Over the past 10 years, the musical landscape – and especially the ways in which we receive and listen to music – have been transformed at a pace few of us could have predicted. The musical cultures Uncut treasures, however, have continued to flourish. Indeed, some of our more obscure favourites, like Brightblack Morning Light or Lift To Experience, are now as available as a Dylan album; just a click away. To that end, Uncut’s 150 is unashamedly a specialist’s list, since it’s easier than ever before to become a specialist. There are no concessions to eclecticism or commerce, just 150 LPs that have defined the tastes of Uncut’s staff and, we hope, those of our readers. Fifteen of them appear on this month’s free CD. Here they come, followed by an interview with the man who bestrides the 150 – and the decade – like a candycane-striped colossus…
Uncut’s Albums of the Decade: The top 50:
The Greatest MATADOR 2006
You could perhaps forgive Chan Marshall for a moment of understandable hubris with her album title. After six previous studio albums since she began performing as Cat Power in 1995, Marshall hit a career high with this warm collection of country soul songs, recorded with The Memphis Rhythm Band. Indeed, the woozy soul of Al Green or Otis Redding were key reference points for The Greatest, and provided a perfect fit for Marshall’s smoky, melancholic voice.
Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea ISLAND 2000
Polly Harvey’s wilful vacillations between commercial and more ‘difficult’ albums made for an occasionally bumpy ride through the decade. But she began it with this accessible high watermark, which mixed pounding and dramatic songs referencing her new home, New York (and aligning her more than ever to Patti Smith) with more meditative material alluding to her Dorset roots. Mick Harvey and Rob Ellis co-produced, while Thom Yorke contributed to a duet, and Harvey would not come so close to the mainstream again in the Noughties.
Ch vez Ravine NONESUCH 2005
Cooder’s first solo album in two decades was a hymn of love to the district of East Los Angeles that was bulldozed to make way for real estate and a baseball stadium. With the help of Little Willie G of the Three Midniters, Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti, Cooder delivered a thrilling soundtrack to his nourishing retelling of the story of the area. It was a brilliant conceit, and never more affecting than on “Corrido de Boxeo”, with Flaco Jim‚nez’s accordion offering melancholy backing to Guerrero’s plaintive vocal.
Alligator BEGGARS BANQUET 2005
The National appeared out of step with much of the post-Strokes New York scene. These were not skinny hipsters with a taste for angular rock; rather they held to a more sophisticated sensibility, closer, perhaps, to Leonard Cohen. This, their third album, had a lush, hungover ambience, while Matt Berninger’s lyrics – subjects: heartbreak and remorse – gave the songs a wasted elegance.
Southern Rock Opera Soul Dump, 2001/Lost Highway, 2002
A hugely ambitious, triumphantly realised double concept LP, which the group recorded by raising funds from fans. DBTs’ keystone influence, Lynyrd Skynyrd, are cast as the tragic stars of a sprawling narrative which Patterson Hood summarised as “the duality of the Southern thing”: the struggle for the South’s soul between its generosity and its bigotry. George Wallace, Ronnie Van Zandt and the Devil jostled on the lyric sheet, and it rocked monumentally.
Don’t Give Up On Me ANTI 2002
The premise was ridiculously simple: provide the rotund soul legend with songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello; surround him with skilled, simp tico musicians; press “record” and let it happen. Cut in just four days by producer Joe Henry, Burke’s comeback LP set the template for a succession of reclamation projects that paired veteran artists with handpicked material. Warm, immediate and utterly free of artifice, these performances brought a human heartbeat to the oscillating ones and zeros of the Pro Tools era.
Up The Bracket
ROUGH TRADE 2002
A very English affair, this. Written while Pete Doherty and Carl Barƒt were living in a Bethnal Green squat (dubbed “The Albion Rooms”), The Libertines’ debut offered an invigorating, if grimy, snapshot of London (low) life, referencing the Small Faces and The Clash (it was produced by Mick Jones), Tony Hancock, even Chas And Dave. It positioned the band as the UK equivalent to The Strokes; while its influence on the Arctic Monkeys (down through to innumerable urchins wielding guitars) proved considerable.
