Books 2010

Down Under by Bill Bryson (2000)
20th Century Cars by Hilton Holloway & Martin Buckley (2003)
Around The World In 80 Dates by Jennifer Cox (2006)
The Ghost by Robert Harris (2007)

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Maya Slater (2007)
Night Of The Living Dad by Sam Delaney (2009)
Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre (2009)
Adventures On The High Teas by Stuart Maconie (2009)


"Down Under"

by Bill Bryson

A couple of years ago I archived many of my books to the loft due to a lack of shelf space here in the East Wing. Now I'm bringing down a box at a time, the contents of which fit approximately on a shelf, and it's fun to rediscover them. Now I'm on the "B"s, amongst them this account of the author's travels around Australia.

Robert Louis Stevenson said:
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.
This quote comes from Travels with a Donkey in the CĂ©vennes (1879), a "pioneering classic of outdoor literature" (it says here on Wikipedia) and clearly a forerunner of the kind of travel books that Bill Bryson writes. But for me - not much of a traveller - it also explains why I get so much enjoyment out of reading books for a second, third or fourth time (or more; I've read Pride and Prejudice at least once a year since I was eighteen). The pleasure for me is more in the detail and the skill in which a good book is put together - the journey - than it is in knowing the ending or remembering any specifics.

In any case, a travel book doesn't have a plot so there is no ending to remember. To make a satisfying read, however, it still needs a beginning, a middle and an end. This is one of the reasons I think Bryson is successful, because he structures his books well, and Down Under is no exception. That said, the book is the result of several visits to Australia, and this is clear throughout, which does make it slightly disjointed. Nevertheless, it shows his usual traits of copious research and amusing recurring themes. The main one in this case is his obsession with the bewildering variety of potentially fatal flora and fauna at large in the continent, something he returns to time and again.

All in all, an enjoyable, easy-going read in the company of one of my favourite authors.


"20th Century Cars"

by Hilton Holloway & Martin Buckley

Subtitled "The Complete Guide to the Century's Classic Automobiles", this book provides a brief history and photograph on each of almost 400 cars from Europe and the US over the twentieth century. The choice of cars is mostly straightforward, although there are some glaring omissions - for example, the Bentley 3 Litre that won Le Mans twice in the 1920s, or the original Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, in both cases the cars that established their makers' reputations. In fact, there are very few pre-Second World War cars in the book at all, something that makes me wonder whether this book is in fact just a quick update to Buckley's earlier book The Encyclopaedia of Classic Cars, which covers the period 1947 - 1975.

The photos are mostly good quality and the text is usually informative, although it could have done with better editing as occasionally it contradicts itself. Overall, it's a good overview of classic cars for someone with passing interest or a young person wishing an introduction.


"Around The World In 80 Dates"

by Jennifer Cox

In which intrepid journalist and travel reporter Jennifer resolves to travel the world searching for her soul mate, who, she believes, must be Out There Somewhere. With assistance from her many and varied friends, with a constant eye on the next destination (and at least half an eye on the book deal, surely), she jumps from date to date, documenting all with a lively wit and a light touch.

It reads like a kind of female version of Are You Dave Gorman?, a madcap dash around the world and the weird and wonderful people in it. That's no bad thing; Gorman's book is immense fun, and I very much enjoyed this too. It's like a real life chick-lit novel, and as is absolutely necessary for such a book, it does have a happy ending - I don't think I'd be giving away too much if I told you that she does meet her soul mate.

It's a nice, easy read and I recommend it. However, if you feel short of time, you could read the Observer article instead.


"The Ghost"

by Robert Harris

The film of this book was generally well reviewed and so for some reason I decided to read the book first. I've read a couple of Harris's books before (Fatherland and Enigma, if memory serves, although I've got a feeling I didn't finish the latter) and while I can't say I'm a huge fan, the premise seemed strong enough to make it worth a go.

Just in case you don't know, the book is written by an unnamed ghost writer who is employed to write the autobiography of a recently resigned UK Prime Minister who is currently being accused of war crimes relating to the Gulf War.  The ex-Prime Minister is a highly personable man with a high-profile, controversial wife.  But something's not quite as it seems, and the previous ghost writer has died under mysterious circumstances ...

