1001 Albums I Heard Before I Died

I've spent a fair bit of the last 10 years carefully compiling a chronological list of my top 1001 albums of all time, as opposed to the 1001 dictated by all those books and articles (though there will be lots of overlap, of course). I don't expect people to agree with it or go to any great lengths to listen to it themselves, it's just a catalogue of all the albums that have meant something significant to me in my life. I've never really planned to do anything with it, as I thought it would always be exponentially expanding as I listened to more albums I hadn't heard before and added them to the list, and the entire point of it was that it was a personal thing anyway. But I have noticed that the rate at which I seek out new music to listen to has slowed these days and I'm more happy just enjoying what I already know, and it felt a bit pointless to have this list at all if I didn't do anything with it, so I've decided to try and listen to it from start to finish, however long that takes, as some of the albums on it are ones I've not listened to in years. I thought I'd catalogue my thoughts here with a short, one-sentence review for all of them so people can browse through and see what I make of any of their favourites. Like I say, I don't expect many people to care too much, but if it's of vague interest to anyone, then I thought it could be a fun ongoing blog-type project. So here we go!

NOTE - Regarding scores - an album has to score at least 3/5 to qualify for a place on this list, so there'll be nothing lower than that here and I won't be savaging anything in my mini-reviews. If I re-listen to something and no longer think it deserves 3, I'll remove it from the list. There will be a few that only scrape a 3, and I might be fairly damning about them, but in theory this list should consist only of albums I'm basically quite fond of, even if I can see faults in some of them. Also, I'm aware it seems a little odd to have a list of "the greatest" albums of all time and then include some I only rate at 3 out of 5, but honestly, I feel to compile a list of 1001 5-star albums would involve listening to tens of thousands, and I don't think anybody would ever have the time. It's been a big enough project getting this lot together. So I've had to incorporate moderation into the rules of the list, on the understanding that if an album gets 3, it basically means I quite like it.

SECOND NOTE - I've now listened to enough music I like that there are more than 1001 albums on this list. I toyed with removing some of the lower-scoring ones to keep it at 1001, but felt reluctant to do that as I'm fond of all of them, and ultimately I thought it was funnier to have a Top 1001 Albums list that has more than 1001 albums in it. So that's what I've done.

  • FRANK SINATRA – In The Wee Small Hours (1955). There are some lovely songs on this, but overall, Frank sounds a bit drippy, there's a lot of tuneless, mournful crooning going on. You kind of want to shake him by the lapels and shout "Snap out of it, Frank! The sun is shining!" Best Song: In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. Vocal Jazz. 3/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR
  • FRANK SINATRA – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! (1956). This is more like it! Frank just having a cracking time clicking his fingers and belting out some club bangers, with lots of lovely trumpets. Big shout-out to Nelson Riddle. Best Song: You Make Me Feel So Young. Vocal Jazz. 4/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • THE CRICKETS – The “Chirping” Crickets (1957). This was probably as devastating as punk at the time. I bet it made people's ears bleed at the Lindy Hop. I mean, sure, a lot of it sounds like anodyne, gutless, nerdy rubbish to anyone who's listened to Supertramp, but it's got some good pop songs and it was probably very clever and good in 1957. Best Song: That'll Be The Day. Rock & Roll. 3/5

  • LEONARD BERNSTEIN – West Side Story (1957). I don't really go in for musical recordings much, but West Side Story is great. If you got rid of "I Feel Pretty" and "Gee, Officer Krupke," which are both absolute dogshit, it would be pretty much solid gold all the way through. I played Riff in our school's production and the trombonist said I was so good I should have been Tony. A lovely memory. Best Song: Somewhere/Ballet Sequence. Soundtrack. 4/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • LITTLE RICHARD - Here's Little Richard (1957). Little Richard was a real cool guy, and proves to nerdy old Buddy Holly and his chirping Crickets that you CAN make cool rock music in 1957 without sounding like a timid geek. Loads of fun. I mean, obviously it's still not PROPER rock music like Pink Floyd, but hey, "Tutti Frutti" is a great song. I first heard it in The Brave Little Toaster. Best Song: Tutti Frutti. Rock & Roll. 3.5/5

  • BILLIE HOLIDAY - Lady In Satin (1958). A much better tragic heartbreak album than In The Wee Small Hours. Billie Holiday knows how to sing sad songs with conviction without it sounding like an affectation. Mind you, she was pretty much dying when she recorded this, so it's a genuinely tough listen. Beautiful, though. Best Song: I'm A Fool To Want You. Vocal Jazz. 4/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • CHARLES MINGUS - Mingus Ah Um (1959). Jazz is such a cerebral genre with such a complex history that you need a huge frame of reference to really understand it. I don't have that, I'm a rock fan and don't really understand it, so all I can bring to bear on it is "Do I like what I'm listening to?" With Mingus, despite having no idea what's going on, the answer is yes. Best Song: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Jazz. 4/5

  • THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET - Time Out (1959). These guys should be called "Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond And Two Other Guys," because Paul Desmond is great and a big part of what's good about this album. This is one of the best jazz albums ever, it's just Dave being all clever on the piano and Paul being all swish on sax, and the other two guys doing some stuff too. Probably bass and drums I guess? Best Song: Take Five. Jazz. 4.5/5

  • MILES DAVIS - Kind Of Blue (1959). Hey, whaddaya know, two of the three best jazz albums of all time were both released in 1959! This is a masterpiece. My Dad once saw Miles Davis's trumpet, it's in a glass case in a museum in Boston. I don't begrudge it its celebrity status at all, guy was a genius. Best Song: So What. Jazz. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • JOAN BAEZ - Joan Baez (1960). Joan Baez has a lovely voice. This album sounds a bit like some sort of cartoon bluebird from a Disney film transformed into a human and started singing traditional folk songs. Best Song: Fare Thee Well (10,000 Miles) Folk. 4/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • MIRIAM MAKEBA - Miriam Makeba (1960). Miriam's just having an absolute blast here. She's pretty much distilled and bottled the concept of fun into a record. One track is so much fun the guy she's duetting with keeps stopping and laughing mid-line for no apparent reason, and I don't even blame him for being unprofessional, just seems like everyone involved was having a ball. Best Song: The Click Song. World Music. 3.5/5

  • COLEMAN HAWKINS - Night Hawk (1961). A warm bowl of smooth jazz, with Coleman getting all steamy on tenor sax. Sounds like the soundtrack to a noir detective movie. Maybe not the most exciting jazz record ever, but one of the first I ever heard, so I have a soft spot for it. Best Song: Night Hawk. Jazz. 3/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • BOOKER T. & THE MG'S - Green Onions (1962). So pretty much what happened here was that Stax Records' house band decided they were so good they didn't need vocalists and released an album of instrumental covers (plus a couple of originals) and it turned out they were completely right. Almost certainly one of the very best albums of all time to feature Hammond organ as its primary instrument. Best Song: Green Onions. Soul. 4/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • HOWLIN' WOLF - Howlin' Wolf (1962). Howlin' Wolf is an absolute giant among blues musicians. Incredible voice, enormous personality. One of those rare blues singers who brings the music alive so much that you kind of forget all the songs sound exactly the same. Best Song: Who's Been Talking? Blues. 4/5

  • BILL EVANS & JIM HALL - Undercurrent (1963). Now I don't know why you would bother learning the guitar then choose to play jazz instead of something cool like progressive rock, but I'm actually glad Jim Hall did. Obviously Bill Evans is the star attraction here, being all brilliant on the piano, but every now and again Jim chimes in and you go "Oh yeah, guitars can do jazz too." I've been in love with this album since I was about eight. We listened to it over dinner. What a bunch of smug pricks we were. "We play Bill Evans to Josiah and Barnaby as they eat their dinner." Fucking hell. Best Song: My Funny Valentine. Jazz. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • BOB DYLAN - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963). Dylan's already occasionally guilty here of his worst habit, of faffing about with some nice lyrics in desperate need of a decent melody or a strong musical idea. But even an avowed Dylan sceptic like myself will concede that, when he actually sits down and tries to write a good song, he writes a very good song. Best Song: Don't Think Twice, It's All Right. Folk. 3.5/5

  • CHARLES MINGUS - The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963). Terrifying. As if Mingus set out to make an ordinary jazz record then had a horrible feverish nightmare halfway through, and when he woke up he couldn't remember what he was doing so decided to record the sounds of the nightmare instead. The horns on this really scare me. Best Song: Solo Dancer: Stop! Look! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney! Jazz. 4.5/5

  • ETTA JAMES - Top Ten (1963). Does anybody else remember that Pepsi ad in the 90s? I think it had a construction worker getting sweaty in a lift to "I Just Want To Make Love To You?" Anyway, that's what I always think of when I think of Etta James. That was a great song. It's not actually on this album, but here she is singing ten of her best songs. She was just great. Best Song: At Last. Soul. 4.5/5

  • NINO ROTA - Otto e Mezzo (1963). Rota's score to the Fellini classic 8 1/2 is one of the most memorable, joyous and brilliant film scores ever. It's mostly made up of various jazzy variations on an iconic central, circus-like theme, and it's absolutely glorious. Best Song: La Passerella D'Addio. Soundtrack. 4.5/5

  • PHIL SPECTOR - A Christmas Gift For You (1963). I mean, this is basically rubbish. The whole "wall of sound" thing sounds completely awful and I can't believe anybody ever thought it was good, most of these songs are stupid, and Phil Spector is a murderer. But it's really adorable, and I won't decorate a tree to anything else. Best Song: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Pop. 3/5

  • SAM COOKE - Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 (1963). Sam Cooke is renowned as one of the greatest live performers in music history, but a lot of his audience banter on this is pretty weak ("How you doing out there, is everybody feeling alright? How you doing out there? I'll ask you one more time, how you doing out there?") But his singing is great, which I guess is what everybody means. Best Song: Chain Gang. Soul. 4/5

  • BOB DYLAN - The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964). Again, typical Dylan - a handful of great songs, and then a few quite nice poems given a boring tune and set to a boring acoustic guitar accompaniment. I find Bob Dylan frustratingly uneven, even on his good albums. Best Song: The Times They Are A-Changin'. Folk. 3/5

  • JACQUES BREL - Olympia 64 (1964). This Jacques Brel guy is great, he's like a Belgian Scott Walker. (That's a joke, tee hee). I'm a big fan of Brel's "hits" but his albums have sort of passed me by. This live set's supposed to be one of his best and it is a lot of fun, so I should probably investigate his discography further really. Best Song: Amsterdam. Baroque Pop. 3/5

  • JOAN BAEZ - Joan Baez/5 (1964). I'll be honest, Joan Baez never really varied up her formula much, it seemed to work for her. Here she is again, singing some more lovely traditional folk songs and Dylan covers in an angelic voice. Pretty solid, except for the weird hysterical opera bit. Oh, also, the artwork for this album is an absolutely beautiful picture, google it. Best Song: There But For Fortune. Folk. 3.5/5

  • STAN GETZ & JOAO GILBERTO - Getz/Gilberto (1964). This is basically lift music. But it's really very pleasant lift music, and I would genuinely love to be stuck in this lift. Also it gave us Astrud Gilberto and "The Girl From Ipanema" so it deserves a hefty dose of respect even if the genre it represents has essentially become a punchline. Best Song: The Girl From Ipanema. Jazz. 4/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • THE BEACH BOYS - The Beach Boys Today! (1965). I'm not a big fan of simple 1960s pop, so the first half of this record can go do one as far as I'm concerned. But the second half is packed full of great ballads, and I'm a sucker for a good ballad. Most of the second half of ...Today! is more or less as good as anything on Pet Sounds. Best Song: Kiss Me Baby. Pop. 3.5/5

  • THE BEATLES - Rubber Soul (1965). I don't care how popular or iconic or influential they were, I think the Beatles' early albums aren't very good. It's all fairly twee, unimaginative pop, and for every great song there's usually at least two middling-to-bad. Rubber Soul was their first good album where the good stuff more or less outweighs the bad, and heralds the fact that they were about to get really good in about a year. Best Song: Nowhere Man. Rock & Roll. 3/5

  • BOB DYLAN - Highway 61 Revisited (1965). I'll come right out and say it - Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde are bad, tedious albums. Look at me, taking down the sacred cows of 60s music! I'm a 70s guy at heart, really. But weirdly, sandwiched between those two overrated let-downs is this, probably Dylan's best 60s album. He gives very good snark on this. Best Song: Ballad Of A Thin Man. Folk Rock. 3.5/5

  • JOAN BAEZ - Farewell, Angelina (1965). Mean old Bob Dylan's starting to muscle in now, saying "Those traditional folk songs you keep singing are soooooo boring, Joan, you gotta record more of my great songs!" Guy's ego's out of control, and Joan's just too polite to say no, so there's four of his here. Nah, seriously, I think they were pretty in love and she was happy to do it. Got her revenge on "Diamonds & Rust" eventually anyway. Best Song: The Wild Mountain Thyme. Folk. 3.5/5

  • JOHN COLTRANE - A Love Supreme (1965). This album sounds like the apotheosis of jazz music. There are moments on this record that sound exactly like the sort of thing you hear in your head when you hear the word "jazz." I'm not saying that to imply it's generic, but to stress how enormous an impact it had. The legacy of an entire genre is pretty much bound up in A Love Supreme. Just as well it's really good, then. Best Song: Acknowledgement. Jazz. 4.5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • OTIS REDDING - Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965). I think Otis Redding held the record for "Singer Who Most Liked Using Trumpets" for a good twenty years until Phil Collins came along in earnest. There are so many trumpets on this album! Best Song: A Change Is Gonna Come. Soul. 4/5

  • THEM - The Angry Young Them (1965). Van Morrison didn't actually start out as a grumpy troll wizard, he took a bit of time building up that persona and actually started out as a sassy blues guy and frontman of a noisy garage rock band. Them's debut is hit and miss, but has loads of attitude. Best Song: Gloria. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE BEACH BOYS - Pet Sounds (1966). In which Brian Wilson justifiably gets fed up of conventional pop song formulas and starts indulging in unusual instrumentation, unpredictable arrangements and unconventional song structures. It doesn't sound as weird today as it probably did at the time, but it's the start of a big sea-change in popular music. Best Song: God Only Knows. Pop. 4/5

  • THE BEATLES - Revolver (1966). As with Pet Sounds, 1966 seems to be the year that a lot of mainstream pop artists start to inject a bit more imagination and ambition into their output. The songs here are much more mature and intelligent than on their early albums, and as a whole it's just a more raw and strange-sounding record than anything they'd done up to that point. Best Song: Eleanor Rigby. Rock4/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD - Buffalo Springfield (1966). This one sneaks onto this list courtesy of its big hit. Without it, it's basically a collection of quite bland country-rock which is pleasant to listen to but not very memorable. But "For What It's Worth" is easily one of the best songs of the decade, and ranks pretty highly in the "Best Songs of All Time" stakes, so Buffalo Springfield's debut scrapes onto the list on its coat-tails. Best Song: For What It's Worth. Folk Rock. 3/5

  • THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS - If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears (1966). Across the scope of this list as a whole, I'm trying to be quite tough on albums I basically think aren't very good but which have one great song. But it just so happens that in 1966 two such albums came out with songs I'm so fond of that they've cajoled me into being lenient. I think about 70% of If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears is twee nonsense, then there's a couple of solid tracks, then there's "California Dreamin'". I promise to be more strict on these sorts of albums in future. Best Song: California Dreamin'. Pop. 3/5

  • SIMON & GARFUNKEL - Sounds Of Silence (1966). Considering he basically just sang backing vocals and never even really wrote anything, Art Garfunkel was either very lucky that Paul Simon was generous enough to grant him equal billing, or Paul Simon was a control freak who wouldn't let him have any influence over anything and liked doing everything himself. I've always got the feeling Paul Simon is a bit of a dick, and Art Garfunkel was in Flight Of The Conchords so is probably a swell dude, so I'm opting for the latter. Nice songs though. Best Song: The Sound Of Silence. Folk Rock. 3.5/5

  • SIMON & GARFUNKEL - Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (1966). One of the naffest album titles ever. Sounds like an album of lullabies for Grandma. Misleading, because the songs here are genuinely quite innovative and interesting. Paul Simon's already stepped up his songwriting a lot from the previous record. Best Song: Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • THEM - Them Again (1966). There's nothing here quite as great as "Gloria," but this is another fun slice of raw, snarling blues rock, with the occasional hint of the more pastoral vibe Van Morrison would develop on his subsequent solo work. Best Song: I Put A Spell On You. Blues Rock. 3/5

  • ARETHA FRANKLIN - I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967). This is basically the Wonder Woman of 60s music. For years record label execs had been saying "We're pretty certain that if we let female singers choose which songs to sing, and let them play some of the instruments themselves, and even write some of the songs themselves, the paying public will have no interest in that." Then they tentatively decided to let Aretha Franklin have a go at it and it turned out everybody thought it was brilliant. Best Song: Respect. Soul. 4/5

  • ASTRUD GILBERTO - Beach Samba (1967). I just find bossa nova such a funny genre. I don't know if that's culturally insensitive of me, because it is a part of Brazil's cultural heritage, but I just find it inherently frothy and silly and feelgood and adorable. This record is one of the sweetest, silliest albums ever recorded, particularly the track on which Astrud "The Girl From Ipanema" Gilberto duets with her own five-year-old-son. Just lovely. Best Song: You Didn't Have To Be So Nice. Vocal Jazz. 4/5

  • THE BEATLES - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). It's great, but it's not the best album of all time, or even the Beatles' best album. I get the hype of course - the songs are mostly fantastic and the whole thing still sounds weird and unpredictable even today - but to pretend that there isn't a section in the album's second half where the quality dips and your attention wavers is just being wilfully obtuse. Best Song: A Day In The Life. Psychedelic. 4.5/5

  • BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD - Buffalo Springfield Again (1967). Buffalo Springfield never made a truly great album. The general quality here is higher than on their debut, though there's nothing quite as good as "For What It's Worth." Generally it's more by-the-numbers simple folk-rock, but elevated by the contributions of Neil Young, who was effectively promoted to a sort of co-bandleader role alongside Stephen Stills here, and was thereafter poised for breakthrough success on his own. Best Song: Mr. Soul. Folk Rock. 3/5

  • CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND HIS MAGIC BAND - Safe As Milk (1967). God's first attempt at making Tom Waits goes pretty well at first and results in this bizarre, snarling, psychedelic monster of an album. Sadly, it turns out the Tom Waits prototype that is Captain Beefheart isn't very good at coming up with actual musical ideas by himself, as proved by the initially-funny-but-quickly-mind-numbing Trout Mask Replica in 1969. God decides to have another go at making Tom Waits in the 70s. Best Song: Abba Zaba. Psychedelic. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • CAT STEVENS - Matthew & Son (1967). The big single from this is about a nasty boss. There's another song about a lovely dog and a nice granny. I'm usually fairly dismissive of 60s pop, but when someone can embrace the naffness of the genre like Cat Stevens can, it warms my heart. Also I really like that pseudo-orchestral vibe you get on a lot of late-60s pop. Best Song: I Love My Dog. Pop. 3/5

  • THE DOORS - The Doors (1967). I have a sneaking suspicion these guys were on drugs. I just have funny feeling that they were. Also, this is probably the first popular album since Green Onions where you pay more attention to the organ than the guitar, although bellowing showboater Jim Morrison is doing his best to distract you from both. Best Song: Break On Through (To The Other Side). Psychedelic. 4/5