Original Pirate Material 679 2002
Late night kebabs, clubs, double “marlons”… Mike Skinner’s debut opened up a twilight world that was part Craig David, but also part Only Fools And Horses. Hapless, struggling, our producer/MC hero revealed private gripes to us (witness “Lee Satchell you bastard, stop trying to shag the birds and fight the geezers!”) and inadvertently created one of the most original British debuts in years.
Post To Wire EL CORTEZ/D‚COR 2004
Richmond Fontaine’s fifth album was a fractured narrative about disconsolate souls driven to the dark margins of American life,
where desperation lurks unchecked. While there was nothing especially radical about the group’s well-played country rock, what astonished here was the literary quality of Willy Vlautin’s songwriting, which owed as much to heavyweights of American fiction like Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson as it did to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits.
Magic Columbia 2007
Springsteen’s first album with the E Street Band since 2002’s The Rising was a minor consolation of America’s turbulent early 21st Century. His most explicitly political – and, not coincidentally, his angriest – album bristled with articulate invective. However, for all the essential mourning and reproach of Magic, its most enduring tracks were its least characteristic: the Beach Boys-sing-Spector pop wallop “Girls In Their Summer Clothes”, and the joyous, revivalist call to arms “Long Walk Home”.
Boards of Canada
Geogaddi WARP 2002
If Michael and Marcus Sandison’s 1998 Boards Of Canada debut Music Has The Right To Children was a comforting evocation of childhood, then the Scottish duo’s follow-up, Geogaddi, seemed about the encroachment of the adult world – and came infused with a sense of tension and anxiety. The bubbling electronic soundscapes were over (or in some cases under)-laid by disorientating vocal snippets, while references to sacred geometry (“The Devil Is In The Detail”) and David Koresh’s Branch Davidians (“1969”) only compounded the prevailing sense of unease.
Vampire Weekend XL 2008
With his wit and education, it was easy to imagine
Ezra Koenig being accepted in most places. But rock’n’roll? Really? As it was, Koenig’s preppy vignettes (“Louis Vuitton/With your mother/On a sandy lawn”) saw these Ivy League New Yorkers shine as individuals, and not try to fit in. Charming and tuneful, this assured debut mapped out a Hamptons of the mind, all sockless loafers and Paul Simon: a great place to visit, assuredly.
Gold Lost Highway 2001
The follow-up to 2000’s Heartbreaker, a benchmark of lachrymose Americana, Gold was a boldly ambitious double-album that cast Adams as heir to just about everyone in the rock pantheon who’d inspired him, with echoes therefore of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Stones and Gram Parsons. It should have made him a star. But drugs, public tantrums and a pointless spat with his record company turned his career into a car crash from which it never properly recovered.
Broken Boy Soldiers XL 2006
The White Stripes’ gameplan had been reiterated with such clarity that the arrival of The Raconteurs provided a jolting shock. Here was Jack White breaking his red, white and black dress code, adding a bass, of all things, and collaborating with another singer-songwriter, Brendan Benson. Happily, the results were superb, showing that White’s gifts were not diminished when transferred to a more conventional set-up. The White Stripes, it transpired, were only one string to his impressive bow.
American IV: The Man Comes Around AMERICAN 2002
The fourth Rick Rubin link-up betrayed the distance between Cash and his producer, with some peculiar covers – “Danny Boy”, “We’ll Meet Again” – but its high points matched anything in the American Recordings series. The title track, a Cash original, was bold and boastful, but the standout was Trent Reznor’s “Hurt”, which Cash turned from druggy self-pity into a powerful celebration of a lifetime fighting pain, literal and metaphorical.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot NONESUCH 2002
Jeff Tweedy and Wilco exited the decade in considerably better shape than they’d entered it. As the Noughties drew to a close, they had released a pair of albums – 2007’s Sky Blue Sky and this year’s Wilco (the album) – that found them settling into a mellow, mature sound, bordering on ’70s soft rock – perhaps a sign that the band had come to terms with their fractious past.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, however, was a testament to the kind of traumas the band were experiencing at the start of the decade. The finished album itself was the subject of bitter dispute between band and record company, which almost left it unreleased, and the recording sessions were painfully fraught. As vividly captured in the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a power struggle took place between Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, with Tweedy increasingly falling under the influence of his Loose Fur collaborator – and celebrated sonic experimentalist – Jim O’Rourke. The addition of drummer Glenn Kotche also added a new dimension to the Wilco sound.
