Best Albums Of 2010

Ah, 2010. A sad year for albums, I’m afraid. Like the election two years ago, extreme optimism has turned into deep disappointment. Is the first year of a new decade always like this for music? I don’t know, but I kind of hope it’s true. ‘Cause if 2010 is the new standard then we’re in some serious trouble.

#5. 1/2. Spoon: Transference. You gotta give it up for consistency once in a while, especially in this time of mediocre albums, and Spoon’s 2010 offering is a really fine listen. Some of the band’s finest material is located here: The Mystery Zone, Written In Reverse and Got Nuffin are highlights in a very solid release.

#5. Robyn Hitchcock, Propellor Time. Hitchcock, backed by the Venus Three, have created an album full of beautiful melody with Propellor Time. It’s also Hitchcock’s best album in  over a decade. He’s still a quirky sort of fellow, and his lyrics still have that bizarre quality, but here he sounds supremely confident

#4. Gorillaz: Plastic Beach. This is the best Gorillaz album because Damon is no longer beholden to a producers style here. There’s that, and there’s the fact that he decided to actually write some of the best songs of his life. The vocal cameos are simply inspired, with Lou Reed giving the best vocal performance since The Blue Mask and Mark E Smith of The Fall glamming out on Glitter Freeze. Even Snoop Dog’s little intro is worthwhile.

#3. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening. Perhaps not as good as Sound Of Silver but damn close! Not as Bowie-esque as some have noted (sure there’s some influence there, but what modern band hasn’t been influenced at least marginally by Bowie, especially his Berlin years with Eno? It’s as silly as saying “influenced by the Beatles”. Of course they are, dammit!), but it is a darker, more serious affair, save for the wonderfully silly Drunk Girls. Pow Pow, is hilarious (reminds me a bit of Losing My Edge from the debut), and Dance Yrself Clean is a powerful opener. It’s Murphy’s last album as LCD Soundsystem and that’s really too bad.

#2. Paul Weller: Wake Up The Nation. This one took me totally by surprise. I really liked 22 Dreams, but it was a little overlong in my opinion, sounding like an obvious attempt to sum up his career. Before that it was the fine As Is Now, which was a nice surprise, but nothing earth shattering. Honestly, while I will always buy Weller’s albums I haven’t been overly impressed since Wild Wood way back in 1993.So when this album came out I was really blown away. For a veteran of the ’77 scene to put out an album as musically creative and energetic as this is simply an amazing accomplishment. It reminds me a little of Revolver, it being an all over the place melding of styles and experimentation yet somehow seeming like one big statement. Every song’s a gem. Wake Up The Nation ranks up there alongside Sound Affects as one of his finest.

#1. Madness: The Liberty Of Norton Folgate. Let’s get this out of the way: I know that this album came out in 2009,  but I didn’t even know about it until March of this year, so…give me a break, ok? And in a year like this I need to cheat a little. Unlike other supposedly past-their-prime bands from this era, Madness has created a mature yet extremely fun and thoughtful album in TLONF, and I am left breathless and excited about the future of music again. It’s dub, and ska, and dance hall, and rock, and dance, and even has a little bit of prog influence in the 10 minute (!) title track. It’s brilliant, and everything I look for in an album. It’s a bit of a concept record about London, but what Madness album wasn’t a concept album about London? That’s not the point here, of course. It’s the music and the quality of the songs, which are stellar creations and career highlights for the band.

Special Mention: Bryan Ferry, Olympia

The Grande Dame of romantic glam is back with his finest effort since Roxy Music’s Avalon, which was, in everything but the name, a Ferry solo release. That album was a masterpiece of mood, romantic yet mysterious, and launched a generation of “New Romantics”, some good (ABC, Talk Talk, and even Bowie to a degree) some mediocre (Human League, Heaven 17) and some bad (Flock Of Seagulls being the nadir). Olympia reunites original members of the first incarnation of Roxy, including the mighty Brian Eno, and notables such as Nile Rogers and David Gilmour. The album is slick, but unlike Ferry’s solo output from the 80’s onward, it is experimental enough to gain back some of Roxy Music’s art school fan base. Growing up I had a friend who’s dad grew up in England and was an acquaintance of Bryan Ferry. He told us that one night at the pub Ferry made a play for his girlfriend. My friend’s dad, taking offence, punched Ferry in the face, walked out and moved to Canada a few weeks later. A weird aside, I know, but it’s always added to Ferry’s suave mystique for me, and at the same time made him more human.

The only album from 2010 that I haven’t bought yet that would have probably made this list is Elvis Costello’s newest. I hear it’s great.

Remasters/Re-releases/Old Stuff

Orange Juice: Coals to Newcastle [Box Set]

Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964

In addition to these albums I am rediscovering the Rolling Stones (pre 1978), still listening to those amazing Beatles remasters and have fallen in love again with Elvis Costello, ELO, The Damned, Orange Juice/Edwyn Collins, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and the wonderful and woefully underrated Psychedelic Furs. And the deluxe edition of Band On The Run, which I bought used for $4.00 (SUCK IT, iTunes! You can stuff your $1.29 per song up yer collective arses!!), is a fantastic album that I’ve taken for granted for far too long.