  • JEFFERSON AIRPLANE - Surrealistic Pillow (1967). Probably the best psychedelic rock album of the decade. It's got a bit of everything-  trippy acid-jazz bolero in "White Rabbit", swaggering hard rock in "Somebody To Love", haunting ballads in "Comin' Back To Me." Very very good indeed. Best Song: White Rabbit. Psychedelic. 4.5/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - London Conversation (1967). At this point in time, John Martyn was pretty much just a man with a lovely voice and an acoustic guitar. He would get more innovative and unusual in the 70s, but already here he acquits himself as a brilliant songwriter and a wonderful interpreter of traditional folk songs. Probably the word "troubadour" applies well here. One of the loveliest voices, too. Best Song: Don't Think Twice, It's Alright. Folk. 4/5

  • NICO - Chelsea Girl (1967). Nico's vocal delivery is fascinatingly unsubtle - every single syllable gets exactly the same treatment, to the extent that even the prettiest lyrics end up sounding like a shopping list. On the truly beautiful songs, this creates a genuinely compelling counterpoint to the music, whereas on the longer, more drawn-out, tuneless ones, it gets pretty wearisome. Interesting album, though. Best Song: Fairest Of The Seasons. Folk. 3.5/5

  • SCOTT WALKER - Scott (1967). This is probably my least favourite of Scott Walker's quadrilogy of self-titled albums in the 60s, largely because it sticks the closest to generic 60s crooner formula and the edge of sadness and mania that would eventually lead him into exile and then to making Tilt isn't as audible as it is on, say, Scott 3. But hey, the guy can really sing. Best Song: Amsterdam. Baroque Pop. 3.5/5

  • SHIVKUMAR SHARMA, BRIJBUSHAN KABRA & HARIPRASAD CHAURASIA - Call Of The Valley (1967). One of the most influential albums of Indian classical music of all time, and also the only one I've ever listened to. Apparently before this album people in India thought the santoor was a low, vulgar instrument, sort of like a kazoo, but after it came out everybody decided it was brilliant, like a piano. As far as I'm aware, an equivalent western record that reclaims the kazoo hasn't been made yet, but we live in hope. Anyway, the music is beautiful. Best Song: Bhoop Ghara. World Music. 4/5

  • THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - The Velvet Underground And Nico (1967). Having listened to all these albums in chronological sequence, I'll say this for the Velvet Underground - they sound totally unlike anything that came before. There's more cynicism and snark here, more grim attitude and more off-kilter strangeness than anything that preceded them. Even when it sounds beautiful it sounds a bit like a piss-take of the concept of beauty. I don't unreservedly love every song here, but I have to hand it to them for being game-changers. Best Song: Heroin. Art Rock. 4/5

  • THE WHO - The Who Sell Out (1967). This is a lot of cartoonish fun. It's all edited to sound like a pirate radio broadcast, with silly nonsense commercials interrupting the songs. The songs themselves are sort of middling, but do include two of my favourite hard rock anthems of the 60s. Best Song: I Can See For Miles. Rock. 3/5

  • ARETHA FRANKLIN - Lady Soul (1968). Having proven to the suits that a female singer could in fact have some creative control over a record and still achieve success with it, Aretha was granted even more control, so she dialled back a bit on the softer ballads and doubled down on the bluesy, soul/gospel-inflected stuff. The ballads she does include here are absolute giants as well, so this slightly nudges ahead of I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, though it's a close-run thing. Best Song: Ain't No Way. Soul. 4/5

  • THE BEATLES - The Beatles [The White Album] (1968). Even if you ignore the ridiculous musique concrete self-indulgence of "Revolution 9," The White Album still has a "throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" vibe to it. As such, it's over-long and inconsistent but, as any true artist can attest, if you throw shit at the wall for long enough, eventually you WILL write "Back In The U.S.S.R." Best Song: Blackbird. Rock. 3.5/5

  • FLEETWOOD MAC - Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (1968). There's a story that Peter Green desperately wanted to be one of the blues greats, but knew he never could be because he was a well-off, well-educated, middle-class white English man, so it would always be inauthentic. Supposedly, this thought made him so depressed that he got the blues and became one of the blues greats. I love this story so much. Best Song: Shake Your Moneymaker. Blues. 3.5/5

  • THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND - The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1968). Certainly the weirdest album yet to feature on this list, and a strong contender for the weirdest album of all time. It's like The Wicker Man came alive and then went completely mad. There's a 13-minute song written from the point of view of a single-celled organism. I also find it very difficult to imagine these guys in a recording studio, everything sounds like it could only ever be played in a wood. Best Song: Very Cellular Song. Folk. 4.5/5

  • JETHRO TULL - This Was (1968). Tull's down-to-earth, rootsy debut is a bit of an anomaly in their wider discography - it's more straightforwardly bluesy and less quirky than their later output, and Ian Anderson plays almost as much harmonica as he does flute. Nonetheless, the seeds of their future brilliance are already sown here. Best Song: Beggar's Farm. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE - Electric Ladyland (1968). I like Hendrix a lot, but his early albums rarely blow me away. He's obviously an amazing, pioneering guitarist and a great singer, but I find he's sometimes guilty of psychedelic rock's preponderance to meandering without a strong musical hook to attach his talent to. He put paid to that with Electric Ladyland, which boasts some of the coolest guitar riffs and catchiest tunes in the whole genre. Best Song: All Along The Watchtower. Psychedelic. 4/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Song To A Seagull (1968). Most of Joni Mitchell's debut consists of haunting, mysterious, pretty folk ballads but isn't necessarily the obvious work of someone who would become one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time. But then there's "Cactus Tree," one of the most beautiful songs ever written and possibly, in my opinion, Joni's best. You hear that one and go "Oh yeah, she'll probably go on to be absolutely brilliant." Best Song: Cactus Tree. Folk. 3.5/5

  • LEONARD COHEN - Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1968). I only started listening to Leonard Cohen last year (before he died, as it happens. I'm not big on grief bandwagons), so he's not yet had time to burrow under my skin and convince me he's an all-time great. I'll concede that he's great at writing very sad, mournful, melancholic little songs, but some of this is a bit too dry and lifeless for me. Some of it is excellent though. Best Song: Suzanne. Folk. 3/5

  • THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION - We're Only In It For The Money (1968). Mothers head honcho Frank Zappa got frustrated with the record label while editing this, so just went mad in the editing room and chopped it to bits. As such, many songs last only a minute or so and are randomly interrupted by fragments of other songs, or by weird, unsettling noises or snatches of sinister whispering. An odd listen, but a fascinating insight into a guy's strange creative process. Best Song: Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance. Psychedelic. 3/5

  • OS MUTANTES - Os Mutantes (1968). I don't know much about the Brazilian Tropicalia movement, but if Os Mutantes are a decent representative of it, I'd like to know more. This album is loads of fun, and deeply bizarre. Like listening to a lucid dream set at a carnival. For me, it trails off a bit towards the end, but it's been a really fun ride up to that point. Best Song: Bat Macumba. Psychedelic. 3.5/5

  • SCOTT WALKER - Scott 2 (1968). It's fun listening to Scott Walker's 60s stuff only after you're already aware that in the later stages of his career he made horrible frightening avant-garde album where he recorded the sounds of punching meat. You find yourself listening to this honey-voiced 60s crooner singing brilliant theatrical interpretations of Jacques Brel, or beautiful orchestral ballads, all the time knowing that there's a real mania in his brain somewhere. Brilliant. Best Song: Come Next Spring. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • SIMON & GARFUNKEL - Bookends (1968). "Hey, Paul, I'd really love to get a writing credit on the next album." "Sure thing, Art, what sort of thing would you like to write?" "I was thinking a spoken word piece which is a recording of old people talking about stuff." "Ok, I'll write "Mrs Robinson" just in case people don't go for that." Nah, seriously though, this is a nice album. Best Song: Mrs Robinson. Folk Rock. 3.5/5

  • VAN MORRISON - Astral Weeks (1968). After the solid groundwork he'd laid with Them, Van Morrison's solo debut was a bit of a forgettable stumble. After that he must have looked at himself and said "Right, sod this phoney blues-rock nonsense, I'm going to transform into a fairy wizard and sing pastoral, shamanistic, stream-of-consciousness folk epics about the intangible things in my head" and produced this masterpiece. So, so, so, so good. Best Song: Astral Weeks. Folk. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • THE ZOMBIES - Odessey And Oracle (1968). I do genuinely enjoy this album, but most of it sort of for novelty purposes. 11 of its 12 tracks sound like fairly lightweight, silly, playful novelty pop slightly at odds with the general sense of pop music getting more innovative and taking itself more seriously since 1967. Then "Time Of The Season" kicks in at the end and reminds you that these guys could also write a really cool song when they put their minds to it. So a bit of everything here. Best Song: Time Of The Season. Pop. 3/5

  • THE BAND - The Band (1969). The most arrogant name for a band ever. I'm sceptical about Bob Dylan at the best of times, so you can imagine my scepticism when it comes to the independent releases by Bob Dylan's backing band. I dislike Music From Big Pink, but even a curmudgeon like me will accept that this follow-up has a bunch of great country-rock songs. It also has the aberration that is "Jawbone," though, so don't expect me to rave about it. Best Song: Rag Mama Rag. Roots Rock. 3/5

  • THE BEATLES - Abbey Road (1969). Forget Sgt. Pepper's..., Abbey Road is the Beatles' masterpiece. Though not the last Beatles album released, it was the last they recorded and they go out on a massive high. The first half consists of a bunch of songs that are their maturest, most inventive and confident to date, and the second half is an ambitious, elaborate song-suite that ranges from the ridiculous ("Mean Mr Mustard") to the sublime ("Golden Slumbers.") A superb album. Best Song: Come Together. Rock. 5/5

  • CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL - Bayou Country (1969). With absolutely no room for discussion, Creedence's John Fogerty is easily in the top 5 coolest vocalists in the history of rock music - just growling, snarling, gutsy perfection. Creedence's simple, straightforward blues rock is fantastic and made them a bigger band worldwide than the Beatles in 1969. Best Song: Born On The Bayou. Roots Rock. 4.5/5

  • CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL - Green River (1969). The funny thing about Creedence is that they were actually from San Francisco and part of the super-trendy Haight-Ashbury scene, but didn't like the psychedelic aesthetic of their peers like the Grateful Dead & co. so affected a sort of Deep South swamp-rock vibe, which everybody just accepted without question. Funny old world. Best Song: Green River. Roots Rock. 3.5/5

  • CROSBY, STILLS & NASH - Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969). I've long assumed that Crosby, Stills & Nash are just a trio of relatively talentless people who hung out with Neil Young a lot, so prioritised listening to CSNY stuff long before I listened to what they did without him. Turns out this does have some great songs in between its blander moments, though I'm not remotely tempted to revise my opinion that Graham Nash is just beyond awful. Best Song: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. Folk Rock. 3/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Space Oddity (1969). David Bowie v.1.0, a silly wooden puppet who sang Victorian parlour songs (not represented on this list) here upgrades to David Bowie v.2.0, a long-haired hippy folk wizard singing pretty folk songs about space and magic and swans or something. Big shout-out to "Letter To Hermione," an often-neglected Bowie classic. Best Song: Space Oddity. Folk. 4/5

  • DUSTY SPRINGFIELD - Dusty In Memphis (1969). Dusty Springfield's early stuff is enjoyable enough, but is mostly quite forgettable pop with the odd absolute club banger. In '69 she said "Enough! I want to honour my soul influences more!" and travelled to Memphis and teamed up with some of the classic Memphis soul session guys and recorded one of the best soul albums of all time. Sadly, despite obviously being brilliant, it didn't sell very well and she never bettered it. Best Song: Son Of A Preacher Man. Soul. 4.5/5

  • FAIRPORT CONVENTION - Unhalfbricking (1969). I'm a fairly recent convert to Fairport Convention, so I don't have much of great insight to say about them. Sandy Denny's voice is amazing, the band sound great and I really like the folksy acoustic vibe. They're slightly more on the popular side of folk music as opposed to its traditional side here, but would cross that line on the next record. Best Song: Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Folk. 4/5

  • FAIRPORT CONVENTION - Liege & Lief (1969). Whereas Unhalfbricking leans on more popular song formats (Dylan covers, searing pop ballads, etc), Liege & Lief leans more into traditional folk songs. It's just as much fun and still hauntingly beautiful in places, but mostly consists of lengthy traditional folk ballads or instrumental reels rearranged for a full band, so is inherently a bit more exciting and original. Best Song: Matty Groves. Folk. 4.5/5

  • FLEETWOOD MAC - Then Play On (1969). From its traditional blues numbers to its blistering instrumental jams, to the astonishing prog-rock brilliance of "Oh Well," Peter Green's final album with Fleetwood Mac really showcases what a visionary musician he was. After this he lost his mind to LSD and to his own disgust with his success, and faded away from the spotlight. He remains one of music's great enigmas. Best Song: Oh Well. Blues Rock. 4/5

  • FRANK ZAPPA - Hot Rats (1969). Zappa's first solo outing separate from the Mothers features a bunch of delightfully odd, colourful, eccentric and intricately arranged jazz fusion instrumentals, with a characteristically snarling guest vocal from Captain Beefheart on "Willie The Pimp." That track also boasts Zappa's first truly mind-blowing guitar solo, which goes on for about eight minutes. Best Song: Willie The Pimp. Jazz Fusion. 4.5/5

  • FREE - Free (1969). This is just very nice, chilled-out, folksy blues-rock of the highest order. Admittedly it doesn't yet have any of the killer guitar riffs or catchy tunes that Free would excel at just a year later, but they were about sixteen when this came out, so fair enough, really. When I was 16 I was writing a bad novel about a man who goes to Spain and throws rocks at the moon, and it wasn't half as accomplished as this, so I'll hand it to them. Best Song: Lying In The Sunshine. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • ISAAC HAYES - Hot Buttered Soul (1969). It's a shame that Isaac Hayes is probably remembered first as Chef from South Park, second as a weird Scientologist and third for his music, because it's brilliant. Hot Buttered Soul has all the lush orchestration and impassioned delivery of all great 60s soul, but is much more bombastic and over-the-top, with the songs stretching on for up to 19 minutes. Best Song: Walk On By. Soul. 4/5

  • JANIS JOPLIN - I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama! (1969). The music itself on this is a sort of bluesy soul which is really well-played and entertaining but feels a bit familiar, particularly when listening through this list chronologically. But I think Janis Joplin's legacy isn't necessarily that of a pioneering musician or artist, but simply that of an incredible singer, and boy can she sing. It's fairly by-the-numbers R&B, but she had one of the best voices. Best Song: Try (Just A Little Bit Harder). Soul. 3/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Stand Up (1969). Original Tull guitarist and traditional bluesman Mick Abrahams is out, and the wonderful Martin Barre is in. As such, less shackled by a traditionalist band-mate, Ian Anderson is able to stretch his imagination a bit more here. It's still bluesy folk rock, but it's starting to feel quirkier and more imaginative - there are more flute solos, for one thing. Best Song: A New Day Yesterday. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Clouds (1969). Song To A Seagull saw a great artist gradually finding her feet, but on Clouds Joni is firing on all cylinders and proving herself one of the great singer-songwriters. From the haunting sadness of "Tin Angel" through the joyous pop of "Chelsea Morning" to the absolute perfection of the all-time classic that is "Both Sides, Now," this is just a truly brilliant record. Not her best, mind. More yet to come. Best Song: Both Sides, Now. Folk. 4.5/5

  • KING CRIMSON - In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969). List, meet Progressive Rock. Prog, meet List. The first prog album to feature on the list also happens to be one of the very best - squealing guitars, squawking saxes, pompous Mellotron, scary distorted vocals. It's also noticeable listening to the 60s chronologically how utterly alien this sounds - it's menacing and terrifying and totally unlike any previously existing music. Also the best album artwork of all time. Feel free to skip "Moonchild," obviously. Best Song: 21st Century Schizoid Man. Progressive Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • MILES DAVIS - In A Silent Way (1969). Just before he got a bit too self-indulgent for his own good with 1970's Bitches Brew, Miles achieved the apotheosis of jazz fusion on this album. It combines the space and loveliness of late-50s cool jazz with the restlessness and strangeness of late-60s fusion to create something that, in places, feels like a prototype for ambient music in the 70s, where the atmospheres and textures are more important than the notes. Best Song: In A Silent Way/It's About That Time. Jazz. 5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969). After a disappointing solo debut, Neil Young hit paydirt by teaming up for the first time with his best-ever backing band, the raucous, plodding numbskulls of Crazy Horse. This album features two of Neil's best-loved long guitar jams, "Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Down By The River," but my favourite track is the simple joyful country rock of the title track. Best Song: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • NICK DRAKE - Five Leaves Left (1969). Five Leaves Left is considered a masterpiece, but I find it a bit frustrating. It's clear from Drake's final album, Pink Moon, that his songs are most affecting and powerful when left unadorned, with just his voice and guitar, but here producer Joe Boyd drenches the songs with piano and guitar overdubs and lush string and flute orchestrations and it all just feels a bit overcrowded. The songs are lovely and Drake has a lovely voice, but I just wish Boyd had reined it in a bit. Best Song: River Man. Folk. 3.5/5

  • THE PENTANGLE - Basket Of Light (1969). Whereas Fairport Convention's approach to traditional folk on Liege & Lief was to rearrange existing songs into a rock band format, the Pentangle seem content to just play them as intended, so there's a really ancient, rustic vibe listening to this. It's like travelling back in time to a Medieval village and having a right old knees-up among all the ducks and the cabbages. "Keep it down!" shout the castle guards. "Shove it up yer bum!" we shout back. Best Song: Light Flight. Folk. 3.5/5

  • PETER SARSTEDT - Peter Sarstedt (1969). I got weirdly obsessed with Peter Sarstedt at uni, considering he only has one song anybody even vaguely knows. I fell so much in love with "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?" that I went to the effort of listening to multiple albums of his, which I think few others bothered to do. It's all very ridiculous, but it's also utterly, utterly charming. I file it under the same sort of "Orchestral Silly 60s Pop" label I put Cat Stevens' Matthew & Son into, but turned up to 11. Also, "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?" is just such a great love song. Best Song: Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)? Pop. 4.5/5

  • PETER SARSTEDT - As Though It Were A Movie (1969). Like I said, needlessly obsessed. Nobody needs to listen to two Peter Sarstedt albums, but do you know what, I'm glad I did because this one's great too. There's nothing as good as "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?" on it, but it's probably slightly more consistent across the board. He's a bit cheeky on this one too, a cheeky glint in his eye, and slightly less earnest than before. What a delightful man. Best Song: As Though It Were A Movie. Pop. 4/5

  • PINK FLOYD - More (1969). I quite like Syd Barrett's quirky psychedelic aesthetic, but generally I find early Pink Floyd too self-indulgent and meandering. There's a bit of that on More, Floyd's first project with no Barrett at all, but mostly it's a collection of mysterious instrumentals, swaggering blues rock and a few really beautiful folk songs. It doesn't get enough love. Best Song: Green Is The Colour. Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • SCOTT WALKER - Scott 3 (1969). As on Scott 2, the highlights are the gorgeous Jacques Brel covers, but also, you can hear the exciting, faint beginnings of Walker's slow, gradual slide into the avant-garde here, most notably on "It's Raining Today," a typical crooner ballad but set to unsettling, dissonant, discordant strings. Best Song: If You Go Away. Baroque Pop. 3.5/5