These tensions forced Bennett out of the band, but they didn’t harm the record. Tweedy’s unerring ear for melody remained untouched, but the break from his alt.country roots in Tupelo was now complete. (Odd, really, since he had recently been touring in support of 2000’s Mermaid Avenue Vol II, where he supplied music for new-found Woody Guthrie lyrics). And while Wilco’s alt.country sound was broadened to include dashes of Krautrock and psychedelic flourishes, the key to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was indisputably the power of Tweedy’s songwriting. The bruised patriotism of “Ashes Of American Flags” was a career highlight.
Along with “War On War”, it seemed prescient by the time the album was released. But Tweedy’s reservations stretched into romance, too, and the song, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, was a bleak, and cruel, testament to his emotional ambiguity. But one of the best songs here was also one of the lightest: on “Heavy Metal Drummer”, Tweedy looked back to his teens, watching bad bands getting girls. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot marked a career rebirth, but Tweedy was made for more complex things. For the encore – 2004’s A Ghost Is Born – he took even greater risks.
For Emma, Forever Ago 4AD 2008
Initial coverage of Justin Vernon’s solo debut fixated on its genesis in a snow-bound Wisconsin hunting lodge, so much so that the record was soon mocked as much as it was applauded. Nearly two years on, its qualities remained striking, from the way Vernon scored his allusive lyrics
with meticulously adjusted indie-folk, to how the album seemed to exist so securely in its own world. A hearteningly original take on the end of an affair, and what comes after.
Merriweather Post Pavilion DOMINO 2009
This band epitomise a peculiarly frenzied kind of Noughties music-making, all overlapping projects and evolving sounds where the boundaries between rock, folk and dance are so amorphous as to be irrelevant. Their eighth album since 2000 – alongside sundry solo projects, notably Panda Bear’s marvellous Person Pitch (2007) – MPP represented a culmination of their sound: where the experimental became anthemic, and childlike sentiments were universal ecstasies.
Feast Of Wire CITY SLANG 2002
Joey Burns and John Convertino had long been masters at conjuring a sense of place – with Feast Of Wire, they filled their widescreen landscapes with credible, three dimensional characters. A blend of ancient and modern, here alien electronic burbling met swooning pedal steel, as if Radiohead had inexplicably “gone Ry Cooder”. In the middle of it all were ordinary people, for the most part just trying to make a living.
MY MORNING JACKET
It Still Moves ATCO 2003
There were plenty of songs to be heard during the 70-odd minutes of It Still Moves. Mainly, though, there was the sound of an incredible, tuneful country-rock band thrillingly going through its paces. Focused on the reverberating vocals of Jim James, this major label debut was big in every sense but the commercial – an urge to rectify that means we might never hear rock’n’roll quite so innocent as this from them again.
Illinois Rough Trade 2005
From the first bars of “Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Ilinois…” it was clear that the second instalment in Stevens’ 50 State Project represented a major improvement, both in sound and scale. This was precious music: meticulously observed, and beautifully framed by Stevens’ (almost) one-man, lo-fi orchestra. The Avalanche, the album of outtakes that followed in 2006, was nearly as impressive, proving that here was a musician liberated, rather than limited, by those self-imposed boundaries.
Chrome Dreams II
If most of Young’s recent albums felt like tightly defined projects, his best album of the decade was a sprawling, multi-faceted beast. Notionally a sequel to 1977’s unreleased Chrome Dreams, it ranged across styles
from raw garage, via country, to gargantuan rock-outs. Songs shelved in the ’80s saw the light (notably the 18-minute “Ordinary People”) alongside some potent new ones; on his 2008 tour, the molten jam of “No Hidden Path” stood out among classics written decades earlier.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
Songs For The Deaf UNIVERSAL 2002
Josh Homme’s band prides itself on being a continuum – people come, people go, Queens Of The Stone Age abide. Here, incoming personnel including Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan helped create a modern rock masterpiece. Conceived as a kind of fantasy Los Angeles radio show, Songs… had a dark purpose in its programming: here were heavy riffs, timeless torments, and at least one “stealth polka”.