No prizes for guessing that it's supposed to be about the Blairs and so it's difficult to read it without having that in the background. Maybe that's intentional; Harris is obviously Making A Point and wants it to be clear who he is Making A Point about.

But, as a thriller, it's not really very thrilling.  Really, all Harris wants to do is accuse Blair of being a CIA puppet.  Although - shocking twist alert - really he's just a puppet of his conniving wife, who is a CIA secret agent!  Yawn.

So, not subtle at all.  It would have wasted less of my time if he'd just written a short pamphlet on his accusations.  But then I guess he would have had to defend himself in court, whereas this way he can hide behind the "fiction".

Anyway, I didn't enjoy this, as you can probably tell, and in fact I didn't finish it properly at all. I got most of the way through, mainly because it was the only book I had with me in a hotel, but I flicked through the last 40 pages to see how it ended.


"Mr. Darcy's Diary"

by Maya Slater

Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite novels. I read it when I was about 18, as the first in my (short-lived) undertaking to learn more of the classics (and well before, I might add, the popularisation via that serialisation). I bought an old hardback, large print edition that was being removed from library stock. Although helpfully cheap, it had what I considered at the time to be unnecessarily large, overly girly full page illustrations and as a result I was very embarrassed to be seen reading it in public. Needless to say, I still have the book and love the illustrations now (although sadly I can't find any online). I still read it at least once a year, I guess.

Obviously there's now a minor industry in P&P spin-offs, including any number of novels. I've tried a few of them but mostly they are very poor. However, I saw someone reading this book on a train and it piqued my interest, and last week I finally found it in the library.

The book is, of course, the same central story, but told from the perspective of the hero rather than the heroine. (There's some half-hearted pretence about this being a *real* diary found in a bureau and that therefore the whole story is not fiction after all.) Fitzwilliam Darcy doesn't actually appear that much in Jane Austen's novel, being mostly absent doing something mysterious about managing his estates or some such. This book ties together many of the questions that crop up around his behaviour, such as why he returns to Pemberley early. It also gives many interesting details of his life in London, which I enjoyed (though I can't say how historically accurate they are).

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Searching around The Republic Of Pemberley, I found that there are in fact many versions of Darcy's diary, and I have to say I'm tempted to try another.


"Night Of The Living Dad"

by Sam Delaney

I didn't mean to restrict myself to reading books with puns for titles, it just worked out like that. I found this in the library while I was supervising K & Z in the kids' section. There's a few shelves of books for adults - 1001 Baby Names You Must Use Before You Die, How To Realise Your Child's Inner Beethoven, that sort of thing - and this memoir was in there. I think it would more properly belong in "Biography" but actually it fits into that odd category of books that Danny Wallace and Dave Gorman have made their own: comedic but not comedy, travelling but not travelogue, biographical but not biography. It even has a quote from Danny Wallace on the front.

Sam Delaney - who, it turns out, is current editor of Heat magazine, not that I knew this until I started writing this review - writes about his experience of fatherhood, from the initial twinkle in his eye to about a year after the birth. The style is highly reminiscent of Danny Wallace (no wonder there's that quote on the front) but lacks the appealing naivety that makes books such as Yes Man or Friends Like These so enjoyable. Instead it has a more world-weary cynicism, which, while occasionally funny, I found rather repetitious towards the end of the book. That's not to say there isn't a whole host of immediately recognisable situations in the book though; maybe I just found it too close to home!

Overall, an interesting diversion but not a book I'd read again or particularly recommend to others.



by Christopher Brookmyre

Second in my coincidental trilogy of punning titles is this satire of religion and its place in society. Being Brookmyre, it's also a very dark comedy thriller that takes numerous side-swipes at other attitudes along the way.

The action centres on a school trip away in an activity centre in (of course) Scotland, which just happens to be on land above a highly secret military installation where unprecedented experiments are taking place. Inevitably, the two come together in a very unexpected way - I won't reveal how, since you might want to read the book.