  • SCOTT WALKER - Scott 4 (1969). Walker's first album consisting exclusively of his own compositions, and it's a very theatrical, Gothic affair. Also his last album to achieve much popular success or critical praise, prior to a couple of decades in the wilderness, before fully converting into an avant-garde puncher of meat and visionary artiste in the 90s with the bewildering TiltBest Song: The Seventh Seal. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE - Stand! (1969). Sly Stone didn't invent funk music, but I do think he played an important role in bridging the gap between the more familiar, soul-based funk of James Brown and co. in the mid-60s and the more outer-space psychedelic weirdness of, say, Parliament-Funkadelic in the 70s, which is my favourite era for the genre. Loads of raw attitude on this album's longer jams, but also a lot of sweet-natured fun on the shorter hits. Best Song: Everyday People. Funk. 4/5

  • THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - The Velvet Underground (1969). The Velvet Underground And Nico was about two thirds really good songs and one third dissonant noise experiments. For White Light/White Heat they doubled down on the dissonant noise, and I'm not keen on it. But here they really push the actual songcraft. This is a much less cynical album than the first two, and almost feels like they've sincerely tried to make something pleasant. Best Song: Beginning To See The Light. Art Rock. 4/5

  • THE WHO - Tommy (1969). One of the first ever concept albums, a rock opera about a deaf, blind, mute boy who's really good at pinball. Like most double albums, it's overlong and inconistent, and it never hits the highs of the best songs on The Who Sell Out, but it gets points for its lofty ambitions and it has a fair few decent songs. Best Song: Pinball Wizard. Rock. 3/5

  • YES - Yes (1969). Yes were one of the more entertainingly eccentric of the major prog bands, but started in an uncharacteristically conventional mood. Their debut album's best song is a beautiful piano ballad, and it includes covers of the likes of the Byrds and the Beatles. It's all great, and there's still the odd wacky organ solo, but they'd push the boat out further on subsequent albums. Best Song: Yesterday And Today. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • CAT STEVENS - Mona Bone Jakon (1970). Controversial opinion, but I think Cat Stevens from 1970-74 is a better singer-songwriter than Bob Dylan at any point in his career. I think Stevens is everything a singer-songwriter should be. The lyrics aren't poetic or epic, but they're simple and heartfelt. He's a great, great tunesmith, and has a real variety in the kinds of songs he writes. He got very ill in 1969 and I reckon when he recovered he thought "I don't want to be remembered for writing silly novelty pop, I want to write proper songs," and started an incredible run of great albums. Best Song: Maybe You're Right. Folk. 4/5

  • CAT STEVENS - Tea For The Tillerman (1970). Exhibit A when defending the opinion above. I genuinely get the feeling that Cat Stevens is slightly sneered at for writing very populist, simple folk music rather than anything hugely challenging or self-aggrandising, but anybody who listens to this and doesn't think it's a masterpiece isn't worth the time of day. Absolute club banger after club banger. Such great tunes. Best Song: Father & Son. Folk. 5/5

  • CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL - Cosmo's Factory (1970). Creedence are another one of those bands who never really varied their formula, but they did gradually finesse it. This is their masterpiece. Also, on songs like "Ramble Tamble" or the 11-minute version of "Heard It Through The Grapevine," they do begin to show signs of innovating beyond the simple Southern blues-rock formula. A shame they never really pursued it further. Best Song: Run Through The Jungle. Roots Rock. 5/5. ALBUM 100 OF 1001!

  • CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL - Pendulum (1970). The drop in quality from Cosmo's Factory to Pendulum is massive, but it's perhaps not quite the pointless album its reputation would suggest. It still has the gutsy rock of "Pagan Baby," the loveliness of "Have you Ever Seen The Rain?" and that organ solo on "Born To Move." But after this they were a spent force. Best Song: Pagan Baby. Roots Rock. 3/5

  • CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG - Deja Vu (1970). OMG you guys, immediately go and follow David Crosby on Twitter, it's one of my favourite things on the internet. Secondly, it's weird that Neil Young definitely has ten times the talent than Crosby, Stills and Nash, but his contributions here aren't actually the best songs on the album. And third, a country rock version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" has no right to be this good. Best Song: Almost Cut My Hair. Roots Rock. 4/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - The Man Who Sold The World (1970). David Bowie v.3.0 - a sort of bleating hard-rock sheep in a dress singing heavy metal songs about Nietzche and being sexually harassed by God. Probably the one Bowie album where Bowie himself is threatened by being upstaged by the band around him. Mick Ronson is great on this. Best Song: The Width Of A Circle. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Elton John (1970). Of all my favourite musical artists, Elton John is probably the one with the most unfairly maligned reputation - more so even than Marillion, because at least people have just never heard of Marillion, whereas everybody knows Elton John and thinks he just made shit glossy pop music. This totally overlooks the fact that for at least the first four years of his career (I'd say longer) he was a superlative singer-songwriter. I love the string arrangements on this. Best Song: Your Song. Rock. 4/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Tumbleweed Connection (1970). Elton's Americana album. There are still a few beautiful stripped-back ballads, but in general the piano, voice and strings vibe is augmented with guitars, horns and harmonicas to give it a real country-folk-rock band vibe. It's brilliant. Best Song: Talking Old Soldiers. Roots Rock. 5/5

  • FOCUS - In And Out Of Focus (1970). The debut album of the best ever instrumental prog band actually has a surprisingly large amount of vocal on it. Focus don't excel at vocally-led songs, but there's still enough of Jan Akkerman's guitar pyrotechnics and Thijs Van Leer's flute acrobatics to make this really entertaining. Best Song: House Of The King. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • FRANK ZAPPA - Chunga's Revenge (1970). A bit of a hodge-podge, this. There's a couple of Hot Rats-esque jazz fusion instrumentals, a couple of Mothers-esque live improv jams, a couple of fun doo-wop numbers and a bit of hard rock swagger. Chunga's Revenge struggles to forge much of an identity for itself, but there's still plenty to enjoy. Best Song: Chunga's Revenge. Jazz Fusion. 3.5/5

  • FREE - Fire And Water (1970). Free take all the laid-back, earthy, bluesy authenticity of their first couple of albums and dial it up with a bunch of amazing guitar riffs and solos and instantly catchy choruses. Paul Rodgers matures into one of the best rock singers of all time, and the whole thing is pretty much the perfect blues rock album. Also, they were still teenagers. That incredible voice belongs to a teenager. Best Song: All Right Now. Blues Rock. 4.5/5

  • FREE - Highway (1970). I used to think this album was really boring. "I don't want to hear Paul Rodgers singing mellow songs about ponies and buckets and farms!" I snarled. "I want to hear him rocking out and singing about "lurve" and cool stuff like that." It's not their best album, but actually has a similar laid-back pleasantness to their self-titled album from 1969, and it also has the bluesy atittude of "The Stealer" and the heartache of "Be My Friend," so it grows on you. Best Song: The Stealer. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • GENESIS - Trespass (1970). Of all the major prog bands, Genesis is the one I struggled most to get into. I started with 1971's Nursery Cryme, which I don't like much, and it took me ages to get into The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I should've started with this, their first progressive album and a great jumping-on point. Their trademark pomp and bombast is present, but in manageable amounts, and the songs are genuinely compelling. Good fun. Best Song: The Knife. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Ladies Of The Canyon (1970). My dad bought me this album when I first started playing the clarinet because there's a clarinet solo on "For Free." It's a beautiful song and when I first heard it, the clarinet solo made me cry. For that reason, it will always be my favourite track on this album even though it's the album that has both "Big Yellow Taxi" and "Conversation" on it. Best Song: For Free. Folk. 5/5

  • KING CRIMSON - In The Wake Of Poseidon (1970). Crimson were left spinning their wheels a bit by the departure of Ian McDonald, so released this, essentially a carbon copy of In The Court Of The Crimson King. It gets a bit of flack for that, but I think, considering In The Court... is one of the best albums of all time, sounding a lot like it is no bad thing. It lacks originality, but it's still great. Best Song: Pictures Of A City. Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • KING CRIMSON - Lizard (1970). There's a sort of Medieval circus vibe about this. Not all of it works, but the title track is a 23-minute-long suite that starts with Jon Anderson from Yes singing a pop chorus with hand-claps, then there's a stately bolero played on cor anglais, then an avant-garde jazz piano freakout, and at the end Robert Fripp plays a lament on guitar for all who died in Prince Rupert's battle with the lizard. Bizarre. Best Song: Lizard. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • LEON RUSSELL - Leon Russell (1970). Utterly bizarre that Leon Russell became such an obscure figure after the 70s, considering both his obvious talent and the fact that this debut boasts guest turns from Mick Jagger, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton. Russell's brand of piano-led blues-rock was a big influence on Elton John, and the fact that time was so unkind to his legacy and so few people have heard of him is very sad. Best Song: A Song For You. Roots Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION - Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970). The Mothers had effectively disbanded by this point, though Zappa would occasionally team up with some of them and resurrect the name on the odd album. This is cobbled together out of previously unreleased recordings, and is basically Zappa and his mates doing more overblown instrumentals and eccentric doo-wop numbers. By this point, you either like Zappa's aesthetic or you don't, to be honest. Best Song: Valarie. Psychedelic. 3.5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - After The Gold Rush (1970). Here, Neil sidelines Crazy Horse and mostly ditches the hard rock guitar jams, opting instead for a more stripped-back folk-singer vibe. This album is pretty much a perfect study of lonliness in eleven wonderful songs. Plus the angry crunch of "Southern Man" for anyone who misses Neil's more aggressive side. Best Song: Birds. Folk. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • NICK DRAKE - Bryter Layter (1970). I really like this album because Nick Drake sounds quite happy on it. The songs are either upbeat and fun, or just very pretty, and, whereas the arrangements on Five Leaves Left drowned out the intimacy of the songs, here they just add levity. A nice ray of sunshine in Drake's otherwise pretty bleak discography. Best Song: Hazey Jane II. Folk. 4/5

  • PINK FLOYD - Atom Heart Mother (1970). Floyd's first truly great album. The entire first half is one lengthy instrumental suite, complete with a full orchestra and one of David Gilmour's best ever guitar solos. The second half features three pretty, psychedelic pastoral songs, one apiece from Gilmour, Roger Waters and Richard Wright, then Nick Mason contributes a 13-minute recording of a man eating his breakfast. Best Song: Atom Heart Mother Suite. Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • RODRIGUEZ - Cold Fact (1970). Y'all know Rodriguez, he's the guy from Searching For Sugar Man who was completely unheard of in America and spent most of his life completely unaware he was a huge star in South Africa. To be honest, there's some fairly generic stuff on Cold Fact, but the stronger songs are remarkable, and the story behind this album is just lovely. Best Song: I Wonder. Folk. 3.5/5

  • SIMON & GARFUNKEL - Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970). Whether it was just because he never did very much, or because Paul Simon never let him do very much, Art Garfunkel must one day have realised he was a bit of a spare part in their partnership and decided to call it a day and focus on an acting career. As such, this is their swansong and definitely their best and most consistent album. The much-loved title track is, I think, one of their most overrated songs, but there are loads of hidden gems on this. Best Song: Keep The Customer Satisfied. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Supertramp (1970). Here they are, the greatest band of all time. Supertramp's debut album is bluesier and more ethereal and obviously progressive than the more prog-tinged pop-rock sound that would make them successful. It's also the only album on which the lovely Rick Davies and the egomaniacal Roger Hodgson actually collaborated on the songwriting, so it has more of a full band feeling rather than feeling like two solo projects squashed together. Best Song: Try Again. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • VAN MORRISON - Moondance (1970). Van Morrison injects a bunch more soul into the folk-jazz mood of Astral Weeks and creates something less mystical but punchier and more song-oriented. I associate this album with lying asleep on a patch of gravel in Cape Town, because that's where I really got into it. Scratched my face up in the process. This is Van Morrison's 3rd-best album, but his 2nd-best pop album. (Astral Weeks is his 2nd-best album overall. I have an unpopular opinion about what his actual best album is). Best Song: Caravan. Folk Rock. 5/5

  • VASHTI BUNYAN - Just Another Diamond Day (1970). Vashti Bunyan is a sad story with a happy ending. In 1970 she released this breathtakingly beautiful album of pastoral folk songs, but almost nobody listened to it so she didn't really sing again for 30 years. Then in the early 2000s "Diamond Day" was used in an advert and suddenly loads of indie folk artists started citing her as an influence so she re-emerged and recorded a lovely comeback album. This is incredible and deserved more love at the time. Best Song: Diamond Day. Folk. 5/5

  • THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - Loaded (1970). The Velvet Underground did carry on going for a little while after Loaded, but without Lou Reed, so I basically consider this their swansong. It's similar in tone to their self-titled 1969 album, but with a slightly harder, rockier edge and with fewer sentimental ballads. There's also nothing quite as weird as "The Murder Mystery," sadly. Best Song: Sweet Jane. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • WISHBONE ASH - Wishbone Ash (1970). Wishbone Ash are a mildly-progressive, bluesy hard-rock outfit who pioneered the twin lead guitar format that more well-known bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd later ran away with. Their stock-in-trade is cool riffs and awesome solos, and their self-titled debut has loads of both. They're also comically terrible at writing lyrics. Best Song: Phoenix. Hard Rock. 4.5/5

  • YES - Time And A Word (1970). Yes's propensity for making everything slightly more overblown and ridiculous than it needs to be rears its head here in their decision to accompany nearly every song with a full orchestra, as you do. The opening "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed" is great fun and the closing title track is a truly wonderful song, but a lot of what comes in between is middling. Not their best album, not their worst. Best Song: Time And A Word. Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • THE BEACH BOYS - Surf's Up (1971). As someone who's never been a massive Beach Boys fan, my general understanding of their output is that they pretty much faded out of pop-cultural relevance in the late 60s, so I was very surprised to discover this album and find that it's genuinely brilliant. It has gorgeous pop tunes, a few psychedelic weird oddities and even a surprisingly convincing bit of aggressive blues rock. I think Brian Wilson was really losing it at this point, but still really had the capacity to make interesting work. Best Song: Long Promised Road. Psychedelic. 4/5

  • BILL WITHERS - Just As I Am (1971). I feel like the inherent lushness of soul music means a lot of the genre's biggest singers - Aretha, Otis, Sam Cooke - feel like towering, untouchable icons. Bill Withers just feels like your mate who's decided to play some nice music, there's a real authenticity to his songwriting. "Ain't No Sunshine" is one of the most heartbreakingly simple love songs ever written. This album's only real misfire is the weirdly stilted cover of Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'." Also, big shout-out to producer Booker T. "Green Onions" Jones. Best Song: Ain't No Sunshine. Soul. 3.5/5

  • CAROLE KING - Tapestry (1971). This is the only Carole King album I know, and I'm not sure why because it's incredible so I ought to have a bit more curiosity about the rest of her work. One day I'll get round to it. She was one of the big songwriters of the 60s and in the 70s finally got to put her own stamp on the songs she'd written for others, like "You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" Her songs walk the line between pop and folk very artfully. Best Song: It's Too Late. Pop. 4.5/5

  • CAT STEVENS - Teaser And The Firecat (1971). More charming, affable acoustic-guitar folk-pop from this lovely feller. As usual, Stevens runs the whole gamut of what sort of emotions music can elicit - one minute he's breaking your heart with "How Can I Tell You?" the next minute he's singing a plinky-plonky, childlike cover of "Morning Has Broken." The guy's adorable. Best Song: How Can I Tell You? Folk. 4.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Hunky Dory (1971). David Bowie v.4.0 - an eccentric, bohemian, red-headed leprechaun with an upright piano singing psychedelic parlour songs about Andy Warhol and aliens and new-born babies. Bowie's last ever album recorded as a sort of cult outsider figure, shortly before becoming a bona-fide musical icon. Best Song: Life On Mars? Psychedelic. 5/5

  • THE DOORS - L.A. Woman (1971). Jim Morrison's vocal performance has got even better since their debut - it's now richer, snarlier, growlier. But the music, aside from the amazing title track, feels somehow safer and more familiar than it used to. It's still great, but it doesn't quite have the otherworldly strangeness of the Doors' earlier stuff. Best Song: L.A. Woman. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA - The Electric Light Orchestra (1971). The Electric Light Orchestra eventually became a disco-pop band with three violinists in it, but started out delivering much more accurately on its name, with this album of pop-rock played on classical orchestral instruments, with Roy Wood on woodwinds and strings and plenty of horns elsewhere. Not all of it works, but there's some really great, interesting stuff here. Best Song: 10538 Overture. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Madman Across The Water (1971). So much brilliance here. Elton's best-ever vocal performance, his most mature and epic and breathtaking collection of songs ever. The band is just as great as on Tumbleweed Connection, but here, rather than dominating Elton's songwriting, they augment it. The string arrangements are cinematic and amazing. It's this close to being Elton's best-ever album, but another one narrowly beats it. Best Song: Tiny Dancer. Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER - Tarkus (1971). Prog's first supergroup, ELP have always been probably my least favourite of the main prog groups. In a genre famous for self-indulgent noodling, there's just a bit too much of it in their stuff for my tastes. But even they strike gold every now and again, and this album is pleasantly ridiculous textbook prog. There's a 20-minute song with loads of organ solos about a giant war machine shaped like an armadillo fighting a war with a manticore. That kind of thing. Best Song: Tarkus. Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • FOCUS - Moving Waves (1971). "Hocus Pocus" by Focus is one of my favourite songs of all time. It alternates between Jan Akkerman's heavy metal riff and Thijs Van Leer's flute and yodelling solos. It's absolutely ridiculous. This album would make the cut even if it was just that song plus a load of rubbish, but the rest of the album is all top-drawer instrumental prog-rock/jazz fusion as well. Best Song: Hocus Pocus. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • FUNKADELIC - Maggot Brain (1971). Badnleader George Clinton supposedly discovered his brother dead in an apartment, his head cracked open and maggots crawling round his skull. He subsequently conceived of the title track to this album, locked guitarist Eddie Hazell in the studio and told him to "play like his mother died." Hazell laid down the 10-minute guitar solo that is both the peak of Funkadelic's entire output, and one of the toughest listens ever. The rest of the album's great too. Best Song: Maggot Brain. Funk. 4.5/5

  • ISAAC HAYES - Shaft (1971). Isaac Hayes' soundtrack for Shaft is probably his best-known work, but it's not his best album. Like a lot of soundtrack albums, it's a bit long and most of it consists of nice bits of instrumental score which would be pleasant in the background of a film but which aren't that exciting to listen to on their own. But it makes the cut thanks to the iconic funk of the main Theme, and the sprawling epic of "Do Your Thing." Best Song: Theme From Shaft. Funk. 3/5

  • ISAAC HAYES - Black Moses (1971). This is more like it! Ike is ultimately much better at writing and singing songs than at composing instrumental scores, so Black Moses hits the mark more than Shaft. There's still a bit too much going on, and a few songs could be pruned from it, but if you focus on the stronger tracks it's great stuff. Best Song: Ike's Rap II/Help Me Love. Soul. 3.5/5