The Hold Steady
Boys And Girls In America
full time hobby 2007
The Hold Steady’s barnstorming third album confirmed Craig Finn as a sharp-eyed documentarian of America’s teenage wasteland, through which recurring characters moved, restless and ruined, rock music their only salvation. Musically, The Hold Steady were a bracing mix of Springsteen’s thunder, The Attractions’ kinetic versatility and crunching riffs, unfashionably plundered from AC/DC and Thin Lizzy. The result was a visionary testament to rock’n’roll’s uniquely redemptive powers.
Nixon CITY SLANG 2000
Marvellous as many of them are, it is Kurt Wagner and Lambchop’s ongoing curse that their fifth album somewhat dwarfs its consciously smaller-scale successors. Nixon was the moment when the Nashville collective’s idiosyncratic and often discreet fusion of Southern music forms reached its zenith, where their country-soul stepped onto a bigger stage. Exhibit A: “Up With People”, an archly rousing showstopper that even, briefly, threatened to turn this self-deprecating bunch into pop stars.
Kid A PARLOPHONE 2000
The millennium came and went, but Radiohead remained as tense as ever. As did some of Kid A’s listeners. No guitars? No drums? What exactly was this? A longer perspective on the album proves it to have been a way out of the complex rock music the band had built. Constructed as a palace, it had become a prison – Kid A, with its new textures, weird tunes, and biting lyrics dug a tunnel out.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not DOMINO 2006
Initially, the Arctic Monkeys were hyped as the first band with a career launched online. If the means of dissemination was modern, however, the Monkeys soon revealed themselves to be a hearteningly traditional British rock band with this, Uncut’s favourite UK debut of the decade. Young, chippy, dynamic and with, in Alex Turner, a lyricist of uncommon wit and precision, the Monkeys sat moodily, but fittingly, in the great tradition of The Jam, The Smiths and The Libertines. Soon enough, though, they would be plotting their escape.
& RUSTIN MAN
Out Of Season Go! 2002
A fragile, seductive and defiantly autumnal record, Out Of Season –
the alliance of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and former Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb – was a welcome surprise on release in late 2002. Its lyrical concerns of love, loss and helpless dependence mirrored Gibbons’ earlier work, but from elegant lead-off single “Tom The Model” onwards, the orchestration eschewed samples and beats for hushed folkish picking and jazz inflections, recalling, variously, Nina Simone, Nick Drake and pre-Mac Christine McVie.
Think Tank EMI 2003
It’s hard for a band to recover from the departure of one of their key members, but Blur made a virtue out of guitarist Graham Coxon’s exit early in the sessions for this, their final album to date. Expanding their musical template (helped, no doubt, by Damon Albarn’s successes with Gorillaz and Mali Music and the decision to record Think Tank in Morocco), the result was a graceful and mature record, from the warm, Arabic vibe of “Caravan” to the beautiful pop of “Out Of Time”.
The closing “Battery In Your Leg”, meanwhile, provided a moving epitaph for the band.
Ys DRAG CITY 2006
This singing harpist from Nevada City, California, arrived in 2004 with The Milk-Eyed Mender, a collection of uncanny nursery-rhymes that aligned her to the nascent freak-folk movement of the time. Her second album, though, proved substantially more ambitious: a cycle of five lengthy and verbose songs, where her cascading imagery and harp-playing were augmented by grand orchestral arrangements courtesy of Van Dyke Parks. The result? A ravishing fantasia that could be compared with one of Newsom’s obvious antecedents, Kate Bush.
Back To Black Island 2006
Forget the headlines, the hairdo, the ex-husband: it was Amy Winehouse’s excellent second album that made her a star. At once comfortably familiar (thanks to co-producer Mark Ronson’s warm, knowing retro-soul flourishes) and dangerously confessional (her explicit, diaristic lyrics), it felt like an “instant classic” on release, and soon launched a slew of less-talented copyists. None of whom were capable of singing – or indeed writing – songs as exquisitely melancholy as the title track, or the perfect torch song “Love Is A Losing Game”.