Like most of Brookmyre's novels, there is plenty of action, comedic moments and quite a few deaths. Unlike most other of his novels, however, it doesn't have an unambiguous happy ending. Most of his books are, for all the attitude and black comedy, pure "Hollywood", to use William Goldman's definition of a Hollywood film as one in which the good guys win and the bad guys lose. Pandaemonium is not Hollywood. The body count is substantially higher than his other books and it's not all bad guys either. At the end, the establishment prevails.

One of the things I like most about his stories are that they are pure escapism - partly because of the Hollywood nature of the plots - and although this is darker it is just as entertaining. This is the second time I've read it and I enjoyed it both times.


"Adventures On The High Teas"

by Stuart Maconie

In which "the UK’s best-selling travel writer of non-TV tie-in books" (really, more than Bryson?) ambles around the middle of England looking for, well, middle England.

I have a lot of time for Stuart Maconie and greatly enjoy his radio shows, primarily with Mark Radcliffe - and not just because Radcliffe is such a superb broadcaster that he makes everyone else sound good too - but also some of his solo stuff.  He knows his music back-to-front and is very amusing, often ready with a quip or a gentle joke.

However, while his wit makes for good radio, I think that extended to book length it results in a slight lack of substance. I've read all three of his books now (the other two being Cider With Roadies and Pies And Prejudice - all hail the pun!) and they are all similar in style; vignettes and anecdotes connected by a theme, which makes them quite good for dipping into if you have a spare half an hour, but a little disjointed if you want to read for longer.  They are good for brief pre-sleep bedtime reading, though I don't want to imply that the writing is sleep-inducing!

The reviewer's comparisons with Bill Bryson are well made - if a trifle lazy, since both write amusing travel, easy-to-read travel books - but while I could happily re-read most of Bryson's books, I'm not sure I'd bother with this one.  Having said that, I did enjoy it and laughed out loud on more than one occasion.

And I should also give credit where it's due - reading it has inspired me to start writing again.  I haven't done a book review for a while!


14. The Smashing Pumpkins : Stand Inside Your Love

(single, 2000)

This is as straightforward a love song as you could expect to find anywhere. "Who wouldn't be the one you love," sings Billy Corgan, who has called it the only "true" love song he has ever written. For what it's worth - or even inasmuch as it's even important - it does sound like he means it.

For some, Corgan's whining vocals are an acquired taste, and the whining guitars and whole rock ambience will put them off. It's a taste I acquired a long time ago during repeated plays of Siamese Dream (1993). I found some of the subsequent material a little underwhelming, but this was a real return to the "classic" Pumpkins sound: quiet verse, huge chorus, soaring, shrieking guitars - all the good stuff. I particularly like the way the lead guitar sounds on the verge of feedback all the time, with an infinite sustain effect making it more like a synthesised instrument than a guitar. (With my guitar geek hat on, I'm guessing the effect is achieved with an E-Bow or a Fernandez Sustainer. Or possibly just a really, really loud amp.)

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13. Linkin Park : In The End

(Hybrid Theory, 2000)

Garry Mulholland, in his flawed but entertaining This Is Uncool, puts forward the theory that every band has one perfect single in them. This is probably Linkin Park's. This is just immense. I love the brutal growl of the down-tuned guitars, the light industrial ambience, the little piano riff at the beginning.

But most of all, this works because the chorus has a tune. Hear that guys? A *tune*. It works because you can *sing it*. This is pop. Sure, it's angsty, metallic edged, over-serious but it's still pop. Just ace.

And did you know that Hybrid Theory is the second best selling album of the noughties? Hmmm ...

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12. Junior Boys : In The Morning

(So This Is Goodbye, 2006)

In The Morning captures that queasy sense of over-indulgence we've all felt in the small hours; whether by over-indulgence in substances or in our desires, there's that feeling of mental and physical regret. It's in the gentle, wheezy, percussive gasps, like a shortness of breath; in the nagging, high pitched synth in the background, like a headache; but most of all the hazy melody and woozy, circular, circulating chords that never quite resolve. Sounds like many early mornings I've experienced (all in my youth, of course).