  • JANIS JOPLIN - Pearl (1971). More fun bluesy soul and R&B to showcase Janis's impressive lungs, but made more bittersweet by its posthumous release. There's an instrumental track here that Janis never got round to recording the vocal for, and an a cappella vocal track that the band never recorded any accompaniment for. Sad. Best Song: Move Over. Soul. 3.5/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Aqualung (1971). Tull's undisputed masterpiece. There's the proggy grandeur of "My God," the whimsy folk of the acoustic interludes, the bluesy chug of "Locomotive Breath," the epic guitar solo of the title track. Because it has flutes and some long solos and a loose conceptual theme about God and tramps, it's the album responsible for making everyone think Tull were "just" a prog band. It's one of prog's finest advocates. Best Song: Locomotive Breath. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - Bless The Weather (1971). Bless The Weather sees John Martyn on the brink of becoming something much more interesting and unusual than just a singer of folk ballads. I'd probably still categorise this as "lovely" rather than "fascinating," but the songs have more depth, nuance and ambition than on his simpler earlier albums. Best Song: Bless The Weather. Folk. 4/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Blue (1971). I only realised this week that Joni's saddest lyrics have the happiest tunes and her happiest lyrics have the saddest tunes. This one's pretty sad all the way through, to be honest, it's her confessional breakup album about James Taylor, and is one of her two great masterpieces. I reckon it's the second-best of the two, even if it does have the best songs. (I'll explain when we get to the second). Best Song: Blue. Folk. 5/5

  • KING CRIMSON - Islands (1971). The final album of King Crimson's first "phase" (even though they hadn't had a stable lineup since they formed - this is their third vocalist in four albums) is maybe their weirdest yet. Long, wall-of-sound guitar shredding, a couple of seedy little rock-songs, a classical quartet, then the blissed-out title track, which is the most beautiful song they ever released. An odd little curio. Best Song: Islands. Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • LED ZEPPELIN - Led Zeppelin IV (1971). Never been a big fan of Zeppelin. There's a bit too much bland, hollow "Let's rawk!" machismo going on and not enough interesting ideas for my liking (though I confess I like plenty of other shallow stadium-rock bands that fit the same description, so there must just be something about Zeppelin that doesn't excite me). But all their albums have a couple of good songs, and on this one the good outweighs the bad. Some of it is actually brilliant. Best Song: When The Levee Breaks. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • LEON RUSSELL - Leon Russell And The Shelter People (1971). There's a more raucous, bluesy, gospel-y energy to this than Russell's debut, and it's a more consistent album, though it hits fewer absolute highs on the level of "A Song For You" or "Roll Away The Stone." That said, "The Ballad Of Mad Dogs And Englishmen" is an astonishingly beautiful song. Best Song: The Ballad Of Mad Dogs And Englishmen. Roots Rock. 3.5/5

  • LEONARD COHEN - Songs Of Love And Hate (1971). There's a bit more grit and depth and sadness to the songs here than on Songs Of Leonard Cohen, but I dunno, it all still sounds a bit flat and lifeless to me. I can definitely tell it's a good album, they're nice songs, and maybe one day something will happen that helps me to understand what ranks Leonard Cohen among the genius-level singer-songwriters, but today is not that day. Until that day I'll label this as "decent." Best Song: Famous Blue Raincoat. Folk. 3.5/5

  • MARVIN GAYE - What's Going On (1971). Even at its most musically ambitious, 60s soul music had pretty much exclusively been about love and heartbreak. Then, as the optimism of the 60s gave way to the cynicism and paranoia of the 70s, Marvin Gaye recorded the first soul album with a social conscience, looking at the society around him with sadness, anger, doubt and weariness. Really good. Best Song: What's Going On? Soul. 4/5

  • PINK FLOYD - Meddle (1971). That metronomic bassline that kicks in at minute seven of "Echoes" is one of the coolest moments in music, and "Echoes" as a whole is Floyd's crowning achievement. Meddle also has the adrenaline-rush instrumental "One Of These Days." I don't love the other songs here, but "Echoes" is too good for me to not give this a 5. Best Song: Echoes. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Indelibly Stamped (1971). Supertramp aren't at the top of their game here, but there's a nice blend of Roger Hodgson's prog-tinged folk songs and Rick Davies' bluesier pop-rock songs. This album did so badly it lost all the band's investor's money and Davies and Hodgson had to take a few years out to rebuild a new band from scratch. Best Song: Travelled. Rock. 3.5/5

  • T. REX - Electric Warrior (1971). In 1971, as Bowie still languished on the sidelines, Marc Bolan briefly won the battle of the glam rock icons. Hunky Dory is a vastly superior album, but Electric Warrior was much more successful at the time because it has better party tunes. Bolan would be left behind the following year, but this is still a fun album and understandably popular. Best Song: Get It On. Glam Rock. 3/5

  • THE WHO - Who's Next (1971). Who's Next vastly benefits from being both less ambitious and more adventurous than Tommy. The whole thing is more focused and coherent, less indulgent, the songs are vastly superior, but the band actually really push themselves within those constraints - Pete Townshend is having a great time experimenting with synths and Roger Daltrey gives his best-ever vocal performance. It's easily their best album and one of the greatest classic rock albums of all time. Best Song: Baba O'Riley. Hard Rock. 5/5

  • WISHBONE ASH - Pilgrimage (1971). After "Handy" was one of the big highlights of their debut album, Wishbone Ash doubled down on the idea of lengthy instrumental guitar jams, with only a couple of vocal-led tracks here, including the brilliant "Jail Bait." Pilgrimage is a dip in quality between their excellent debut and their career peak Argus, but it's still good fun. Best Song: Jail Bait. Blues Rock. 3/5

  • YES - The Yes Album (1971). Yes's classic lineup crystallises with the addition of new guitarist and Gollum lookalike Steve Howe in 1971. This is their best album, and features my two favourite moments in Yes's entire discography - the gorgeous first half of "I've Seen All Good People" and the mighty second half of "Starship Trooper." Best Song: Starship Trooper. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • YES - Fragile (1971). Yes have this funny habit of following up some of their best ideas with other ideas that are just slightly too silly for their own good. Fragile is propped up by three brilliant, epic tentpole songs but the shorter solo pieces in-between feel a bit like underdeveloped, perfunctory interludes. Still, Rick Wakeman's keyboard solo on "Roundabout" is insanely brilliant. Best Song: Roundabout. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • AL GREEN - Let's Stay Together (1972). The title track is one of those songs that would play in the background of a scene that was aiming to take the piss out of the concepts of romance and seduction. A shame, really, as it feels a bit like the soul's been ripped out of the song by parody, and it's actually a really great love song. Green's achingly desperate cover of the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?" is wonderful too. Soul. 3.5/5

  • BILL WITHERS - Still Bill (1972). This has "Use Me" and "Lean On Me" on it. I always think, imagine being Bill Withers at this stage of your career and having written this many iconic songs already, and still having "Just The Two Of Us" and "Lovely Day" yet to come. Such a talented man. Best Song: Lean On Me. Soul. 4/5

  • CAT STEVENS - Catch Bull At Four (1972). Maybe it's because I know what he did on his next album, but I always feel with Catch Bull At Four that Cat Stevens was beginning to get tired of his folk-pop formula. This is still really good, but it's starting to feel like a case of diminishing returns. He would shake things up majorly on the next one to compensate. Best Song: Ruins. Folk. 4/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1972). David Bowie v.5.0 - a kabuki alien messiah figure singing glam rocks songs about being a kabuki alien messiah figure as the world ends. He becomes a legitimate pop icon for the first time in the process. Best Song: Five Years. Glam Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • DAVID BOWIE - Live Santa Monica '72 (1972). This live recording was a notorious bootleg for decades before Bowie's publicists finally gave it an official release. Odd that they waited so long as it's very obviously much better than pretty much all the official live albums Bowie has put out over the years. The best album to listen to if you want to hear the Spiders From Mars at the peak of their powers. Best Song: I'm Waiting For The Man. Glam Rock. 4/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Honky Chateau (1972). The last of Elton's "singer-songwriter"-esque albums, and already leaning heavily into the more pop/glam-rock vibe he would go for over the next few years. No longer as startlingly brilliant as the last few records, but still a lot of fun. Elton's producer also produced Bowie's Space Oddity, and this album also features a sci-fi ballad about a lonely astronaut. There's nothing new under the sun. Best Song: Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) Rock. 4/5

  • FOCUS - Focus 3 (1972). There's nothing quite as brilliant as "Hocus Pocus" here (though "Sylvia" comes close), but it's probably even more consistent and exciting and vibrant than Moving Waves overall, and slightly edges it as the better album, I think. Also "Anonymus Two" is just one of the most incredible extended prog/fusion jams ever. All twenty-six minutes of it. Best Song: Sylvia. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • FRANK ZAPPA - The Grand Wazoo (1972). More sprawling, instrumental fusion craziness from Zappa & Co. I guess it's similar to Hot Rats, but it feels much more unfocused to me and less exciting. The instrumental fusion thing might have been wearing thin for Zappa anyway as he was soon to shift gear into a more song-oriented way of working. It's still good though. Best Song: The Grand Wazoo. Jazz Fusion. 3.5/5

  • GENESIS - Foxtrot (1972). One of Genesis's best. Bookended by two of their greatest moments, the dramatic Mellotron intro to "Watcher Of The Skies" and the utter epic ridiculousness of "Supper's Ready" ("Mum-tiddly-washing, Mum-tiddly-washing.") Some of the stuff in between isn't as good, but its overall impression is a very good one. Best Song: Supper's Ready. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Living In The Past (1972). A collection of all the Tull oddities and curios up to 1972 - singles, B-sides, alternative versions, live recordings and so on. Focuses more on Tull's whimsical folk side, so a real treasure trove for anyone who wants to hear more of what they were up to before they went full prog. Best Song: Life Is A Long Song. Folk Rock. 4.5/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Thick As A Brick (1972). Aqualung had got Tull labelled as a "prog band," even though Ian Anderson still felt they were more a folk-blues-rock band. So, just to troll prog fans, they recorded this, a grand tongue-in-cheek piss-take of all the greatest excesses of the genre - it consists of just one 45-minute song, supposedly adapted from a poem written by a fictional schoolboy called Gerald Bostock. The world took it at face value and it's now considered one of the greatest prog albums of all time. Superb. Best Song: Thick As A Brick (Part I). Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • LOU REED - Transformer (1972). Lou Reed recruited Bowie and Mick Ronson to produce Transformer and help launch him as a solo star in his own right separate from the Velvet Underground. Under their direction, the album manages to even have chart-friendly hits like "Perfect Day" and "Walk On The Wild Side," but there are also plenty of uncompromising oddities showing Reed's art rock background. It remains interesting even as it tries to sculpt Reed into a popstar mould. Best Song: Perfect Day. Art Rock. 4/5

  • MOTT THE HOOPLE - All The Young Dudes (1972). Another instance of Bowie turning his hand to producing other people's records. Mott The Hoople have generally struck me as a bit of a generic, uninspiring glam rock band, except on this album, which is excellent. In '72, pretty much everything Bowie touched turn to gold. Best Song: All The Young Dudes. Glam Rock. 4.5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Harvest (1972). Neil teams up with a new mostly acoustic band, the Stray Gators, and tries to make an album focusing more on a relaxed country-folk vibe to exorcise his feelings about his band's slow succumbing to drug addiction. He doesn't quite make it all the way through the record without giving in to anger, and finishes it on an angry, searing rock epic about his feelings of isolation from the world around him. "Heart Of Gold," meanwhile, was such a big hit he spent the rest of his career trying to atone for it. A fascinating album. Best Song: Heart Of Gold. Folk. 5/5

  • NICK DRAKE - Pink Moon (1972). Drake's music is finally presented exactly as it always should have been, just his songs and his ideas sung by his voice and on his guitar (with one piano overdub on the title track). It's achingly simple and utterly beautiful, and made desperately tragic and haunting by his slide into isolation and depression over the following two years leading to his eventual suicide in 1974. Best Song: From The Morning. Folk. 5/5

  • PAUL SIMON - Paul Simon (1972). You know, it's funny. I spent all that time making fun of Art Garfunkel for being a bit of a useless spare part in Simon & Garfunkel, but now he's gone, I kind of miss him. I mean, Paul Simon always wrote everything and played all the instruments, so the musical quality hasn't really dipped without him, but those harmonies were kind of nice, on reflection. Best Song: Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard. Folk. 3.5/5

  • PINK FLOYD - Obscured By Clouds (1972). People seem to forget about this one a lot, I guess because it was the soundtrack to a French film and not a "proper" studio album, but it's up there with their best. Keyboardist Richard Wright really makes his presence felt here even more than usual, and owns the record. Also the double whammy of the two opening songs are among the coolest soundscapes Floyd ever assembled. Best Song: Obscured By Clouds/When You're In. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • RANDY NEWMAN - Sail Away (1972). Long before he wrote show-tunes for Pixar, Randy Newman was an exemplary writer of tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, bitter little Tin Pan Alley-esque songs. This album features a jaunty song about the slave trade, a sexy striptease number sung from the point of view of a pathetic, seedy pervert, and a menacing, biting song about how much God hates humans. Best Song: It's Lonely At The Top. Jazz Rock. 4/5

  • ROXY MUSIC - Roxy Music (1972). Such a good band, particularly here in their early 70s prime. This is their best album and has the best interplay between bandleader Bryan Ferry and synth wizard Brian Eno, like a collaboration between Noel Coward and Professor Farnsworth. Best Song: If There Is Something. Art Rock. 5/5

  • STEELY DAN - Can't Buy A Thrill (1972). Steely Dan were never really a band per se - they very rarely performed live and were largely the product of central duo Walter Becker and Donald Fagen precision-engineering their songs in the studio, sometimes recruiting literally dozens of session musicians to get every note exactly right. The result is this scientifically perfect slice of laid-back West Coast jazz-rock. Best Song: Do It Again. Jazz Rock. 5/5

  • VAN MORRISON - Saint Dominic's Preview (1972). After a couple of middling releases since Moondance, Van Morrison struck gold again with this brilliant album. There's some great R&B tracks on here, but the standout by a mile is "Listen To The Lion," an astonishingly beautiful epic piece which I always feel contains, somewhere in its majesty and mystery, the key to understanding how Morrison's mind works. Best Song: Listen To The Lion. Folk Rock. 4.5/5

  • WAR - The World Is A Ghetto (1972). love the sound War create with their horn section - I think it's a trumpet, saxophone, harmonica and steel drum playing in perfect unison, and it creates a lovely sound I've never heard in anybody else's music. Also, the title track is the only song I've ever heard playing in a bar and had to stop what I was doing and immediately ask the DJ what it was because I loved it so much. Best Song: The World Is A Ghetto. Funk. 4/5

  • WISHBONE ASH - Argus (1972). Wishbone Ash go full prog for this one - the obligatory riffs and solos are still all present and correct (and the obligatory terrible lyrics are out in force on "Blowin' Free") but the songs now all have epic run-times and are about kings and warriors and swords. Wishbone Ash are a fairly obscure band, but I genuinely think this is one of the best classic rock albums of all time. Best Song: The King Will Come. Hard Rock. 5/5

  • YES - Close To The Edge (1972). I've seen this described as "the apotheosis of prog rock," and that sums it up pretty nicely. If ever anybody who knew nothing about prog wanted to get a complete understanding of what the genre was about it one album, this would be the one to play them. It's guilty of all the genre's biggest excesses, and reaches all its most sublime heights too. Best Song: And You & I. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • BILLY JOEL - Piano Man (1973). This always feels to me like a slightly less-good version of Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection - it's another Americana-obsessed album of piano-led country-rock, full of tales of cowboys and nomads. The big difference is that Tumbleweed Connection didn't have a cursed album cover which looked like it had been lifted from a creepy horror film. Best Song: Piano Man. Rock. 4/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973). Springsteen started out trying to be the new Bob Dylan, with lots of convoluted lyrics married to forgettable tunes. Then he must have looked at himself and gone "Screw this, I'm gonna strip things back and keep things simple and have some fun," and released this excellent, straightforward full-band party rock album. Best Song: Rosalita (Come Out Tonight). Rock. 4/5

  • CAT STEVENS - Foreigner (1973). Cat Stevens' folk-pop formula must have been wearing thin for him, because he totally upended everything on Foreigner, an album that mined funk and soul for its influences and included an 18-minute song suite (which Coldplay would one day steal the tune from for "Viva La Vida.") People didn't massively go for it at the time, but it's one of his best albums and certainly his most adventurous. Best Song: Foreigner Suite. Soul. 5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Aladdin Sane (1973). David Bowie v.5.1 - an exhausted, strung-out, paranoid kabuki alien messiah with a coke habit singing glam rock songs about America and dropping the word "wanking" into a mainstream pop song for the first time ever. Weird Scientologist and avant-garde jazz pianist Mike Garson makes his debut here. Best Song: The Jean Genie. Glam Rock. 5/5

  • THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA - ELO 2 (1973). ELO founder Roy Wood has gone, so Jeff Lynne takes over and starts steering the band more towards a radio-friendly pop sound. This album still focuses on the orchestral experimentation of their debut, but is more focused and less cluttered and has better tunes, so you can see where Lynne has set his sights. Their last album that dreams of being more than a pop record. Best Song: Kuiama. Art Rock. 4/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player (1973). Elton's first album to flirt with mediocrity, and it's dwarfed in stature by the mighty albums that came immediately before and after it, but that means people often forget it has some of his best pop-rock songs on it, and it's still a load better than his truly mediocre output in the late 70s. A fun, often overlooked album. Best Song: Crocodile Rock. Glam Rock. 3.5/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973). It's a really close race to figure out which is Elton's best album out of this or Madman Across The Water. The latter has more depth and maturity and is more powerful, but here Elton just launches into his new glam rock pop icon persona with so much gusto. There's so much pomp and grandeur and so many brilliant tunes. It's really, really close, but I always eventually feel that this is his crowning achievement. Best Song: Bennie And The Jets. Glam Rock. 5/5

  • EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER - Brain Salad Surgery (1973). Most of the major prog bands released at least one album that I unreservedly love and give 5/5 to without question, but even ELP's best albums I have reservations about. There's still some self-indulgent noodling here, but "Karn Evil 9" is one of the most brilliant prog epics ever made, so I'll readily give this album its due as ELP's finest moment. Best Song: Karn Evil 9. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • FOCUS - At The Rainbow (1973). Live albums are tricky to get right - often you find yourself listening to slightly less well-recorded versions of songs you already know and thinking "I wish I'd actually been there." So I only allow them onto the list when their brilliant, like this one. The band are incredible, the sound is great and they really have fun and change things up a bit on "Hocus Pocus" and "Sylvia." Best Song: Hocus Pocus. Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • FRANK ZAPPA - Over-Nite Sensation (1973). Zappa ditches the grandly orchestrated instrumentals and focuses more on conventional songs here, albeit noisy, puerile, weirdly-arranged novelty rock songs with the odd insane guitar solo. It's one of those albums you can't find specific fault with, but which doesn't have many moments that really excite you or stick in the mind. It's good, but it's not Zappa at the peak of his powers. Best Song: I'm The Slime. Rock. 3.5/5

