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!

Back to the complete Best Tracks of the Noughties

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.

Back to the complete Best Tracks of the Noughties


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).

Back to the complete Best Tracks of the Noughties

* 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 ...

Back to the complete Best Tracks of the Noughties

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.

Back to the complete Best Tracks of the Noughties

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.

Back to the complete Best Tracks of the Noughties

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.