Despite the title, the most repeated phrase in the lyrics is "too young", used almost as percussion. Too young to be wasting your life? Too young for me take you home? (Thereby qualifying for "jailbait pop" in the tradition of Gary Pucket & The Union Gap's Young Girl or Abba's Does Your Mother Know)

Unusually for me, I first heard In The Morning while watching the video, so my interpretation is probably irrevocably affected by the imagery I've seen.

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11. Sugababes : Stronger

(Angels With Dirty Faces, 2002)

Although not the highest entry in this chart that could be described as "mainstream" (despite notionally indie or more "authentic" roots, it's a bit of a stretch to describe Muse, Snow Patrol, Mark Ronson or Kings Of Leon as anything else), Sugababes do operate much more at the manufactured end of the pop spectrum, to the extent that some might be surprised to find them this high. And yet you shouldn't be. Modern day pop is produced by an army of very accomplished back room men and women, and it's insulting to think them incapable of something genuinely affecting. To some extent it's a percentages game, given the volume of product; I wouldn't expect to find that all Sugababes tracks are this good (although, to be fair, I haven't checked). But many of the people working in this field have real pedigree; we'll meet a few of them further down the chart.

In fact, unlike some comparable artists, Sugababes do co-write their songs - or, at least, they have a credit on this. I'm sure they've had their troubled times, like the rest of us, and perhaps that contributes to the feeling of reality. What I like about this hymn to female empowerment is its sense of grim determination. Rather than promote a cheery, senseless - and more obviously commercial - optimism, the song explicitly acknowledges that, if you're looking for a happy ending, your current situation is probably less than perfect. The slow, measured beat, the doleful strings and the (relative) lack of vocal histrionics, along with the dense close harmonies behind an unusually horizontal melody (it rarely moves outside of a single octave) all give a real sense of purpose. The whole thing is beautifully atmospheric and I feel like an empowered woman just singing along with it.

I think the video that shows the girls walking away from their situation capture the overall sense of the song very well. Although the bit where all the male customers applaud the stripper who puts her clothes back on and walks out of the club doesn't strike me as particularly realistic. And obviously it was very important to show the 'babes by the pool in their bikinis. And if I was to be really picky, I might say that the whole thing sounds a little too in debt to Massive Attack's Unfinished Sympathy but that would be carping.

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10. Queens Of The Stone Age : Go With The Flow

(Songs For The Deaf, 2002)

"I want something good to die for, to make it beautiful to live"

Josh Homme's guitar tone is probably my favourite right now. Gutsy, articulate and yet often sounding on the brink of disintegration, it locks with Dave Grohl's engine room of drums and relentlessly drives the track from the beginning, while the lead provides squealing, swirling punctuation. It feels like we're on the brink of something important, that churning feeling of anticipation in our stomachs, the sense of running out of time to make a life-changing decision - but somehow it's out of our hands already.

"I can go ... with the flow"

The whole album is superb and if it wasn't for my self-imposed limit of one track per album for this list I would have featured one, possibly two more.

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9. Kings Of Leon : Sex On Fire

(Only By The Night, 2008)

Having been at or near the top in many end-of-decade polls, the boys from Nashville will surely be disappointed with their lowly position in this chart.  But let's not let that detract from a classic track.  A triumph of feel over meaning, it could be about anything - the singer's pet hamster, the tragedy of genocide in Rwanda - and still transmit that sense of breathless desperation.  The urgency of the Caleb Followill's voice trumps any lyrical deficiencies and the guitar sounds like it is actually on fire through the chorus.  Wonderfully arranged and put together, it's no-brained modern rock for us all to groove and shout along with, and what more can we ask?

In fact, the whole thing reminds me of U2, both in the specific guitar sound - subtly but importantly laden with delay and a smidge of chorus, I'd say - and technique - the half rhythm, half riff powering the chorus, and also in the way that the whole thing sounds way more portentous than any examination of the words actually proves it to be.