  • FREE - Heartbreaker (1973). Free were in their death-throes here. Bassist Andy Fraser had left and guitarist Paul Kossoff was addicted to Mandrax so was increasingly erratic and unreliable. Session musicians were called in and tensions were high in the band, but they managed to pull together one last great album of bluesy, fiery intensity. They called it a day after that and Kossoff died a few years later. Best Song: Wishing Well. Blues Rock. 4/5

  • FRIPP & ENO - (No Pussyfooting) (1973). King Crimson's Robert Fripp and Roxy Music's Brian Eno, realising they both had ambitions to do more with music than they could in the contexts of their bands, so teamed up for this experiment using tape-loop techniques to multi-track Fripp's guitar solos to create an endlessly shifting, layering soundscape. It's not as pleasant or well-constructed as Eno's later ambient work, but it's a fascinating first step in the genre. Best Song: The Heavenly Music Corporation. Ambient. 3/5

  • FUNKADELIC - Cosmic Slop (1973). Funkadelic's follow-up to the brilliant Maggot Brain was the over-long and slightly muddled America Eats It Young. Cosmic Slop doesn't have much that really holds up to Maggot Brain, but they're wisely focusing on simpler ideas again and it's a decent album of interesting, uneasy funk songs. Best Song: This Broken Heart. Funk. 3/5

  • GENESIS - Selling England By The Pound (1973). Definitely Genesis's best album. Its most well-known song, "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" is, I think, a bit overrated, but the classical piano intro to "Firth Of Fifth" before the bombastic organ kicks in the proper start of the song is my favourite moment in their whole discography. Best Song: Firth Of Fifth. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • HALL & OATES - Abandoned Luncheonette (1973). love Hall & Oates. As this list indicates, I generally have trouble with fairly standard pop music and usually prefer artists who experiment a bit more with what music can do, but I also just like music that sounds great, and if you can make brilliant pop music, then fair play to you. Daryl Hall's voice is wonderful, the production is always slick and great, and their songs are insanely catchy and brilliant. Still one of the best artists I've seen live. Best Song: She's Gone. Pop Rock. 4/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - Solid Air (1973). This is the album where John Martyn's voice starts to change and he starts on the road that ended up with him sounding like a sad, drunk bear. The music is also more mysterious and jazzy and interesting, and Martyn's transformation into a songwriter of real profound insight and depth is complete. The title track was his lament for Nick Drake's slide into depression and isolation, and it's heartbreaking. Best Song: Don't Want To Know. Folk. 5/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - Inside Out (1973). Probably Martyn's most overtly experimental album. It has a similar mysterious, smoky mood to Solid Air, but fewer startlingly beautiful tunes and more experiments with strange guitar sounds and so on. It means it's harder to fall in love with, but its handful of truly gorgeous songs really leap out and grab you by the throat. Best Song: Ain't No Saint. Folk. 3.5/5

  • KING CRIMSON - Larks' Tongues In Aspic (1973). After a short hiatus, Crimson returned with a new lineup, with guitarist Robert Fripp the only remaining link to the original band. Their new sound is harsher, more unsettling, more alien and tribal and frightening. It's a genuinely insidious, scary album, full of squealing and rattling and wailing and crunching. Also, a quirk of history, their new lyricist was the original guitarist in Supertramp. Best Song: Easy Money. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • LED ZEPPELIN - Houses Of The Holy (1973). As before, I'm not a big fan of the more brainless, macho swagger of most of Led Zeppelin's rockier songs, but Houses Of The Holy makes the cut by having two songs of incredible depth and sensitivity - "The Rain Song" is a gorgeous, swooning epic and "The Ocean" is a moody, atmospheric piece that drips with atmosphere. Some of the rest is business-as-usual though. Best Song: The Rain Song. Hard Rock. 3/5

  • LOU REED - Berlin (1973). Lou Reed must have not enjoyed the flirtations with mainstream success he had as a result of Transformer, because his follow-up album is brutally uncompromising. It's a stripped-back, fairly tuneless concept album about a dysfunctional relationship, complete with songs about suicide and domestic abuse. Producer Bob Ezrin locked his own kids in a cupboard and told them their mum had died and recorded their screams to add atmosphere to one song. A horrible album. Best Song: Sad Song. Art Rock. 4/5

  • MARVIN GAYE - Let's Get It On (1973). The title track is another one of those songs ruined by parody, most familiar as a punchline. In real life, Gaye was enormously spiritually tormented, paranoid and conflicted regarding sex and regularly suffered from impotence. It was only by writing an album that was a sincere celebration of sex as a natural and loving act between two people that he overcame his fear of it. There's a lot more going on with this album than lazy joke-writers would have you believe. Best Song: Let's Get It On. Soul. 4.5/5. ALBUM 200 OF 1001!

  • MIKE OLDFIELD - Tubular Bells (1973). Everybody knows the opening section of "Tubular Bells," but it's only when you listen to the entire thing that its real majesty unfolds. A 45-minute epic featuring virtuoso contributions on guitar, organ, pipes, etc, all played by one person. Oldfield is one of music's great prodigies, and achieved all this despite being an intensely shy and private person - the overwhelming success of Tubular Bells made him fiercely self-conscious and his response to all the acclaim it got was that he just wanted everybody to go away. Best Song: Tubular Bells (Part I). Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Time Fades Away (1973). This live recording is the first of Young's "Ditch Trilogy," a run of albums of bleak, raw, lo-fi, uncompromising rock music that saw him reeling from the deaths of his bandmates and trying to escape the commercial success he had achieved with "Heart Of Gold." Time Fades Away is the worst of the three, but it's still an exciting, raw, fascinating album. Best Song: Last Dance. Rock. 3.5/5

  • PAUL GIOVANNI - The Wicker Man (1973). As I think I've mentioned elsewhere, soundtracks are hard to get right. Giovanni's soundtrack to The Wicker Man is a masterpiece in that it involves nothing that resembles a real score, it's made up of traditional folk songs in accordance with the sort of music that would be played and listened to by the film's pagan island community. It's raucous and ancient-sounding and strange and frightening and occasionally hauntingly beautiful. Best Song: Gently Johnny. Folk. 3.5/5

  • PINK FLOYD - The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973). I mean, there's just nothing remotely interesting I can say about this album that hasn't already been said. It's just very clearly a work of utter genius. Probably the only really unusual thing I can say about it is that it's actually my second favourite Floyd album. As far as I'm concerned, their best is yet to come. Best Song: Money. Progressive Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • ROXY MUSIC - For Your Pleasure (1973). Eno gets less to do here, so that exciting, unusual tension between his synth experiments and Ferry's more conventional songwriting isn't as foregrounded. It's therefore not as good as their debut, but it does have their best-ever song in "Ever Dream Home A Heartache." That "But you blew my mind" moment is one of my favourite musical moments ever. Best Song: In Every Dream Home A Heartache. Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • STEELY DAN - Countdown To Ecstasy (1973). Steely Dan's transition from being sort-of-almost-an-actual-band into being a studio-based double act began in earnest here when co-lead-vocalist David Palmer was quietly ushered out and Donald Fagen took over permanent vocal duties. The songs aren't quite as memorable as on Can't Buy A Thrill, but hey, there's a wicked-cool guitar solo on "The Boston Rag." Best Song: My Old School. Jazz Rock. 3.5/5

  • STEVE REICH - Six Pianos; Music For Mallet Instruments, Voices & Organ (1973). Reich is just one of the best avant-garde minimalist composers of all time and his music is utterly beautiful and compelling, but he is beyond awful at coming up with names for things. Best Song: Music For Mallet Instruments, Voices & Organ. Avant-Garde. 4/5

  • THE STOOGES - Raw Power (1973). As a rule, I'm not mad keen on music that puts noise and aggression first and intelligence, craft and mood second, hence my hatred of punk music. But I do admire Iggy Pop's give-no-shits attitude and swagger, and there are enough cool hard-rocking guitar riffs on Raw Power to make it enjoyable. Best Song: I Need Somebody. Hard Rock. 3/5

  • TOM WAITS - Closing Time (1973). Ok, here we bloody go. Things are gonna go off the bloody chain now, because here comes the greatest, most toweringly brilliant figure in the history of music. Weirdly, Tom Waits kicks off his career by sounding as little like Tom Waits as possible, though I guess he didn't know that at the time. Here he's a shaggy-haired West Coast beatnik crooning through jazz lullabies and country-folk songs. It's beautiful music but a long way from the Beefheart/Weill/mad circus barker shtick he would become famous for in the 80s. Best Song: Ol' '55. Vocal Jazz. 5/5

  • THE WHO - Quadrophenia (1973). Quadrophenia is a weird backwards step. It maintains the harder-edged songwriting and adventurous spirit of Who's Next, but sees the return of the cluttered, over-long, overly-ambitious conceptual approach of Tommy, so it feels like a dip in quality. It's their last great album. Best Song: Love, Reign O'er Me. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • ZZ TOP - Tres Hombres (1973). I saw ZZ Top live in 2010 and Billy Gibbons opened the show by saying "Yep, it's the same 3 guys right here," then holding up his guitar and saying "And the same 3 chords right here" to a huge cheer. I find ZZ Top's obvious self-awareness about how generic their music is very endearing. They're not very original, but they're a lot of fun. Best Song: La Grange. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • BAD COMPANY - Bad Company (1974). Former members of Free, Mott The Hoople and King Crimson team up to form one of the best supergroups ever. I know I've been slagging off Led Zeppelin for their superficial machismo, so it's tricky for me to justify my love of Bad Company. I think it's to do with the fact that Bad Company obviously aren't taking themselves too seriously, so the shallow bravado feels like part of the fun. Best Song: Bad Company. Rock. 5/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Here Come The Warm Jets (1974). Well this is just a deliriously weird-sounding album. It makes Roxy Music look pretty tame and conservative in comparison, and makes it clear who was the driving force behind the band's avant-garde streak. Eno invented new instruments to get the weird sounds he wanted on this record, and even wrangled Robert Fripp's best-ever guitar solo out of him. Best Song: Baby's On Fire. Art Rock. 5/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974). This one's even more weird if anything, and occasionally crosses over that fine line into being a bit too weird for its own good. But the brilliance of "Third Uncle," "The True Wheel" and the glorious cameo from the Portsmouth Sinfonia on "Put A Straw Under Baby" pulls it back from the brink. Best Song: The True Wheel. Art Rock. 3/5

  • CAT STEVENS - Buddha And The Chocolate Box (1974). After his dalliances with funk and soul on Foreigner didn't sell very well, Cat Stevens retreated to his tried-and-tested folk-pop formula. It's probably the least consistent of his folk-pop albums but does boast one of his most beautiful songs. This was his last good album. Best Song: Sun/C79. Folk Rock. 3.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Diamond Dogs (1974). David Bowie v.5.2 - a dazed and confused post-apocalyptic Mad Max guy with an eyepatch suffering shellshock from not being Ziggy Stardust any more, singing glam rock songs about George Orwell with a tinge of funk to hint at what was to come. Best Song: Rebel Rebel. Glam Rock. 4.5/5

  • THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Eldorado (1974). The final ELO album that remains partially committed to the orchestral concept of the band. This one's a sort of conceptual song-suite that still pushes the strings and orchestral elements, but after this they pretty much became a disco-pop band with the odd violin bit. Still very good, mind, but this is their last album that dreams of being more than a pop record. Best Song: Eldorado. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Caribou (1974). Elton's career basically breaks down to a run of superlative albums in the early 70s, then a series of albums that aren't very exciting but are impossible to dislike, then ten years of rubbish, then a sort of career resurgence in the 90s and 00s that nobody really paid much attention to. Caribou falls into the second camp - a lot of it is fairly forgettable, but it also includes a handful of some of his very best pop songs. Best Song: Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me. Glam Rock. 3.5/5

  • FLEETWOOD MAC - Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974). This came as a surprise, as I'd alwasy understood that between Peter Green's departure and the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac were totally lost creatively, but that's clearly not quite true as this is a good album. Buckingham and Nicks definitely brought a lot to the table, but they weren't quite as lost as the band's myth would have you believe. Best Song: Angel. Rock. 3.5/5

  • FOCUS - Hamburger Concerto (1974). I feel like Hamburger Concerto gets short shrift and is often forgotten even by people who quite like Focus, probably because it doesn't have a big hit like "Hocus Pocus" or "Sylvia," and because "Harem Scarem" is such an obvious attempt to recreate the format of "Hocus Pocus." Despite that, this album is brilliant and boasts some of their most bombastic, imaginative, exciting music. Best Song: Birth. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • FRANK ZAPPA - Apostrophe (') (1974). I really enjoy this album, despite it following pretty much the same format as Over-Nite Sensation, which I find more muddy and confused. The songwriting here is more focused and imaginative, and the sense of humour is more zanily whimsical and less puerile and dumb. Best Song: Uncle Remus. Art Rock. 4/5

  • FUNKADELIC - Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On (1974). This album's best song is a sort of semi-sequel to "Maggot Brain." It's another 10-minute guitar meditation by Eddie Hazell, but this time it channels hope instead of despair. It's absolutely beautiful, and easily the second-best thing they ever did after "Maggot Brain" itself. The rest of the album is fun too. Best Song: Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts. Funk. 4.5/5

  • GENESIS - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974). Genesis's last album with Peter Gabriel is a difficult thing to love - it's much too long, and preposterously inscrutable, even for a conceptual prog album. But there are moments of greatness peppered throughout, particularly the silly delight of "Counting Out Time." Best Song: Counting Out Time. Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • HALL & OATES - War Babies (1974). An odd one, this. Oates is mostly sidelined for the whole album, and Todd Rundrgren of all people is brought in as producer, so the whole album has a harder-edged, space-rock vibe to it instead of the pop/blue-eyed soul aesthetic generally associated with the duo. It's a very good album, even if it does see them playing outside their comfort zone. Best Song: 70s Scenario. Rock. 3.5/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - Sunday's Child (1974). The smoky, jazzy, mysterious vibes of Solid Air are less prevalent here, mostly replaced by a more purist acoustic folk approach. Though Martyn also starts experimenting here and there with the fuzz guitar techniques he would explore further on One World. A mixed bag. Best Song: Spencer The Rover. Folk. 3.5/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Court And Spark (1974). After treading water a bit on For The Roses, Joni teams up with a bunch of slick West Coast session musicians (including some Steely Dan regulars) to record a bona fide pop album. It's nowhere near as good as her more stripped-back folk music, but it's still good fun and she acquits herself well in unfamiliar territory. Best Song: Help Me. Pop. 3.5/5

  • KING CRIMSON - Red (1974). 1974 was the year prog withered and died, and as part and parcel of that, King Crimson decide to call it a day for a second time (only to reanimate again in the 80s). Their final album of the decade is an even darker, fiercer beast than Larks' Tongues In Aspic, albeit less alien-sounding. It also boasts an incredible, maddening one-note guitar solo. Best Song: Starless. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • MIKE OLDFIELD - Hergest Ridge (1974). In response to the huge success of Tubular Bells, Oldfield went into exile and recorded a follow-up exploring isolation and solitude. It's the same format - a 45-minute instrumental with most of the instruments played by one guy - but challenges a more pastoral, idyllic vibe. Best Song: Hergest Ridge (Part I). Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - On The Beach (1974). The second of Young's "Ditch Trilogy" to be released, but the third to be recorded, it's also the best. By and large, it's another fairly bleak, soul-searching album, but upbeat songs like "Walk On" show Young rediscovering the beginnings of hope and optimism. Best Song: On The Beach. Folk Rock. 4.5/5

  • RANDY NEWMAN - Good Old Boys (1974). Good Old Boys is supposedly a concept album telling the story of a day in the life of a guy in the Dee South, attacking hypocrisy and prejudice. For me, the concept never really stands out as something to grab onto, so I don't know if it's a wholly successful record, but it does have some of Newman's best tunes. Best Song: Louisiana 1927. Jazz Rock. 3.5/5

  • ROBERT WYATT - Rock Bottom (1974). Wyatt recorded this shortly after falling from a window and paralysing himself for life, and after meeting his future wife Alfreda Benge. It's a deeply weird oddity of an album that sees him wrestling with despair and anguish while also celebrating new love, and is mostly too weird to be that listenable, but the story behind it makes it all weirdly beautiful. Best Song: Sea Song. Avant-Garde. 3.5/5

  • ROXY MUSIC - Country Life (1974). I think it would be unfair to say Roxy Music were a worse band without Brian Eno (I actually really like their 80s sophisti-pop stuff), but they were definitely a less interesting band after he left, with the exception of this album. Country Life is the only post-Eno Roxy Music album that still sounds exotic and strange and unpredictable. Best Song: The Thrill Of It All. Art Rock. 4/5

  • SPARKS - Kimono My House (1974). This is good fun, but I'm not into Sparks enough to offer more insightful commentary than that. It's glitzy, campy, theatrical glam rock done very well, and it's very enjoyable. Best Song: Thank God It's Not Christmas. Glam Rock. 3.5/5

  • STEELY DAN - Pretzel Logic (1974). Some of the songs here are a bit slight and inconsequential, but it does see Becker and Fagen lean more into their jazz influences (with a sincere cover of Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo") and also includes some of their best and catchiest pop-rock hits. Best Song: Pretzel Logic. Jazz Rock. 4/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Crime Of The Century (1974). THIS IS THE GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME. I've thought that for 12 years, and never once been tempted to change my opinion. It's unsurpassable. So many incredible moments - the piano solo on "School," the brilliant pop clarity of "Dreamer," the swaggering guitar of "Bloody Well Right," the water gong on the title track which is my favourite sound ever captured on record. Absolutely phenomenal. Best Song: Crime Of The Century. Progressive Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • TOM WAITS - The Heart Of Saturday Night (1974). For me, I feel like there are slightly fewer absolutely killer tunes on this than on Closing Time, but Waits seems to have thought more about his own persona and what he wants to say - the whole hopeless barfly, beatnik Kerouac vibe starts to rear its head strongly here. It feels more distinctly Waitsian, but the songs are slightly less good than on his debut. Best Song: (Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night. Vocal Jazz. 4/5

  • VAN MORRISON - It's Too Late To Stop Now (1974). A lot of Van Morrison's early solo stuff consists of gentle folk stuff, so it's easy to forget the passion and ferocity he displayed with Them. That's given another workout here, with an incredibly impassioned live performance including covers of a load of soul classics. Even Morrison's more gentle songs feel ferocious here. Best Song: Listen To The Lion. Soul. 4.5/5

  • VAN MORRISON - Veedon Fleece (1974). A return to the pastoral, folk sounds and the mystic, spiritual themes of Astral Weeks. Morrison released this perfect album then disappeared into a 3-year hiatus. He would return in '77 with one of his worst-ever albums. This is the perfect ending to the first phase of his solo career. Best Song: Bulbs. Folk Rock. 5/5