The Rising COLUMBIA 2002
Springsteen’s response to 9/11 reunited him with the E Street Band to thrilling effect, and gave him his biggest seller since 1987’s Tunnel Of Love. Some of the songs predated the attack on the Twin Towers – “My City Of Ruins” actually celebrated Asbury Park – but they were given sharp new focus by their changed context. “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” in particular was made suddenly ominous. Springsteen’s response was a positive rallying call, at its strongest on the hymn-like anthem “Into The Fire”.
Aerial EMI 2005
We have, since 1985’s Hounds of Love, become accustomed to Kate Bush spending the best part of a decade on each album – expensively recorded, with crack session musicians and state-of-the-art technology. But Aerial, on its release in 2005, seemed particularly lavish. Bush is one of a dwindling number of major-label artists given free rein and a huge studio budget to pursue their own singular artistic vision; unlike most other artists indulged in this way, she actually used this enormous creative freedom to produce something of interest.
Aerial was a 90-minute odyssey, divided into the introspective CD1, ‘A Sea Of Honey’, and the dreamier, more hedonistic and more electronic-infused CD2, ‘A Sky of Honey’. This being Kate Bush, there were moments of high absurdity, though even these managed to be quite beautiful. The lead single, “King Of The Mountain”, was a tribute to Elvis which saw her doing her best Shakin’ Stevens karaoke routine. “The Painter’s Link” and “An Architect’s Dream” found Rolf Harris muttering to himself while painting (“a little bit lighter there… maybe with some accents”) before duetting with Bush on a gorgeous, string-drenched ballad about art.
There was a stately, medieval serenade dedicated to her son, “Bertie”; an ethno drum workout which paid tribute to Joan Of Arc; and a compelling techno ballad about a “sweet, gentle and sensitive” mathematician (in which Ms Bush recited Pi to 115 decimal places). There was a song about a pair of trousers spinning around a washing machine (“Washing machine/Washing machine/slooshy-slooshy-slooshy-slooshy/washing machine”); another featuring the lines “Little brown jug/Don’t I love thee/Ho ho ho/Hee hee hee”.
The last two eccentricities, “Mrs Bartolozzi” and “The Coral Room”, were the only solo piano/vocal performances on the record. Many of us might have hoped she would record an entire album like this; but the more lavish tracks, like the ECM-meets-4AD epic “Sunset” or the trancey “Somewhere In Between”, were filled with sonic details and textures that rewarded repeated listening. The follow-up, probably due in 2016, should really be something.
THE WHITE STRIPES
Elephant XL 2003
For their first album to be recorded in the spotlight, Jack and Meg White relocated to London’s humble Toerag Studios, where no equipment, legendarily, dated from after 1963. Elephant did not, however, sound like either a ‘British’ record or a particularly antiquated one. Instead, it was a roaringly ambitious reassertion of the duo’s strengths, with White amping up his neurotic, lovelorn persona to the max. A record, too, which taught a generation of non-musicians about the octave pedal – a guitar effect used by White to create the bass-like frequency on the anthemic “Seven Nation Army”.
Sound Of Silver DFA/EMI 2007
James Murphy’s DFA label was at the forefront of the disco-punk scene that spread out from Brooklyn to the world in the early Noughties, and Murphy’s own vehicle, LCD Soundsystem, had already produced one of the decade’s defining singles with 2002’s droll hipster rollcall, “Losing My Edge”. LCD’s second album, however, was his greatest triumph: an electronically thrilling upgrade of Bowie, New Order, Talking Heads and The Fall, given wit and guts thanks to the exquisitely jaded presence of Murphy at its throbbing heart.
In Rainbows SELF-RELEASED 2007
Much of the hoo-hah surrounding Radiohead’s seventh album concerned how you received and paid for it – amusingly, though bowled over by the wine, we somehow fixated on the bottle. Perhaps the album’s contents were simply too surprising: a record (or USB stick, or whatever) that provided the fullest realisation yet of the band’s paranoid techno and baroque live rock, In Rainbows was beautiful, yes. But it was also strangely groovy, too.
XTRMNTR CREATION 2002
It’s rare that a band’s sixth album should be considered their best; but with XTRMNTR, it felt like Primal Scream broke new ground. Moving away from the tired Stones pastiches and junkie millennial blues of their two previous efforts, XTRMTR was fired by a righteous social conscience and a thrilling, anything-is-possible musical agenda that incorporated Krautrock on “Shoot Speed/Kill Light”, free jazz on “If They Move, Kill ‘Em” (masterminded by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields), “Pills”‘ scrawny hip hop and the extreme noise of “Accelerator”.