The rest of the album has summarily failed to impinge upon my consciousness and so this remains the only thing from it that I play.

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8. Mark Ronson : Stop Me

feat. Daniel Merriweather (Version, 2007)

There probably isn't another song on this list so likely to be divisive.

For ex-indie kids of a Certain Age, the memory of The Smiths continues to be sacrosanct.  They represent so much to these people; a sensibility new and yet shared and the first flowering of an individual taste (ironic, isn't it?).  Truth to tell, their catalogue (like that of The Stone Roses, another coming of age band) doesn't really live up to the hype.  Sure, there are some superb tracks: "This Charming Man", "How Soon Is Now?", "Bigmouth Strikes Again".  But Morrisey's unique singing style is an acquired taste and, like Bob Dylan, it's a taste that is becoming more and more "selective".

"Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" came from the last Smiths album Strangeways, Here We Come, and the whole thing sounds lacklustre to me.  I'm no expert on the history but I'm betting the whole band were getting sick of each other by the time it was made.  I'm sure it's someone's favourite track ever but I'm willing to bet it's not in many Smiths top 10s.  So full marks to Mark Ronson for recognising its potential.

Say what you like about Ronson's production techniques, you have to acknowledge the craft.  Perhaps there's too much of a formula and he probably came close to saturating the market with Amy Winehouse's Back To Black album and his own Version.  Some would call the sound "ersatz soul" and say all it does is mimic the classic Motown or Stax singles.  I think to say this is to fundamentally fail to appreciate the philosophy behind both those labels; they weren't producing art, they were mass-producing product, using a formula.  Sometimes it worked like a charm and those moments are elevated to the status of art and accorded classic status.  It's those we remember now.  But for every classic there were a dozen also-rans, and that's without considering the glut of records from minor labels that subsequently fed the Northern Soul scene.

My point here is that even if you think that the Ronson sound is too retro, too formulaic or even fake, sometimes it works.  Here, it works.  Bizarrely, applied to a doleful, monotonic indie dirge, the whole things kicks arse.  Regardless of their original provenance, the sentiments of the song are the same as those in "Where Did Our Love Go?" or "Stop! In The Name Of Love" by The Supremes.  The quoting of "You Keep Me Hanging On" at the end is just perfect, not just a convenient coincidence of chord sequence but a cute acknowledgement of the common ground.

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7. Calexico : Red Blooms

(Carried To Dust, 2008)

This has a wonderfully autumnal atmosphere: weary yet hopeful, doleful yet content, bleak yet beautiful, like a landscape.  Is that possible?  It sounds country to me, and I'm not talking about the keening, reverb-drenched steel guitar that swoops and glides in the background like a flock of starlings.  I mean it sounds like it's made in the country and about the country.  I'd say it sounds rural.  Again, I couldn't tell you what the song is about, but it makes me think of the cycle of the seasons.

One of the best sources of new music over the decade has been my good friend Paul Smith and many of the tracks on this list first came to my notice via his periodic compilations.  Thank heavens for his efforts and short attention span, I say.  Calexico is a band I'd heard of before - even heard before - but had never really caught my attention.  Truth to tell, they still haven't.  It's just this track.

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6. Low : Monkey

(The Great Destroyer, 2005)

I have literally no idea what this is about.  The intense, claustrophobic, bass-heavy instrumentation swirls around a monotonic boy-girl duet, punctuated by shards of distorted guitar.  So I'm guessing it's not a love song, then.

There are some tracks that evoke a feeling so powerfully that for their duration they override whatever situation or feelings you have.  My favourite example of this is Portishead's Roads, which I can't hear without being dropped into a film noir for three minutes.  In Monkey's case, it's a night drive in a road movie.  To a Destiny.  With DEATH.  Er, no, it's not a zombie film though.

I'm not sure it really matters what it's about, anyway.  Like I said in my intro piece, often words are just pegs to hang a tune on.  As long as the lyrics don't actively intrude, they're OK.  "Tonight you will be mine", they sing, "Tonight the monkey dies".   Well, it all sounds portentous enough to match the music.