  • WISHBONE ASH - There's The Rub (1974). Wishbone Ash's first album since founding guitarist Ted Turner was replaced by Laurie Wisefield is a fairly unremarkable "business as usual" type album, but Wishbone Ash doing business as usual is still pretty good, and the ferocious dynamics of closing instrumental "F.U.B.B." really kick things up a gear right at the end. The last album of theirs that ever really captured my attention. Best Song: F.U.B.B. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • YES - Relayer (1974). After the catastrophically tedious Tales From Topographic Oceans (which prompted Rick Wakeman's departure), Yes found their feet again by replicating the format of Close To The Edge, but with some more jazz fusion elements thrown in. What with the general decline in popularity of prog rock in '74, this was their last album for 3 years, and the final record of their "classic" years. Best Song: The Gates Of Delirium. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • BAD COMPANY - Straight Shooter (1975). I mean, these guys are so generic and unadventurous. I really ought to hate this, by rights. But there's just so much sing-along brilliance and mindless air-punching fun here. Look, sometimes there's a time and a place for nonsense macho stadium rock, and all it really requires to forgive itself is an innat sense of its own ridiculousness. Bad Company excel at that. Best Song: Deal With The Preacher. Hard Rock. 5/5

  • BOB DYLAN - Blood On The Tracks (1975). Absolutely no idea what Dylan had been up to between the mid-60s and this. The received wisdom seems to be that he was just off being a bit rubbish for a decade before making a comeback with this album, so I haven't bothered to listen to much of what came between. Regardless, this is certainly the best Dylan album I've listened to. Best Song: Idiot Wind. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Another Green World (1975). This is the first Eno album where you can tell he's actually more interested in the textures and qualities of sound itself rather than in applying his ideas to conventional song structures. There are couple of almost-songs here, but mostly it's a collection of odd-sounding fragments and instrumentals. Not all of them are masterpieces, but it's a really interesting listen. Best Song: The Big Ship. Art Rock. 4/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Discreet Music (1975). The first of Eno's Obscure Records, a label he used to champion the works of his avant-garde minimalist composer mates as well as trying to launch himself as an avant-garde minimalist composer. The title track, a 30-minute proto-ambient experiment in looping and phasing, is one of Eno's great masterpieces. The experimental rearrangements of Pachelbel's Canon are interesting, but less essential. Best Song: Discreet Music. Avant-Garde. 4/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Born To Run (1975). Springsteen ditches the faux-Dylanisms of his early work entirely in favour of a simple, muscular rock band sound and a bunch of simple tales of ordinary people looking for meaning in everyday things. Its unaffected simplicity is far more profound than the affected righteousness of his early stuff hoped to be. Best Song: Born To Run. Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • DAVID BOWIE - Young Americans (1975). David Bowie v.6.0 - a blonde, shiny, finger-clicking, denim-clad jive-cat singing funk songs about how cool it is being American, to try and impress America. Probably the first major about-turn in Bowie's career that really made his fans think "Oh, this guy's just gonna do whatever he wants and he's not necessarily going to take us with him." Best Song: Fame. Funk. 4.5/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975). Another one of those middling mid-70s Elton albums which are a tad too generic to adore, but have too many great songs to dislike. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" is one of the most searingly beautiful songs of his career, so extra points for that one. Best Song: Someone Saved My Life Tonight. Glam Rock. 3.5/5

  • FLEETWOOD MAC - Fleetwood Mac (1975). Fleetwood Mac had been languishing in the doldrums since the departure of Peter Green but were rescued by the recruitment of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who relaunched the band as a slick, radio-friendly pop-rock outfit. Not everything on this "reboot" album works, but it's already obvious they were onto a very good thing with this new direction. Best Song: Rhiannon. Rock. 3.5/5

  • FRANK ZAPPA & CAPTAIN BEEFHEART - Bongo Fury (1975). Zappa's other '75 release, One Size Fits All, saw his affected zaniness starting to wear thin, but the fearsome guest presence of Beefheart on Bongo Fury helps him regain his mojo and start making interesting music again. He also unleashes his best-ever guitar solo on the brilliant "Muffin Man." Best Song: Muffin Man. Art Rock. 4/5

  • FRIPP & ENO - Evening Star (1975). Having established the perameters for their guitar-and-tape-loop experiments on (No Pussyfooting), Fripp and Eno push the boat out a bit further here, incorporating a wider range of moods, from intense industrial noise to peaceful ambient quietness. Best Song: Wind On Wind. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • GAVIN BRYARS - The Sinking Of The Titanic (1975). Gavin Bryars is one of the towering icons of the avant-garde modern classical scene. Everybody knows the story of the tramp on "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet," and it's an astonishing piece, but I found once I'd got used to that piece's simple gimmick, it was the haunting, frightening, achingly beautiful strageness of the title track that kep luring me back into this record. Best Song: The Sinking Of The Titanic. Avant-Garde. 5/5

  • HALL & OATES - Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975). After the relatively unusual (for them) War Babies, Hall & Oates retreated to the comfortable formula of just writing amazing, catchy pop/blue-eyed soul for this album, and God they're good at it. There are songs on this album that I was singing along to before I'd even heard them, they're that catchy. Best Song: Camellia. Pop Rock. 4/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Minstrel In The Gallery (1975). Tull's attempts to follow up Thick As A Brick had been disappointing, but they're back on solid ground here, a harder-edged album about Medieval minstrels and Viking mythology with more fearsome guitar solos than anything they'd done yet, but with some really pretty moments too. Best Song: Minstrel In The Gallery. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • JOAN BAEZ - Diamonds & Rust (1975). Ah, what could have been. Even when confined to just interpreting other people's songs, Baez was already a legend, but the self-composed title track, a jaded, wistful tribute to her relationship with Bob Dylan, is quite simply one of the most wonderful songs ever written and there's a sense on this album that Baez could maybe have been one of the truly great singer-songwriters if she had leant on her songwriting skills more often. A beautiful album. Best Song: Diamonds & Rust. Folk. 4.5/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975). Perhaps reacting against the overt commercialism she had indulged in for Court And Spark, Joni made a highly experimental album next, incorporating jazz signatures and instrumentation, full orchestras, stream-of-consciousness lyrics about famous artists, field recordings of African drumming, and so on. It paves the way for the even more experimental albums to come, but it's already a huge step outside of her comfort zone. Best Song: Shades Of Scarlett Conquering. Folk. 4/5

  • KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND - KC And The Sunshine Band (1975). I've already bad-mouthed punk for coming along in the mid-70s and killing off prog, but I don't take the same curmudgeonly attitude to every genre that did that. I don't care what anybody thinks, disco is great fun. I'm not an expert on the genre, but this album is so much fun. If only more people tried to actually make fun-sounding music while trying to kill off prog rock, I'd be less stubborn over it. Best Song: Get Down Tonight. Disco. 4/5

  • KEITH JARRETT - The Koln Concert (1975). This album of avant-garde piano music would be pretty astonishing even if somebody had composed it. That Keith Jarrett just abandoned what he'd planned on doing before going out onstage to improvise in Koln, and this incredible stuff came pouring out of his head in the moment, is nothing short of astounding. Best Song: Part I. Avant-Garde. 4.5/5

  • MIKE OLDFIELD - Ommadawn (1975). For my money, and despite the popularity of Tubular Bells, this is actually his most consistent, compelling, beautiful and just generally his best album. The sort of pastoral country dance section about seven minutes in is high in the rankings of music I'd like to get married to. And there's a fun song about a big brown horse right at the end. Delightful. Best Song: Ommadawn (Part I). Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Tonight's The Night (1975). This was the second of Young's "Ditch Trilogy" to be recorded, but the record company held it back for 2 years for being too bleak and raw. It finds Young utterly burnt-out and shell-shocked by the deaths of Bruce Berry and Danny Whitten. Challenging stuff. Best Song: Albuquerque. Rock. 4/5

  • NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE - Zuma (1975). Crazy Horse had been quietly sidelined since the death of original guitarist Danny Whitten, but Young resurrected the band in '75 with the recruitment of new guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro. They sound better than ever, and Young could indulge in his garage rock side again. This is also the second-best guitar album of his career. Best Song: Danger Bird. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • PARLIAMENT - Mothership Connection (1975). Right, so even I get a bit confused trying to sum this up - Parliament and Funkadelic are basically the same band (Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell were mostly in Parliament, Eddie Hazell was in Funkadelic, George Clinton ran both, there's a lot of crossover in the rest of the lineups) but Funkadelic played weird alien funk-rock and Parliament played weird party dance-funk. That's about it I think. Oh, this is such a good party album. Best Song: P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up). Funk. 4/5

  • PATTI SMITH - Horses (1975). Like Bob Dylan, a poet who turned to music as the right framework to hang her words on in order to express them properly. I feel like Patti Smith is more actively engaged than Dylan, though, in thinking about what interesting things can be done to the music to help it explore the words. She's also supposedly an important progenitor of punk, but there's far more genuinely interesting musical ideas and craft here than the music scene she helped to usher in. Best Song: Gloria. Punk Rock. 4.5/5

  • PAVLOV'S DOG - Pampered Menial (1975). Oh wow, listening to this made me very nostalgic. I was hooked on this band at uni, and this is pretty much a perfect debut. The music has a grand, theatrical, epic sweep to it, the guitar riffs are great, David Surkamp's dramatic, yearning, histrionic vocals are brilliant, "Julia" is just one of the most beautiful songs ever. So good. Criminal that the band behind such an amazing album never really made it big. Best Song: Julia. Rock. 5/5

  • PINK FLOYD - Wish You Were Here (1975). This album is best-known for the story that Floyd had set out to make a record about their ousted former bandleader Syd Barrett, who they hadn't seen in years since he lost his mind to LSD. Barrett then showed up in the recording studio one day, unrecognisable, head shaved, and seemingly unaware he wasn't in the band any more. He eventually wandered off and they never saw him again. I find this story utterly chilling. Best Song: Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Crisis? What Crisis? (1975). Despite the fact that Roger Hodgson wrote mos of Supertramp's best-known hits, I've always felt that Rick Davies' more bluesy, moody numbers are the better, more interesting songs. This is the only album where that's not the case, and where Hodgson's more bright, mystical-sounding pop-folk-rock songs run away with the album. Best Song: A Soapbox Opera. Rock. 4.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Nighthawks At The Diner (1975). An album recorded live to mimic the seedy late-night jazz club of Waits' live shows in the hope of capturing him as a raconteur as well as a singer-songwriter. Probably the first Waits album to really capture the essence of what he was all about at the time, though it's a bit long and the songs themselves aren't quite as good as on his first two albums. Best Song: Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson). Vocal Jazz. 3.5/5

  • WAR - Why Can't We Be Friends? (1975). This is best-known for the feelgood title track and the brilliant Marmite anthem "Low Rider." Those two tracks are miles ahead of the rest of the album, but there's still some fun Latin-infused funk jams to enjoy here. It never tops its big famous singles though. Best Song: Low Rider. Funk. 3/5

  • THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - Tales Of Mystery And Imagination (1976). Alan Parsons, predicting that producers would soon become as important in music as directors were in film, teamed up with songwriter Eric Woolfson and most of the band Pilot to form a new band where the principle focus was given to the producer, not the performers. The result is the most pristine-sounding, slickly arranged progressive pop-rock imaginable, and I love it so much. Best Song: (The System Of) Dr. Tarr & Professor Fether. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • BAD COMPANY - Run With The Pack (1976). It's a bit of a case of diminishing returns for Bad Company's particular brand of stadium rock, sadly. This is still a really enjoyable album, but it's their last genuinely good one, and their last one until the late-80s that can be enjoyed on any level whatsoever, even ironically. But boy, would they get good at making ironically enjoyable rock music in the late-80s. Best Song: Simple Man. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • BILLY JOEL - Turnstiles (1976). I always think of Billy Joel as basically America's answer to Elton John - they have similar voices, and sensibilities and generally make a similar brand of catchy, radio-friendly piano rock. It's strangely apt that just as Elton was running out of steam in the mid-70s, Joel stepped up his songwriting significantly. This has some of his best songs on it, and a couple of his worst, but sees him paving the way for his masterpiece the following year. Best Song: New York State Of Mind. Rock. 3.5/5

  • CHARLIE - Fantasy Girls (1976). This band never made much of an impact on the world at large, sadly. I owe my awareness of them to the fact that their lead guitarist and vocalist, Terry Thomas, is my friend's uncle, who also went on to produce albums by Bad Company and Foreigner. It's not music that's ever going to set the world alight for originality, but for enjoyable mid-70s pop-rock, they're genuinely a lot of fun. Best Song: Prisoners. Soft Rock. 3.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Station To Station (1976). David Bowie v.7.0 - an Aryan, skeletal coke addict obsessed with Nazi occultism singing frighteningly intense art-rock songs about true love and killer TVs. By far and away Bowie's best album. He was in the grips of a coke habit which saw him consuming nothing but peppers and milk for a year and storing his piss in a jar in a fridge for fear that people were going to steal it. He claims he has no memory of writing any of these songs. It's very nice that he got better. Best Song: Station To Station. Art Rock. 5/5

  • THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA - A New World Record (1976). '75's Face The Music showcased an ELO that had pretty much abandoned its original avant-garde orchestral rock remit (albeit still with the ever-present string section) but not yet really having found their feet at making simple pop music. This album puts that to rights as Jeff Lynne's songwriting settles into a hugely catchy pop-rock format, and he prepares to release his masterwork the following year. Best Song: Livin' Thing. Pop Rock. 4/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Blue Moves (1976). This shouldn't really be on the list - it's too long, it has several terrible songs on it, much of the rest is middling, and it's just generally representative of Elton sliding into his first period of decline (he's had about three). But I just really enjoy its good songs so much, especially the goofy disco of "Bite Your Lip (Get Up And Dance)." Best Song: Bite Your Lip (Get Up And Dance). Rock. 3/5

  • FOCUS - Ship Of Memories (1976). Guitarist Jan Akkerman had left Focus by 1976, prompting an identity crisis for the band that meant they wouldn't release another good album until 2002. But his departure did also prompt this archival release of shelved recordings they never got round to releasing while Akkerman was still in the band. It's naturally more disjointed than most of their 70s albums, but is a nice send-off for the band's classic line-up. Best Song: P's March. Jazz Fusion. 3.5/5

  • GENESIS - A Trick Of The Tail (1976). Genesis's first album without Peter Gabriel is a mixed bag - the second side never does much for me, but the first side has a couple of great songs on it, and Phil Collins steps up to be a surprisingly good Gabriel stand-in. Best Song: Entangled. Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • HALL & OATES - Bigger Than Both Of Us (1976). The absolute apotheosis of Hall & Oates' 70s blue-eyed soul/pop-rock phase, with a whole bunch of absolutely incredible tunes. A bunch of fairly duff albums followed before they ever-so-slightly tweaked their sound with loads of synths and drum machines and reinvented themselves as one of the biggest power duos of the 80s. Best Song: Rich Girl. Pop Rock. 4/5

  • JEAN MICHEL JARRE - Oxygene (1976). Electronic music pre-dates Jarre, of course - artists like Kraftwerk were making big strides as early as '74, but I've always found early electronic music pretty tedious, so for me Jarre always feels like the real launching pad of the genre. On Oxygene he's not only able to create exciting, exotic, strange new sounds on synths that really broke new ground, he also employs them on music that's genuinely well composed and arranged and feels like it takes you on an interesting journey. And he wrote that song they play in arcades while he was about it, which is impressive. Best Song: Oxygene (Part IV). Electronic. 4/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Hejira (1976). Joni ditches her piano, picks up her guitar and teams up with Weather Report's bass virtuoso Jaco Pistorius to record a series of strange, restless, jazz-inflected soundscapes to which she sets her yearning tales of travel and wanderlust and incompleteness. Her second truly mind-blowing masterpiece album, and I reckon the best album of her entire career overall. Best Song: A Strange Boy. Jazz Fusion. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • MICHAEL NYMAN - Decay Music (1976). Another giant of the avant-garde modern classical movement afforded greater attention by being released on Eno's Obscure label. The two pieces of Nyman's on this record aren't as captivating or astounding as Gavin Bryars' The Sinking Of The Titanic, but they still showcase a genuinely interesting and innovative composer indulging unusual ideas. Best Song: 1-100. Avant-Garde. 3/5

  • PATTI SMITH - Radio Ethiopia (1976). It feels to me like there's more muscle and aggression in the music itself on Patti Smith's second album, and more primal savagery in her vocal phrasing, even. The songs also feel a bit more direct and slightly less visionary or poetic. None of these are bad things, just academic observations, really. It's still a great album, but it doesn't quite have the strange mythical qualities of Horses. Best Song: Ask The Angels. Punk Rock. 4/5

  • PENGUIN CAFE ORCHESTRA - Music From The Penguin Cafe (1976). Of all the artists that Brian Eno shone a light on via his Obscure Records label, Simon Jeffes' Penguin Cafe Orchestra was probably the one that went on to achieve the greatest degree of mainstream success, with their fusion of avant-garde classical with traditional pop. Which is odd, because there are moments on this album which are infinitely more weird than anything, say, Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman or Harold Budd ever composed. Best Song: The Sound Of Someone You Love Who's Going Away And It Doesn't Matter. Avant-Garde. 4/5

  • STEELY DAN - The Royal Scam (1976). I feel like this album gets forgotten about a lot of the time. It doesn't have any of the classic chart hits of their early albums, and it's not as ambitious or jazzy or inventive as their '77 classic Aja, so it falls into a weird sort of wilderness zone in-between. I think that's unfair as it's easily one of their most consistent albums with some of their very best, catchiest, coolest songs. Best Song: The Royal Scam. Jazz Rock. 4.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Small Change (1976). This is the absolute pinnacle of Waits' tragic-poet-barfly phase, of his playing the role of the gravel-voiced souse hunched over the piano crooning heart-rending ballads about the fragility of life, or drawling out spoken-word pieces over a wandering bassline. Some of its more affected performance-poetry moments feel a bit drawn-out to me, but it does also boast Waits' most immortal, beloved ballad, so it's definitely brilliant even if it's not his best. Best Song: Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen). Vocal Jazz. 4/5

  • THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - I Robot (1977). Having adapted the works of Edgar Allan Poe on their debut, Parsons & co. decided to adapt Isaac Asimov for their followup, but were then denied permission by Asimov's estate, meaning they had to remove a comma from the album's title and make it into a mildly progressive pop-rock album that was just about robots in general, not specifically Asimov's works. This always makes me laugh. Great album, though. Best Song: I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You. Pop Rock. 4.5/5

  • BILLY JOEL - The Stranger (1977). Everything Billy Joel did before The Stranger kind of sounds like he was warming up, and everything after settles into an enjoyable but unremarkable pop-rock formula. But The Stranger isn't just the best album of a decent discography, it's a work of absolute genius and one of the best albums of all time. I guess some people only have one masterpiece in them, but a masterpiece is a masterpiece nonetheless. Best Song: Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. Jazz Rock. 5/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Before And After Science (1977). Eno's last album of conventional songs for over a decade shows strong hints of what was to follow - the eccentric art-rock of "King's Lead Hat" was named in homage to Talking Heads, who Eno would work extensively with over the next few years, while the unusual, haunting atmospherics of the album's second half anticipate the more textural quality of the ambient music he would work on over the next ten years. Best Song: Julie With... Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • CHIC - Chic (1977). Oh here we bloody go. Hands down, the Chic Organisation are the makers of the best party music of all time. You got Nile Edwards' chicken-scratch guitar and Bernard Edwards' nimble bass and the slick Chic strings and all them parping horns. Just such fun. Basically nearly every brilliant disco song of the late 70s had something to do with these guys in some form or another. This isn't their best album, but it announces them on the scene with a lot of sass. Best Song: Everybody Dance. Disco. 4/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Low (1977). David Bowie v.8.0 - a glacial, alien ghost-man on a self-imposed exile locked inside a French castle with Iggy Pop and Brian Eno singing emotionless, eccentric art-rock songs and making ambient music in an attempt to get clean and sane and purge the excesses of the last few years. Best Song: Subterraneans. Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - "Heroes" (1977). David Bowie v.8.1 - the same Bowie as on Low, but now decamped to a recording studio in Berlin with a Germanic krautrock edge to everything and with Robert Fripp on guitar having come out of retirement again. The instrumentals on Low are better than the songs, but the songs on "Heroes" are better than the instrumentals. Best Song: "Heroes." Art Rock. 5/5

  • THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Out Of The Blue (1977). For a good few years in my teens, I considered this the greatest album of all time, and it still ranks pretty bloody high. It's over an hour long and the quality more or less never dips - most really long albums might succeed in remaining interesting throughout but usually have a couple of duff tracks quality-wise, but this is just 17 absolutely top-drawer disco-pop-rock tunes that Jeff Lynne slaved over while locked in a lodge somewhere. The pinnacle of this band's output, and maybe of pop-rock in general. Best Song: Mr Blue Sky. Pop Rock. 5/5

  • FLEETWOOD MAC - Rumours (1977). Within a couple of years of Buckingham and Nicks taking over Fleetwood Mac, everybody hates one another, everybody's taking too much cocaine, everybody's getting divorced and everybody's having sex with everybody else in the band. But they also managed to bash out one of the greatest masterpieces in rock music at the same time, so fair to say there's mixed results from their stewardship of the band so far. Best Song: Go Your Own Way. Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • FOREIGNER - Foreigner (1977). Foreigner have to be one of the best rubbish bands in the business. I struggle to think of many rubbish bands with as many brilliant songs as Foreigner. I used to have 6 Foreigner studio albums and a greatest hits compilation in my music library, then one day I thought "This is a bit much for a silly rock band," and got rid of 2 of them. This is their second-best album and it's genuinely quite fun once you've gotten over how stupid it all is. Best Song: Cold As Ice. Soft Rock. 3/5

  • IGGY POP - The Idiot (1977). Iggy's drug-fuelled excesses had, by '76, left him an even bigger mess than Bowie, because at least Bowie was still making good music. So Iggy joined Bowie on his European exile to get clean and the two collaborated on this, combining Iggy's drawling vocals with Bowie's glacial krautrock sensibility at the time. It's the sound of Iggy Pop stumbling upon his musical destiny. Best Song: China Girl. Art Rock. 4/5

  • IGGY POP - Lust For Life (1977). Having rediscovered what it felt like to be a great musician with The Idiot, here Iggy takes over the reins from Bowie (who is still involved, but to a lesser extent) and really runs with it and has some fun. The more eccentric art-rock style of The Idiot here meets the more swaggering hard-rock posturing of Iggy's earlier work with the Stooges. It's delightful. Best Song: The Passenger. Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Songs From The Wood (1977). As the 70s wound to a close, Tull managed to survive the death of prog by morphing into a folk rock band via a trilogy of albums which, while they retained progressive elements, harkened back to the more pastoral acoustic sound of their early stuff. This first one is the second-best of the trilogy and is about forest mysticism and ancient pagan rituals and the like, as you do. Best Song: Songs From The Wood. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - One World (1977). Martyn had spent the years since Sunday's Child becoming increasingly fascinated by the emergence of dub and reggae music, and One World features lots of reggae rhythms and fuzz guitar and even contributions from dub pioneer Lee "Scratch" Perry. But Martyn also finds time to squeeze in his best-ever acoustic love song and the astonishing "The Small Hours," the perfection of the ambient guitar soundscapes he started experimenting with in the early 70s. Best Song: Couldn't Love You More. Folk Rock. 5/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977). Joni spent the late 70s pursuing her jazz muse ever further on a trilogy of increasingly experimental albums. Sadly she knocked it out the park first time with Hejira, so the second and third albums in that trilogy are cases of diminishing returns. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter is still excellent, but occasionally flirts with being too experimental for its own good, something 1979's Mingus really picked up and ran with. Best Song: Paprika Plains. Jazz Fusion. 4/5

  • PARLIAMENT - Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome (1977). This album deepens the ridiculous mythology established on Mothership Connection by giving the heroic Star Child a nemesis in the form of Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk, a man with a silly voice and a big nose who hates funk and can only be defeated through dance. I love these guys so much. Best Song: Bop Gun (Endangered Species). Funk. 4.5/5

  • PAVLOV'S DOG - Third (1977). Pavlov's Dog's third album went unreleased officially at the time but was available as a bootleg until an eventual release in the 90s. It's not up to the masterful standard of their debut, but it's an improvement on their middling second album. Perhaps if it had got a proper release at the time it could have secured Pavlov's Dog as a viable ongoing band. Sadly, as things are, despite the odd patchy reunion album, this is pretty much the last decent thing the band did. Best Song: Falling In Love. Rock. 3.5/5. ALBUM 300 OF 1001!

  • PETER GABRIEL - Peter Gabriel (I - Car) (1977). Peter Gabriel is pretty much unique among veteran prog rockers in that he managed to escape prog just in time to avoid being tainted by the faintly silly reputation it had established for itself, then launched a solo career that not only achieved major mainstream success, but also saw him continue to make interesting, challenging music and be heralded as a credible and innovative musical artist. Not many of the prog old guard were so lucky. Best Song: Solsbury Hill. Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • PINK FLOYD - Animals (1977). Animals marks the point at which Roger Waters took more control over Floyd's output, imposing more conceptual arcs onto their albums (here, an Animal Farm-esque rendering of society as grouped into different kinds of animals). This is also probably the last "real" prog album - everything after was either revivalist neo-prog, or was a prog artist leaning heavily on other genres to not look unfashionable. Best Song: Sheep. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • RANDY NEWMAN - Little Criminals (1977). My mum bought this album because she wanted to transcribe "Short People" for her choir, and it introduced me to Newman's work outside of Pixar soundtracks and absolutely blew me away. Sadly, it's by far his best album, so my journey into his discography never quite matched the excitement of discovering this album, but it's incredible. It's got heartbreaking ballads and slick pop-rockers and the utter magnificence of "Baltimore." Best Song: Baltimore. Jazz Rock. 5/5

  • STEELY DAN - Aja (1977). Here Becker and Fagen really chuck pop-rock out of the window - the tunes are still catchy as anything, but there's no trace of a short, simple, radio-friendly single here, it's all long solos and complicated jazz signatures, a weird melting pot where you can't tell where the rock ends and the jazz begins. They were such perfectionists about getting this ambitious album right that they recruited over 40 session musicians, including jazz legend Wayne Shorter. Best Song: Deacon Blues. Jazz Fusion. 5/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Even In The Quietest Moments... (1977). In which Supertramp return to a more progressive sound, with the 11-minute epic "Fool's Overture" and some lengthy meditations on mysticism. Also, they carried a grand piano to the top of a mountain and covered it in snow for the album cover. You'd probably just do that in Photoshop these days. Best Song: From Now On. Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • TALKING HEADS - Talking Heads: 77 (1977). I think one of the few things we can be grateful to punk for is the post-punk movement, in which a bunch of artists set out to solve the problem of how to continue making innovative, interesting music in the wake of punk's scorched earth policy, which burned out fast due to a paucity of ideas. So we get bands like Talking Heads and their particular brand of jittery-art-rock-from-the-edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown. I actually find their debut album a bit middling, but it has "Psycho Killer" on it, so it scrapes onto the list. Best Song: Psycho Killer. Post-Punk. 3/5

  • TELEVISION - Marquee Moon (1977). Television were another fixture of New York's arty post-punk CBGB's scene, but whereas Talking Heads' early work had a sort of eccentric novelty to it (they would get darker later), Television's output has a menacing, unsettling sense of mania and paranoia right from the start. This is the only Television album I've heard, as allegedly it's their only good one, but it's very good indeed. Best Song: See No Evil. Post-Punk. 4/5

  • TOM WAITS - Foreign Affairs (1977). Definitely the weakest of the run of albums Waits made for Asylum Records - all the others either added depth and nuance to his own self-perpetuated mythology or, later, railed against it, but Foreign Affairs feels more like a half-hearted parody of his own persona. But it says a lot that Waits' worst of the era is still a really enjoyable album of beautiful ballads and fun little jazz numbers. Best Song: Burma-Shave. Vocal Jazz. 3.5/5

  • YES - Going For The One (1977). They're still a long way from the pop-stadium-rock sound of their 80s stuff, but Yes are already leaning towards shorter, poppier songs here in order to survive (the title track even kicks off with a rock'n'roll guitar riff), despite the return of Rick Wakeman to the band, more bombastic than ever on church organ. Best Song: Awaken. Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - Pyramid (1978). Around this time in the Project's discography it becomes clear that their initial quite pioneering raison d'etre - rock music focusing on production, not performance - actually wasn't going to deliver hugely innovative music, just music that sounds wonderful. It's also clear that these guys were the absolute masters of sophisticated pop-rock. Also, they do use a full orchestra on a lot of tracks, so there's at least that to make them sound a bit different. Best Song: Voyager. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978). Eno had dabbled in this territory before, but this was the first album to coin the term "ambient music" and lay down the groundrules - music that focused on texture and atmosphere rather than melody or harmony, and which could be ignored as easily as it could be paid attention to. For me, despite being a landmark record, Music For Airports is one of the more textbook, predictable Eno ambient records, acting as a blueprint for the genre, but it's deeply lovely and an important place to start when getting into ambient as a whole. Best Song: 1/1. Ambient. 4/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978). After a few years of legal wrangling with his record label, Springsteen finally produced a follow-up to Born To Run and, while it doesn't have as many iconic hits on it, it's a far more affecting and wise and thoughtful album. Born To Run has a sort of triumphalism to it, but there's a real sadness and weariness to Darkness On The Edge Of Town that makes it one of his best, despite the lack of famous songs. Best Song: Racing In The Street. Rock. 5/5

  • BRYAN FERRY - The Bride Stripped Bare (1978). Ferry's solo career kicked off with a couple of middling albums (one of them, bizarrely, consisting principally of covers of songs by his own band), but this is the first one to really make an impression. It's not got the noir-ish, neon-lit sophistipop vibe of his wonderful 80s output, but it's still got some compelling art rock songs alongside some off-kilter takes on old folk and soul standards. Best Song: Can't Let Go. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE CARS - The Cars (1978). This is the one of only two Cars albums I know, and the only one I particularly like, but it's really good - a sort of mix of the clinical, eccentric experimentalism of post-punk with the cool riffs and swagger of classic rock. The best bits of both genres, really, without many of the negatives. Best Song: Moving In Stereo. New Wave. 4/5

  • CHIC - C'est Chic (1978). It's odd - I absolutely love Chic's music, but I don't know if I could honestly say I think they've ever made a single truly brilliant album. This is generally considered their best, but even this is guilty of their usual habit of making half an album of incredible songs and then half an album of filler disco jams. Mind you, this has "Le Freak" and "I Want Your Love" on it, so I'm being picky, really. Best Song: Le Freak. Disco. 4/5

  • DEVO - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978). Post-punk really took me by surprise when I got into you because I'd always thought I liked weird-sounding music due to my prog obsession. But whereas prog has a sort of academic, studied strageness to it, post-punk has a weirdness that's much more freakish and clinical and unsettling. Devo are one of the weirdest of the lot, and none of their music sounds like they're trying to be odd, it just sounds like they've been let loose. Best Song: Mongoloid. Post-Punk. 3.5/5

  • DIRE STRAITS - Dire Straits (1978). I'm not sure why Dire Straits are so often sniggered at - I guess because their particular brand of sincere, rootsy blues-rock wasn't very fashionable by the time they started; it was pretty much just them and Springsteen making that kind of old-fashioned rock music with actual conviction, hence why they did so well out of it. Regardless, they're very good at it, and made music just as good as some of the classic rock icons they were imitating. Best Song: Sultans Of Swing. Roots Rock. 3.5/5

  • ENO MOEBIUS ROEDELIUS - After The Heat (1978). Eno's first collaboration with German electronic duo Cluster was an important step in the development of ambient music, but was a tad bland to listen to. This follow-up from the three is still a bit of a weird experience, but is more interesting and envelope-pushing, with eerie electronic textures and weird reversed vocal tracks and the like. Best Song: The Belldog. Electronic. 3/5

  • FUNKADELIC - One Nation Under A Groove (1978). Around this point I get a bit hazy on what the difference between Parliament and Funkadelic is and how George Clinton decides which project does what, as this album is more dance-oriented and sounds more like something Parliament would do, though I guess it still has a harder edge than Parliament's more cartoony vibe. Quibbling aside, though, it's one of the best albums either group ever released. Best Song: One Nation Under A Groove. Funk. 4/5

  • JEAN MICHEL JARRE - Equinoxe (1978). Good old Jean Michel does very little here to really vary the formula he established on Oxygene (in fact, he pretty much repeats it beat-for-beat), but he knows what he's doing by now. Also, "Equinoxe (Part V)" is a great tune and deserves to be just as iconic and played in just as many arcades as "Oxygene (Part IV)." Best Song: Equinoxe (Part V). Electronic. 4/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Heavy Horses (1978). The second, and best, of Tull's folk-rock trilogy. Whereas Songs From The Wood felt quite ancient and mystical, Heavy Horses is more rural and bucolic, with its songs about mice and horses and farms and weathercocks. I think Ian Anderson was just really enjoying the countryside around this point. Best Song: Acres Wild. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • KATE BUSH - The Kick Inside (1978). This is an unpopular opinion, but I'm actually not that keen on Kate Bush's early stuff. The Kick Inside scrapes onto the list courtesy of a handful of great songs, but a lot of it is quite grating pop music. I think it's not until 1980's Never For Ever that her sonic palette matures and her ability to craft unusual experiences with sound manifests and she starts making truly magical music. But this is ok, I guess. Best Song: Wuthering Heights. Pop. 3/5

  • MARVIN GAYE - Here, My Dear (1978). In '77, Gaye's divorce from Anna Gordy resulted in the agreement that she would get half the royalties of his next album, hence the title. It's full of anger and bitterness at their fallout, but also a real tenderness and sadness at how things turned out. It's his most searingly personal and profundly affecting album, even if the tunes aren't quite as memorable as on his earlier classic albums. Best Song: You Can Leave, But It's Going To Cost You. Soul. 4/5

  • PARLIAMENT - Motor Booty Affair (1978). Parliament's final decent album is an ocean-themed, with lots of nonsense about raising Atlantis from the deep, and a good bit where I think Star Child has Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk (who is now also anti-swimming) carried away by a giant aquatic bird. Ridiculous. Best Song: The Motor-Booty Affair. Funk. 3.5/5

  • PATTI SMITH - Easter (1978). Patti Smith's most commercial album, with shorter songs and less thrashing noise and even featuring a Springsteen co-write thrown in for good measure in the form of "Because The Night." It's still got her artistic spirit running all the way through it, though, so it never really sounds like pop music. Best Song: We Three. Punk Rock. 4/5

  • PERE UBU - The Modern Dance (1978). Having said that Devo were one of the weirdest-sounding post-punk bands, that's with the heavy caveat that Pere Ubu's later albums are unlistenably odd. This debut, though, is great fun and uncharacteristically close to being accessible, with only the musique concrete of "Sentimental Journey" betraying their aspirations to the avant-garde. Also, the wiry guitar solo on "Humor Me" is one of my all-time favourite guitar solos. Best Song: Humor Me. Post-Punk. 4/5

  • PERE UBU - Dub Housing (1978). Dub Housing walks a careful tightrope in the sweep on Pere Ubu's output - it's no longer as musical or enjoyable as The Modern Dance, but is not yet as unlistenably self-indulgent as New Picnic Time. It's definitely not as fun to listen to as their debut, but its intense weirdness makes it possibly ever so slightly more interesting. Best Song: Caligari's Mirror. Post-Punk. 3/5

  • THE POLICE - Outlandos D'Amour (1978). It's probably down to Sting's intense unpopularity as a person (more on him later), but I feel like the Police are another one of those bands with an unfair reputation as being among the worst excesses of generic 80s pop. I think it's a shame, as their early stuff has an intense, fierce energy to it, and their later stuff has a strong artistic streak. Best Song: Roxanne. New Wave. 4/5

  • STEVE REICH - Music For 18 Musicians (1978). I saw this performed live this year and it was one of the most intense musical experiences of my life - over an hour of non-stop, pulsing, twitching, metronomic, glacially beautiful musical brilliance. It was like the music had come alive and was writhing in the air and creeping into my skull. An indescribably brilliant piece of music. Best Song: It is divided up into sections, but this is impossible. The entire thing. Avant-Garde. 5/5

  • TALKING HEADS - More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978). Talking Heads' first album produced in collaboration with Brian Eno, though here Eno doesn't do much to vary the formula established on their debut. There's nothing quite as good as "Psycho Killer" here, but overall it's a much more interesting and exciting album and sees them hitting their stride. Best Song: Thank You For Sending Me An Angel. Post-Punk. 3.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Blue Valentine (1978). By '78, Waits was getting fed up by his lack of commercial success and the increasingly apparent limitations of his lounge jazz/sad barfly shtick. He's not quite at breaking point here, but is clearly searching for new musical territory, with more cinematic ballads and grungy, sleazy, angry blues numbers in place of the novelty jazz forms he was leaning on previously. One of his best, and "Kentucky Avenue" is hands-down his most beautiful song. Best Song: Kentucky Avenue. Blues. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • AC/DC - Highway To Hell (1979). A truly ridiculous band, exceeding even ZZ Top and Bad Company in the ranks of hard-rock bands who are acutely self-aware of how brainlessly silly their music is. AC/DC never really varied their fairly predictable formula enough for me to make the effort to properly get into them, so there are only 2 albums I go back to regularly. This is the second-best of them. Best Song: Highway To Hell. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • CHIC - Risque (1979). The intense, bass-driven epic "Good Times" is my favourite Chic song, but Risque has their usual problem of having a handful of classic songs and a handful of throwaway filler. It still stands up well as one of their three classic albums, though, and probably just about edges it as my favourite of the three. Best Song: Good Times. Disco. 4/5

  • THE CLASH - London Calling (1979). As I've said, I'm actually quite keen on what punk led to, after its initial charmless first wave had burnt itself out. After that, even major punk standard-bearers like the Clash dusted themselves down and started making good music drawing on lots of interesting influences. Not every song on London Calling does much for me, but the good songs are great. Best Song: Train In Vain. Punk Rock. 3/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Lodger (1979). David Bowie v.8.2 - the same Bowie as on Low and "Heroes," but with the glacial cool replaced with a yelping oddness, resulting in Bowie's weirdest ever album, complete with rapping. Bowie made all the session musicians swap instruments on "Boys Keep Swinging" so that all their performances sounded slightly off, and that's one of the most normal-sounding songs on the album. Best Song: Boys Keep Swinging. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • DIRE STRAITS - Communique (1979). Dire Straits' second album does so little to vary the formula established by their first that I honestly can't think of anything to say about it. Which is no bad thing. It's a good formula, they're a good band, it's good music. It's probably for the best that they did start changing things up a bit after this one, though. Best Song: Lady Writer. Roots Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Discovery (1979). Or "Disco? Very!" as some anonymous non-Jeff Lynne member of ELO hilariously referred to it at the time. I mean, Out Of The Blue already had a bunch of disco influences showing on it, but Discovery picks that up and runs with it. Some great pop tunes as usual, and also ELO's coolest-ever song in "Don't Bring Me Down." Best Song: Don't Bring Me Down. Disco. 4.5/5

