full of young bands knocking off old bands. Interpol, Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bloc Party. They knock off specific 70s and 80s bands! Interpol are a Joy Division tribute band.

I've read a lot of these lists, thinking about this, and the big problem is, where can anyone stand - on what sacred gold mountain - to take their view?

The noughties was the decade of the obscure album that you stumbled on and loved. A Top 10 made sense in the 60s when only a few hundred albums came out each year, and you could, with a bit of effort, hear most of the music released. But for the past decade, a top ten would be misleading and wrong. It was the decade of the top ten thousand. I put up a hashtag on Twitter, and got a fairly random bunch of lovely people to name their favourite album of the decade. The range of albums suggested on Twitter was astounding. The vast majority were not on any of these best of lists. What has happened is the same as what has happened to books with the rise of Amazon, and the rise of the long tail. The majority of Amazon's sales and profits don't come from selling loads of the top ten books. They come from selling a tiny number of copies of each of the bottom two million books. It's very democratic. Likewise, many more people are recording albums, and finding small, loyal bands of followers.


The forties had Sinatra. The fifties had Elvis. The sixties had the Beatles. We don’t have a Beatles, and it's possible nobody will be able to dominate a whole decade like that ever again. Which is fine.


And that ties into a final point: We probably haven’t heard the greatest albums of the decade yet. The people that do the thing that is new are not instantly recognised. If you look back at the lists from previous decades, they are full of forgotten bands. But truly influencial bands like, say, The Velvet Underground - the band the Strokes want to be - don't appear on any of these lists. It took twenty years for the first Velvet Underground album to go gold.

Meanwhile, guys that were already out of time, out of step with fashion, have aged really, really well. Maybe Tom Waits made the album of the decade. Maybe it was Johnny Cash, with The Man Comes Around.

As for legacy... it was a transitional decade. I suspect the noughties will be remembered more for its computer games than its music. But there were many, many wonderful gems, in all genres. So, a golden age of democracy, with no real king of pop.

I'll send you a top three tomorrow! Still thinking about it.

-Julian"

A nice picture of vinyl albums (ask your mum) from the wonderful Wikipedia Commons

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Reader Comments (3)

I'm going to stick in the first comment myself: I just edited out a reference to Mule Variations by Tom Waits, because of course it came out in 1999. My brain jumped the tracks there, I only bought it in the early 90s. And that's another thing about Best of Decades: with all of musical history available at once, we no longer necessarily listen to music in synch with our times. Me, I'm still catching up with the 1920s. Those songs just seem more... topical somehow.

"They won't smash up our Pierce Arrow,
We ain't got none
They've cut my wages
But my income tax will be so much smaller
When I'm paid off,
I'll be laid off
Ain't we got fun?"
December 1, 2009 | Registered CommenterJulian Gough
But Tom Waits did release albums in the 00s which were real good. and according to William Orbit is one reason to have hope for the music industry (as opposed to music, which is, of course, doing grand.) @JonRonson twittered his the other night, btw, though didnt include hashtags...darn...anyway, FYI they were:

Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
Jeffrey Lewis: It's the ones who've cracked that the light shines through
Arctic Monkeys: whatever people say I am...
White Stripes: Elephant & White Blood Cells
December 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLuke Clancy
well i think alot of amazing albums were overlooked in all the noughties lists.
personally this is my top 30
1)The Strokes- Is this it?
2)Oasis- Heathen Chemistry
3)The Lbertines- Up the Bracket
4)Arctic Monkeys- Whatever people say I am, thats what im not
5)Hard-Fi- Stars of CCTV
6)The Klaxons- Myths of the near future
7)The Wombats- the wombats present a guide to love, loss and desperation
8)Oasis- Dont believe the truth
9)The Strokes- Room on Fire
10)Arctic Monkeys- Favourite Worst Nightmare
11)Oasis- Dig out your Soul
12)The Kooks- Konk
13)Greenday- American Idiot
14)Elbow- The seldom seen kid
15)Courteeners- St. Jude
16)Muse- Absolution
17)The Coral- Magic and Medicine
18)The Fratellis- Costello Music
19)Kasabian- Empire
20)Kasabian- Kasabian
21)Kasabian- West Pauper Ryders Lunatic Asylum
22)The Libertines- The Libertines
23)We Are Scientists- With Love and Squalor
24)The Zutons- Who killed the Zutons?
25)Muse- Black Holes and Revelations
26)Glasvegas- Glasvegas
27)U2- How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
28)Red Hot Chilli Peppers- Stadium Arcadium
29)The Verve- Forth
30)The Pigeon Detectives- Emergency
31)Stereophonics- Language, Sex, Violence
32)Paolo Nutini- These Streets
33)The Temper Trap- Conditions
34)Kings Of Leon- Only By The Night
35)Muse- Origin Of Symmetry
36)Florence and The Machine- Lungs
37) The Coral- The Coral
38)The Cribs- Mens Needs. Womans Needs... Who Cares?
39)Oasis- Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
40) Babyshambles- Down in Albion
March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoe D

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