I've just watched the video for the first time and it shows the band playing in the middle of a road, at night, in winter (hey, I wasn't far wrong!) before being abducted by a UFO.  See, I told you - no zombies!

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5. Kate Rusby : No Names

(The Girl Who Couldn't Fly, 2005)

I came across this on a Word magazine compilation from 2005, although I didn't actually listen to it properly until about three years later.  It probably came up when I was randomly playing tracks from my collection I hadn't listened to.  Initially, the tune just captured me - simple, unadorned and direct, sung with purity and possessing a freshness because the lack of a fake American rawk accent.

After a few listens the fullness of the track sunk in.  It's a goodbye song.  The end of a relationship.  "We were drifting, year after year", she sings.  "When we tried our best to fly, my dear ... let me go, now - let me go."  The straightforward melody just highlights the sadness of the situation.  The accompaniment is sparse - a couple of acoustic guitars.

Kate is joined on vocals by Roddy Woomble of Idlewild, who also sings on a couple of the other tracks on the album.  I did buy the album but I'm ashamed to say I haven't listened to it as much as I should.  However, it does have Little Jack Frost, which I was pleasantly surprised to hear over the credits of a BBC children's animation during Christmas.

The track isn't available on Spotify but it is on Youtube.

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4. Snow Patrol : Set The Fire To The Third Bar

feat. Martha Wainwright (Eyes Open, 2006)

Apparently the big track from this album was Chasing Cars (it was number 1 in Channel 4's top 20 of the noughties) but that passed me by completely.  The reason I bought the album was this duet, which painfully evokes the powerless yearning of separation.  The plaintive melody meanders above the brooding soundscape* but never reaches any kind of conclusion in either narrative or melody.  Some things are out of our hands.

I like the parent album but as a whole thing I prefer 2004's Final Straw (see #37).

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* eek! sonic cathedrals of sound alert!

3. Mint Royale : Don't Falter

feat. Lauren Laverne (single, 2000)

Don't Falter is pop at the poppest of the poppermost pop. Light and frothy yet paradoxically embued with enduring substance in the way that only good music can be, it fills the atmosphere with sunshine, sweetness and light. I love it.

The divine Lauren Laverne, when she was in Kenickie, was also responsible for another of my all-time favourite songs: In Your Car, which encapsulates and embodies the heady, hormone-fuelled adrenaline rush of adolescent sex like no other sound. "Give me a lift - I get so tired of walking" - oh, baby ...

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2. Muse : Map Of The Problematique

(Black Holes And Revelations, 2006)

This is a song that creates a very palpable atmosphere and plunges you head first into it. I see a man driving through the night on wet city streets, over flyovers, hours along deserted motorways, to reach his love. Clearly something apocalyptic (there's always something apocalyptic about Muse) has separated them and now he will not stop before he reaches his destination. I can see the film now.

The music has a restless, seething, barely restrained power that always seems on the verge of an explosion but never indulges in it. The soaring anguish when Matt Bellamy sings
Loneliness be over
When will this loneliness be over
contrasts magnificently with the circling chords and insistent beat.

There's a hint of Depeche Mode's Enjoy The Silence about the chord sequence, but where Enjoy The Silence has a stripped down, oiled up elegance, Map Of The Problematique throbs with a desperate obsession.

I enjoyed Muse's previous albums but with this one they polished their formula to a gleaming shine.  It accompanied me on the daily commute to Coventry a couple of years ago when I was working on a project there and this song remains my most played according to my stats on last.fm.

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1. Queens Of The Stone Age : In The Fade

(Rated R, 2000)

It starts with an eerie, high pitched whine, part intoxicated bee and part hellish dog whistle. A resigned voice describes the final stage in a broken relationship.  Then a dissonant, downtuned guitar revs up like a demon Harley and boosts us down the highway of the chorus and we learn that everything was doomed, doomed.

Mark Lanegan's vocals are wonderfully resigned, attractively devil-may-care and beautifully restrained, but the killer hook is Josh Homme's intense, compressed riffage cruising through the chorus before the gutsiest, ballsiest guitar tone ever lifts the track and places it firmly onto the two-lane blacktop and Out Of Here.