Time (The Revelator) ACONY 2001
Welch and partner David Rawlings’ third album was recorded in Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B, but it was no period piece. From the austere opener, “Revelator”, onwards, the combination of Welch’s icy vocals, and Rawlings’ gnarly, exploratory guitar-work pulled traditional blues, country and folk influences into bold new shapes. Producer T-Bone Burnett kept things simple on the lovely “Elvis Presley Blues”, but Welch’s ambition was fully-realised on the epic “I Dream A Highway” which betrayed a debt to Neil Young at his most strung-out.
Third ISLAND 2008
For their first album in 11 years, Adrian Utley, Geoff Barrow and Beth Gibbons upgraded the mournful trip hop of the ’90s for something rather more sinister. Third was a shock, and shockingly good – an apocalyptic, uncompromising clash of Krautrock, folk, electronica, even techno, cut through with a sense of foreboding that seemed to soundtrack a world in meltdown. The perfect record for the times, then, and Uncut’s Album Of The Year for 2008.
THE FLAMING LIPS
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots WARNER BROS 2002
Following 1999’s The Soft Bulletin looked daunting for The Flaming Lips, but Yoshimi… – a similarly expansive sci-fi treatise on mortality, war, compassion, the incredible resolve of the human spirit and so on – proved they were up to the challenge. If anything, its high-definition, electronically adjusted psych-pop superseded The Soft Bulletin. And, in “Do You Realize??”, the Lips successfully coined an enduring wedding/funeral song for a generation just accepting that they might need something of the kind.
Fleet Foxes BELLA UNION 2008
Technically Robin Pecknold and
the Fleet Foxes originated from Seattle, but many listeners to their debut could’ve been forgiven for imagining they came from a kind of American Arcadia, such was the bucolic magic summoned up by the 11 tracks. Ostensibly another five bearded indie-rockers with a taste for their parents’ folk records, Fleet Foxes effortlessly transcended such a stereotype, thanks to Pecknold’s calm gifts of melody and their unwavering, beatific harmonies.
Heartbreaker bloodshot/cooking vinyl 2000
If things had gone differently for him, it could have been Ryan Adams on the cover of this month’s Uncut instead of Jack White. Heartbreaker was his first solo album, largely an exquisite collection of charred and tattered songs about a doomed relationship and its bitter aftermath that promised a glorious future for Adams’ perfectly nuanced Americana. However, drugs, personal instability and a flair for self-destruction eventually denied him the elevation to rock’s pantheon of greats he clearly craved, despite good work still to come on Gold and often underrated albums like Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights.
Modern Times SONY 2006
The stately follow-up to “Love And Theft” was less wildly diverse, reflecting for the most part Dylan’s abiding passion for Chicago blues, but still traversed disparate musical territories with intuitive panache and graceful aplomb. The sense of whispered foreboding you could sometimes hear on its predecessor was given louder voice here, specifically on the apocalyptic meditations of “Workingman’s Blues # 2” and “Ain’t Talkin'”, which closes with Dylan perhaps fatefully bound for “the last outback, at the world’s end”.
THE ARCADE FIRE
ROUGH TRADE 2005
For an album so explicitly associated with death (at least three members of this Canadian septet suffered bereavement during recording), the Arcade Fire’s debut was nonetheless joyously uplifting. Certainly, the cacophony of instruments – accordions, xylophones, violins, horns – gave a ragged ebullience to “Wake Up” and “Rebellion (Lies)”, but also added a vivid, textured soundtrack to Win Butler and R‚gine Chassagne’s extraordinary vision. Theatrical, intense and ultimately cathartic.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Raising Sand ROUnder 2007
An album of “dark, sexy Americana” was in every respect the last thing anybody – Jimmy Page, especially, you have to think – expected of Robert Plant. Raising Sand, recorded in Nashville with Grammy-winning bluegrass singer and fiddle player Alison Krauss and producer T-Bone Burnett, was a unilateral triumph, by some distance Plant’s best solo work. A regal celebration of the diversity of American roots music, it was also the album that denied the world the Zeppelin reunion it had long demanded, Plant preferring to tour with Krauss and Burnett.