Rated R was my introduction to QOTSA and despite the stoner rock rep, is just pure pop in places.  Presumably this is why they tried beating their listeners round the head on their next album, Songs For The Deaf.  Didn't put me off though; see 10.

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Best Tracks of the Noughties

There were a lot of "best songs" lists going round at the end of last year.  Everyone loves a list, don't they?  Some of them have been more valid than others.  Channel 4's 20 "Greatest Songs of the Noughties" was enjoyable viewing and represented a good mainstream selection.  On the other hand, Absolute Radio's "Song of the Decade" top 100 has been amusingly spammed by extremists.  Apparently, thirteen of the greatest songs of the last ten years have been by McFly.  Who knew?

Although most critics talk about "songs", I think the wrong word is used.  A song is a melody line and a set of chords on sheet music.  When we talk about our favourite songs, we're probably thinking of a specific track.  A track is a performance.  It's the way the singer's voice cracks slightly in the third chorus, the way a guitar line weaves across the beat; it's the bass drum and bass guitar locked together, the crack of the snare through a retro 80s gated reverb (thanks Phil).  And, yes, sometimes <sigh> it's even the truck driver's gear change, god help us.

Like most people, I listen to a wide range of music but what I really love is pop.  That means two things to me.  Firstly, "pop", which stopped meaning "popular" a long time ago and now describes a combination of elements, which together produce the potential for mass appeal.  For all but the most masochistic listeners, it requires a tune - the old grey whistle test.  If I can't sing along, I'm not interested.

Secondly, "music" means just that - and not words.  The best lyrics in the world cannot save a mediocre tune or production.  There's a reason why only Dylan zealots can remember his original version of All Along The Watchtower - as a musical performance, it's dreadful.  (I'd argue the lyrics are pants too, but that's a separate discussion.)  However, Jimi Hendrix surpassed himself with the arrangement and performance, and so it's his cover we remember.

Music will take you places that words cannot; it will spin you above the clouds and drop you in an abyss.  It must be well arranged, played and recorded.  I have no patience with lo-fi amateurs.  The best words match the performance perfectly, but such symbiosis is rare.  As far as I can tell, most lyrics are just there because scat singing is art-jazz wank.  (FWIW, the tracks with the best lyrics - ever! - are "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3" and "The Winner Takes It All".)

So, clearly that's enough words from me.  The world has been waiting; ladies and gentlemen, I present the best tracks of the noughties.