Is This It ROUGH TRADE 2001
Occasionally a record comes along that resets the clocks for rock, even if only for a short time. Definitely Maybe was one. Is This It was assuredly another: a joyful, lyrical and intelligent evocation of being young in a pre-9/11 New York City. The album’s apparent scruffiness belied the attention to detail beneath. Subtle, groovy and repeatedly rewarding, it didn’t just talk the talk, but walked the walk, too.
Smile NONESUCH 2004
A mere 37 years behind schedule, Wilson capped his late-career renaissance by finally finishing his magnum opus, confronting a good few of his enduring demons in the process. With Van Dyke Parks and arranger/multi-instrumentalist Darian Sahanaja by his side, Wilson painstakingly stitched his unsteady masterpiece together, and pulled off an unimaginable coup; a historical reconstruction that could satisfy even the most fanatical, bootleg-coveting Beach Boys fan.
A Ghost Is Born
If Wilco’s fifth album might now be seen as Jeff Tweedy’s last ‘troubled’ record, it also stands as the highpoint of his storied career. Struggling with an addiction to painkillers, Tweedy and producer Jim O’Rourke steered the band towards an inspired hybrid of rock classicism and leftfield adventure, epitomised by the 11-minute long “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, ostensibly stadium Krautrock. If guitarist
Nels Cline had joined in time for the sessions, it might (as 2005’s live album, Kicking Television, suggests) have been even better.
“Love And Theft” Sony 2001
Dylan’s first album of the 21st century was a kaleidoscopic engagement with the American songbook in all its vast and energising diversity that could also be heard as a musical autobiography and an informal history of America itself. The pensive gloom of ’97’s Time Out Of Mind was banished, replaced by a wry, sexy playfulness, and a lot of daft jokes. Stylistically, the album embraced with abundant confidence country, rockabilly, ragtime, vaudeville, languid jazz, hard blues and Western swing. “Love And Theft”‘s release on September 11, 2001, added an ominous resonance to its dramatic centrepiece, the apocalyptic “High Water (For Charley Patton)”.
The White Stripes
White Blood Cells – Sympathy for the record industry, 2001
Their third album, and still Jack White’s masterpiece. Ladies and gentlemen, the best record of the last 10 years…
And here he is, one last time. With four other White Stripes albums, two by The Raconteurs and one with Loretta Lynn in Uncut’s 150 Greatest Albums Of The Decade, it’s pretty obvious that Jack White has emerged from all this chin-stroking as the most significant rock’n’roll figure of the past 10 years. A tireless renaissance man, his records have continued to electrify and re-invigorate American musical tradition. “The blues is still number one for me,” he tells us. “It is the truth.”
White is perhaps the one musician to have come to prominence this decade who can fit comfortably into the classic rock pantheon, sharing the lofty airspace – and, occasionally, the stage – with heroes like Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Jimmy Page. One of the reasons why is that, for all his energetic and diverse projects, White’s output has been so thrillingly consistent, right up to this year’s Dead Weather album, Horehound.
But after much prevarication, Uncut decided that his finest moment – and our favourite album of the decade – was White Blood Cells, the third album by The White Stripes. Upon its release in the UK, a host of A&R men, supermodels and slightly desperate hacks pursued Jack and Meg White around Britain on a sticky, genuinely seminal debut tour. Had there ever been, before or since, such a tabloid furore about a rudimentary garage-rock album?
Almost certainly not. But, with hindsight, the fuss seems justified. White Blood Cells was the culmination of the White Stripes’ ballistic first phase, blues-rock history rescored for apoplectic guitar and primal thud. Alongside the post-Zep heroics, however, there was also a first hit single – the exuberant “Hotel Yorba” – and a bunch of tender, fraught ballads that introduced Jack White to the world as a boy romantic. Soon enough, White would be forced to mature in the public eye, as the album cover shot – a clutch of photographers clustered around the pair – implied so presciently. That he did so with such style and purpose is something of a miracle. But this raging, innocent album still stands – just! – as his masterpiece.