  1. Queens Of The Stone Age : In The Fade
  2. Muse : Map Of The Problematique
  3. Mint Royale : Don't Falter (feat. Lauren Laverne)
  4. Snow Patrol : Set The Fire To The Third Bar (feat. Martha Wainwright)
  5. Kate Rusby : No Names
  6. Low : Monkey
  7. Calexico : Red Blooms
  8. Mark Ronson : Stop Me (feat. Daniel Merriweather)
  9. Kings Of Leon : Sex On Fire
  10. Queens Of The Stone Age : Go With The Flow
  11. Sugababes : Stronger
  12. Junior Boys : In The Morning
  13. Linkin Park : In The End
  14. Smashing Pumpkins : Stand Inside Your Love
  15. Radiohead : Everything In Its Right Place
  16. Goldfrapp : A&E
  17. Antony and The Johnsons : Hope There's Someone
  18. Martha Wainwright : Jesus And Mary
  19. PJ Harvey : This Mess We're In
  20. M83 : Teen Angst
  21. Primal Scream : Shoot Speed/Kill Light
  22. Ian Brown : F.E.A.R.
  23. Friendly Fires : Jump In The Pool
  24. Goldfrapp : Number 1
  25. The Flaming Lips : In The Morning Of The Magicians
  26. Gonzales : Real Motherfuckin' Music
  27. Kasabian : Processed Beats
  28. Alfie : You Make No Bones (Revisited)
  29. Neon Neon : Dream Cars
  30. David Gray : Please Forgive Me
  31. Midlake : Head Home
  32. Radiohead : Reckoner
  33. Radiohead : Videotape
  34. Elbow : The Bones Of You
  35. Doves : The Cedar Room
  36. Outkast : Hey Ya!
  37. Snow Patrol : Run
  38. The Clint Boon Experience : White No Sugar (New Improved Bascombe Mix)
  39. Passion Pit : Sleepyhead
  40. The Flaming Lips : Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung
  41. Klaxons : Golden Skans
  42. Radiohead : I Might Be Wrong (Live)
  43. White Lies : Death
  44. Interpol : Evil
  45. Kylie Minogue : Love At First Sight
  46. The Feeling : Helicopter
  47. Supergrass : Diamond Hoo Ha Man
  48. Elbow : Powder Blue
  49. Burial : Archangel
  50. The Avalanches : Since I Left You
  51. Jose Gonzalez : Heartbeats
  52. Will Young : Leave Right Now
  53. Loney, Dear : Violent
  54. Doves : Jetstream
  55. MGMT : Time To Pretend
  56. Girls Aloud : Sound Of The Underground
  57. Keane : We Might As Well Be Strangers
  58. Coldplay : Shiver
  59. Daft Punk : Face To Face
  60. N.E.R.D. : Rock Star (Jason Nevins Remix Edit)
  61. Interpol : PDA
  62. The Music : Getaway
  63. Lowgold : Beauty Dies Young
  64. Madonna : What It Feels Like For A Girl
  65. Franz Ferdinand : Auf Achse
  66. Kalomoira : Secret Combination
  67. High School Musical Cast : Breaking Free
  68. Rilo Kiley : Close Call
  69. Bloc Party : Helicopter
  70. Badly Drawn Boy : Disillusion
  71. Stereophonics : Dakota
  72. Blonde Redhead : 23
  73. The Streets : Turn The Page
  74. Sufjan Stevens : Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
  75. Aimee Mann : Save Me
  76. Noonday Underground : London
  77. The High Fidelity : IThankU
  78. Girls Aloud : Call The Shots
  79. Vast : Free
  80. Miracle Fortress : Have You Seen In Your Dreams
  81. Mansun : I Can Only Disappoint You
  82. Fleet Foxes : White Winter Hymnal
  83. Benjamin Diamond : Little Scare
  84. Crashland : New Perfume
  85. The Darkness : Love Is Only A Feeling
  86. Liberty X : Just A Little
  87. Turin Brakes : Underdog (Save Me)
  88. Richard Ashcroft : A Song For The Lovers
  89. Unamerican : The Closer You Get
  90. Death In Vegas : Scorpio Rising (feat. Liam Gallagher)
  91. Daniel Bedingfield : If You're Not The One
  92. U2 : Electrical Storm
  93. Hercules & Love Affair : Blind (feat. Antony Hegarty)
  94. James Morrison : Wonderful World
  95. Hot Chip : No Fit State
  96. Spiller : Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)
  97. Seth Lakeman : How Much
  98. Sia : Taken For Granted
  99. The Supernaturals : Life Is A Motorway
  100. The Feeling : I Thought It Was Over
  101. Kylie Minogue : Spinning Around
  102. British Sea Power : Carrion
  103. St Deluxe : New Wave Stars
  104. Melanie C : Never Be The Same Again (feat. Lisa “Left Eye”Lopez)
  105. Birth : Last Night
  106. Joe Bonamassa : Happier Times
  107. Liberty : Thinking It Over
  108. Manu Chao : Mr Bobby (Live)
  109. Flight Of The Conchords : Ladies Of The World
  110. Carlene Carter : Why Be Blue
I'll be writing short pieces on some of these tracks over the coming weeks.

Also available as a:


My 2009

"So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun"
Calendrical oddities aside - apparently, the new year started on Christmas day in the Lennon household - it's a relevant quote for me.  What have I done?  It's all too easy to forget, I find. How's my 2009 been?  Pretty much the same as the four or five years before it.  This is my attempt to preserve a few impressions of the year before they slip away.