  • FLEETWOOD MAC - Tusk (1979). Miraculously, Fleetwood Mac managed to come out of the emotional rollercoaster of Rumours still intact as a band, and still making great music. Tusk is a bit of a mess - it's very long and there's a bunch of songs on it that are the flattest-sounding things they'd done in years. But its good songs are among their finest, from beautiful ballads to the novelty stomp of the title track. They maybe lost their ability to edit, but that's all, they lost none of their talent. Best Song: Sisters Of The Moon. Rock. 3.5/5

  • FRANK ZAPPA - Sheik Yerbouti (1979). The last Zappa album I really have positive feelings towards, and it's pushing its luck - it's too long; Zappa's once-absurdist sense of humour is now tediously puerile and some of the songs are novelty silliness to the point of being annoying. But it still has some amazing guitar solos, so there you go. Best Song: Rat Tomago. Jazz Fusion. 3/5

  • FUNKADELIC - Uncle Jam Wants You (1979). In the early 70s, Funkadelic's music was genuinely profound. By '79, they've basically merged identities with Parliament and make fun party music. The 15-minute epic "(Not Just) Knee Deep" is the greatest dance track Clinton ever produced, and it's a really fun album, even if it's not up to their earlier standards. Best Song: (Not Just) Knee Deep. Funk. 3.5/5

  • HALL & OATES - X-Static (1979).  Listening to this list chronologically, this is the first album to have come up that's made me think "Oh yeah, we're nearly at the 80s." Contrary to received wisdom, that's no bad thing - a lot of rubbish came out of that decade, but some artists just proved themselves masters at making unimpeachable, slickly produced pop. After a couple of boring albums, Hall & Oates were about ready to install themselves right up there with the best of them. Best Song: Wait For Me. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Stormwatch (1979). Odd revisiting this - I remembered it as a solid album, but a notable dip in quality from the previous two instalments in Tull's folk-rock trilogy. But listening again, it's really great - just as much fun and just as quirkily unusual and folksily whimsical as Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses. Genuinely tricky picking between them. Best Song: Dun Ringill. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • JOY DIVISION - Unknown Pleasures (1979). Obviously, Joy Division's iconic status and Ian Curtis's tragic suicide hang heavy over their music - it's hard to listen to them subjectively and really form your own opinion. I'm not the sort of person who would ever really adore them, they're a bit too musically and emotionally bleak for me. But this is an undeniably intense, inventive, restless and exciting debut album with some great moments on it. Best Song: Disorder. Post-Punk. 3.5/5

  • MEAT LOAF - Bat Out Of Hell (1979). Meat Loaf's voice is pretty good, I guess, if not hugely unique, but the real hero of Bat Out Of Hell is Jim Steinman, whose songs gloriously combine soft-rock catchy choruses and over-the-top theatrical pomp. Some of them are basically rubbish, but it's all done with such a self-conscious, knowing smirk that you can't help but enjoy it. Best Song: Bat Out Of Hell. Soft Rock. 3.5/5

  • MICHAEL JACKSON - Off The Wall (1979). This reminds me of Paris, weirdly. Had to go there for a boring work conference in 2013 and spent a day wandering along the Seine listening to this to lift the drudgery. The funkier songs are great. "She's Out Of My Life" is one of the most insipid bits of pap ever written. Quincy Jones' production is exceptional. Best Song: Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough. Funk. 3.5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE - Rust Never Sleeps (1979). By a roundabout way, this album convinced me to quit the aforementioned job I hated in 2013, when I stayed to work late and listened to this into the night as I worked alone. It's one of Neil's very best, a live album of new songs, the first half just Neil on acoustic guitar, and the second half presenting the most intense, powerhouse full-band sound Crazy Horse had yet created. Best Song: Hey Hey, My My (Out Of The Blue). Folk Rock. 5/5

  • PINK FLOYD - The Wall (1979). Hands down my favourite Floyd album. I know by this stage it's less of a democratic "band" album and more the product of Roger Waters' sense of dark theatricality, but the songs and the storytelling and the intense mania of the whole thing are unparalleled. It's also the only double album I can think of that never once puts a foot wrong. Best Song: Comfortably Numb. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • PRINCE - Prince (1979). On this, his second album, Prince announced himself as a virtuoso prodigy to be reckoned with - he played all the instruments himself, and "I Wanna Be Your Lover" is one of the best pop-funk songs ever written. True, nothing else here comes close to matching it, but there's not a single weak track, and it's clear he was set to be one of the defining, formidable titans of the 80s. Best Song: I Wanna Be Your Lover. Funk. 3.5/5

  • RANDY NEWMAN - Born Again (1979). I tried to track down Born Again for years, always hoping it would be a masterpiece on the level of Little Criminals as it followed after it. Sadly, when I did finally get round to hearing it, I found that it's nowhere near as accomplished as that masterpiece, but it's still got some insanely catchy jazz-pop-rock numbers on it, and some glorious Newman showboating. Best Song: It's Money That I Love. Rock. 3/5

  • RICKIE LEE JONES - Rickie Lee Jones (1979). Whereas Tom Waits' tortured artist shtick had delivered him limited success, his girlfriend-at-the-time Rickie Lee Jones had an instant hit with her debut album's masterful blend of jazz and folk and pop, and it's easy to see why. Unfairly forgotten since her late-70s heyday, Jones is one of the all-time great singer-songwriters and deserves a bigger place in music history than she seems to have been granted. Best Song: Coolsville. Jazz Rock. 5/5

  • ROBERT FRIPP - Exposure (1979). After the collapse of King Crimson, Fripp had retired to become a monk or something, before returning in the late 70s to release this bewildering collection of ambient instrumentals, weird guitar solos, spoken word snippets, sound effects and off-kilter songs featuring vocal turns from the likes of Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall. Bizarre. Best Song: Here Comes The Flood. Avant-Garde. 3.5/5

  • SISTER SLEDGE - We Are Family (1979). Having proven themselves as hit-makers, Nile Rodgers and Chic were tasked with writing and producing material for a quartet of gospel singer sisters, resulting in one of the greatest disco albums of all time and some of the most iconic hits of Rogers' entire career. Best Song: We Are Family. Disco. 4/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Breakfast In America (1979). I really can't over-state how huge this album's impact on me was. Along with Out Of The Blue and Madman Across The Water, it's one of the albums I most closely associate with my first getting obsessed by music. It sits perfectly at the meeting-point of 70s artistry and 80s perfectionism, and it's just such a glorious masterpiece of an album. Best Song: Goodbye Stranger. Pop Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • TALKING HEADS - Fear Of Music (1979). With its focus on polyrhythms and dance production techniques, Fear Of Music anticipates some of the major calling cards of 80s art-rock. It's got Eno's fingerprints all over it, but it's certainly unfair on the band to solely credit him with Talking Heads' increasingly innovative weirdness. More likely, they were just a group of artistic minds who gelled perfectly with his sensibilities. Best Song: I Zimbra. New Wave. 4/5

  • VAN MORRISON - Into The Music (1979). After a hiatus and two mediocre albums, Van Morrison hits paydirt again by combining the folksy mysticism of Astral Weeks with the catchy pop songwriting of Moondance. Obviously, Into The Music is nowhere near as iconic as those two, but for me, it'll always be his greatest album - it does all the things he does best, and it does them to perfection. Best Song: And The Healing Has Begun. Folk Rock. 5/5

  • AC/DC - Back In Black (1980). As I said, AC/DC's music is pretty brainless and silly and dumb, but that aside, this is a great album - it boasts some of the best hard rock guitar riffs of all time, and, as tragic as vocalist Bon Scott's death was, Brian Johnson makes for an incredible replacement. Best Song: Shoot To Thrill. Hard Rock. 4.5/5

  • THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980). This is the APP's best album, and one of the best pop-rock albums of all time. The progressive elements of their sound are in the background now (though the bombastic symphonic arrangements are present and correct), but the pop songwriting hasn't dipped into the more generic waters it reached in the 80s. It's the perfect balance of both sides of what they were good at. Best Song: Games People Play. Pop Rock. 5/5

  • THE BUGGLES - The Age Of Plastic (1980). A friend of mine at uni wrote an entire stage musical adaptation of this album about a secret robot uprising in a synthetic dystopia. Its slightly camp sci-fi ridiculousness is perfect for that kind of treatment, and it's a gloriously well-written and produced album. The Buggles deserve to be remembered as so much more than a one-hit wonder, but are doomed to always be that courtesy of this album's big hit. Best Song: Video Killed The Radio Star. New Wave. 5/5

  • CHIC - Real People (1980). Poor old Chic. The "Disco Sucks" movement of the late 70s really took the wind out of their sails, and ensured they never had a hit again, while Nile Rodgers had to reinvent himself as a super-producer for other artists in order to keep working. Real People admittedly isn't a great album, but it has a couple of fun songs and I include it here mostly because I feel like Chic deserved to last a bit longer than they did. Best Song: Rebels Are We. Disco. 3/5

  • DARYL HALL - Sacred Songs (1980). Daryl Hall and Robert Fripp look like a very weird pairing on paper. Hall's record label thought so too, and when they heard his solo album, produced by Fripp in '78, they balked at its lack of commercial appeal compared to Hall & Oates' stuff, and shelved it before begrudgingly releasing it in 1980. It's a great art rock record, and Hall's wonderful voice creates a very odd counterpoint with Fripp's production techniques and stylistic choices. Best Song: Babs And Babs. Art Rock. 4/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980). David Bowie v.9.0 - a sort of sad Pierrot clown singing New Wave songs about astronauts with addiction problems; and getting too old to be an icon. Bowie's last album for over a decade to exist as an artistic statement as well as a commercial product, and often wrongly considered Bowie's last good album full stop. Best Song: Ashes To Ashes. New Wave. 4/5

  • DEVO - Freedom Of Choice (1980). Everything people know about Devo (ie. "Whip It" and those flowerpot hats) come from this album. Also, having strongly rejected Brian Eno's suggestion that they incorporate more synth into their debut album in '78, now he'd left them to their own devices, they went to town on the synths for this one. Bunch of talented hypocrites. Best Song: Freedom Of Choice. Post-Punk. 3/5 

  • DIRE STRAITS - Making Movies (1980). Dire Straits finally make an album where the songs are vaguely distinguishable from one another. Sadly, that results in two of the best songs they ever made ("Tunnel Of Love" and "Romeo & Juliet") and a bunch of others than range from middling to quite bad. One step forward and one step back, then. Best Song: Tunnel Of Love. Roots Rock. 3.5/5

  • GENESIS - Duke (1980). After treading water for a years since the departure of Peter Gabriel, Genesis reinvented themselves on Duke as a power-pop-rock supergroup for the 80s, in which guise they went on to release some of the decade's best singles and most appallingly atrocious albums. This is one of two albums from that era of the band that's remotely enjoyable. It's got some fun songs on it. Best Song: Turn It On Again. Pop. 3/5

  • HAROLD BUDD/BRIAN ENO - Ambient 2: The Plateaux Of Mirror (1980). The second of Eno's original Ambient series could have ended up as fairly naff New Age-y muzak along the lines of some of Budd's earlier compositions, but the strange atmospheric treatments Eno applies to Budd's dreamlike piano elevates his compositions to new heights of loveliness. Best Song: First Light. Ambient. 4/5

  • JOHN FOXX - Metamatic (1980). A former member of Ultravox and later to become a significant figure in ambient music, John Foxx launched his solo career with this album of robotic electronic pop, melding Eno-esque art rock with Kraftwerk-esque electronica and a dash of 80s synthpop. It's great fun. Best Song: Plaza. Synthpop. 4/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - Grace And Danger (1980). Martyn's last good album for a long time, as his slide into alcoholism left his musical output sounding increasingly lazy and unimaginative. This is produced by Phil Collins, so everything's drenched in twinkly synths, but under the gloss is a profound sadness as Martyn sings about his recent separation from his wife. A heartbreaking album. Best Song: Hurt In Your Heart. Adult Contemporary. 4/5

  • JOY DIVISION - Closer (1980). Again, maybe it's because they're too iconic, or they're just not quite for me, but whenever I listen to Joy Division I can hear how inventive and atmospheric and good they are, but they don't grab me on an emotional level. Closer is very clearly a good album, but it doesn't crawl inside my head the way I feel it should from its reputation. Maybe one day they'll click for me. Best Song: The Eternal. Post-Punk. 3/5

  • JUDAS PRIEST - British Steel (1980). The declining popularity of blues-based hard-rock in the late 70s left a void that heavy metal rose to fill, leading on to such ridiculousness as power-metal and hair-metal and death-metal. It all leaves me fairly cold, but Judas Priest are one of a handful of metal artists to have a strong enough streak of classic-rock silliness running through them for me to get a decent amount of cheesy enjoyment out of them. Best Song: Metal Gods. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • KATE BUSH - Never For Ever (1980). There's still a bit of novelty pop here, but there are signs that Kate Bush's songwriting and aesthetic was shifting towards something more artistic and unique - "Babooshka" is a gleefully eccentric story-song, and "Breathing" is an astonishingly dark, vivid, atmospheric, imaginative piece of work. Best Song: Babooshka. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • LARAAJI - Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance (1980). Still the most radical ambient album Eno ever oversaw the production of - Laraaji plays only two acoustic instruments, with no overdubbing or editing, and the album's first half explores the idea that ambient music can be intensely rhythmic without breaking the rules of the genre. Best Song: Meditation #1. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - Peter Gabriel (III - Melt) (1980). After Peter Gabriel's middling second album, his third sees him embracing 80s technologies and production techniques, like the infamous gated drum effect, but not dumming down the intelligence or artistry of his songwriting. This is the sound of someone stepping up to become one of the great art-rock titans of the coming decade. Best Song: Biko. Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • PRINCE - Dirty Mind (1980). Dirty Mind is a great party album - short, punchy, catchy as hell. Unlike his albums that came before and after it, there's not really anything here that really makes you sit up and pay attention, but it does what it needs to do and it does it very well. Best Song: Uptown. Funk. 3.5/5

  • ROXY MUSIC - Flesh + Blood (1980). After a lengthy hiatus, Roxy Music relaunched themselves in the late 70s as a slick Sophistipop band, still with all the style and polish of their early music, but with more pop choruses in place of the weirder, janglier stuff. '79's Manifesto was rubbish, but Flesh + Blood sees them embrace this new identity properly and prove themselves very capable in it. Best Song: Oh Yeah. Sophisti-Pop. 3.5/5

  • STEELY DAN - Gaucho (1980). Steely Dan did release a couple of comeback albums in the early 2000s, but they were both basically letdowns, so this is pretty much their last good album. It's not their best - it's not as inventive as, say, Aja, and doesn't contain as many classic songs as, say, Can't Buy A Thrill, but it's them making more of the sort of music they excelled at and it serves as a perfectly respectable swan-song. Best Song: Time Out Of Mind. Jazz Rock. 3.5/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Paris (1980). In general I'm trying to avoid including many live albums on this list, but the songs on Paris all sound fantastic, it includes a previously unreleased song, and it's worth hearing just for John Helliwell's hilariously rubbish MCing. Best Song: You Started Laughing (I mean, not really, but it's the only new one so deserves a shout-out). Pop Rock. 4/5

  • TALKING HEADS - Remain In Light (1980). Eno's growing influence over Talking Heads was by this point creative a divide between him and David Byrne on the one hand, and the rest of the band on the other. Despite those tensions, however, they came together here to create their best work and one of the best albums of all time, a twitchy, relentless, intense slab of cutting-edge art rock. Best Song: Once In A Lifetime. Art Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • TOM WAITS - Heartattack And Vine (1980). If Blue Valentine was a snarl of frustration at the creative rut Tom Waits had found himself in, Heartattack And Vine is a howl of rage. He'd recently met Kathleen Brennan, who would prove to be the solution to his problem, but he released one last album for Asylum (sort of...) before he ventured off to sail new musical waters. It has some of his loveliest ballads on it, but also the angriest, grittiest, scariest blues numbers he recorded for the label. Best Song: Heartattack And Vine. Blues. 5/5

  • YES - Drama (1980). Following the departure of Jon Anderson, Yes recruit Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of the Buggles to gently lead them by the hand towards a more radio-friendly pop-rock sound. They're not yet at 80s stadium rock levels, but they're clearly shifting into a very different gear here and it's obvious a major stylistic change was beckoning. Best Song: Machine Messiah. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • BRIAN ENO & DAVID BYRNE - My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981). Eno and Byrne's musical sensiblities clicked together so well they cooked up this deeply weird little album together - various electronic instrumentals built around a collage of found sounds and repurposed vocal recordings (radio broadcasts, Evangelist preachers, and the like). They inadvertently invented the art of sampling while doing so. Best Song: The Jezebel Spirit. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Time (1981). Another year, another sci-fi electropop album about a future society populated by robots. But ELO's Time lacks the self-aware silliness that made the Buggles' The Age Of Plastic such a joyous masterpiece. But this is definitely the best of ELO's patchy 80s albums, and has some good stuff on it. Best Song: 21st Century Man. Synthpop. 3.5/5

  • ELTON JOHN - The Fox (1981).​ After his tedious late-70s stuff but before his truly atrocious mid-80s stuff, Elton actually made two good albums in the early 80s. This is the less-good of the two, but still has a couple of neglected, obscure classics of his on it. Best Song: Carla (Etude)/Fanfare/Chloe. Rock. 3/5

  • FOREIGNER - 4 (1981). Foreigner team up with AC/DC producer Robert "Mutt" Lange to record an album that combines AC/DC-esque crunchy hard-rock with Foriegner's own brand of catchy soft-rock and a dash of 80s Sophistipop. The only Foreigner album that I think flirts with greatness. Best Song: Urgent. Rock. 4/5

  • FUNKADELIC - The Electric Spanking Of War Babies (1981). One of very few Funkadelic albums to not have one huge standout, mind-blowingly great song on it, which is a shame. But it's actually more consistently enjoyable than some of their others, and has a fun guest turn from Sly Stone, so it deserves a nod of recognition. I've not gone any further than this into the P-Funk discography, because it's definitely diminishing returns by this point. Best Song: Oh, I. Funk. 3/5

  • HALL & OATES - Private Eyes (1981). Consistency becomes a problem in the 80s - a bunch of great acts suddenly start prioritising making great hit singles, then making up the rest of their albums with a bunch of generic filler, having never had that problem in the 70s. Genesis are the worst culprits, but Hall & Oates are guilty of it too. The balance of good vs. bad on Private Eyes is just enough to swing in the record's favour, though. Best Song: Private Eyes. Pop. 3/5

  • KING CRIMSON - Discipline (1981). 7 years after their disbandment, King Crimson is resurrected, with flavours-of-the-month Adrian Belew and Tony Levin joining old hands Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford. They sound like a completely different band, going for a sort of more avant-garde version of Talking Heads' sound. That could have ended up being terrible, but they do surprisingly well at it. Best Song: Indiscipline. Avant-Garde. 3.5/5

  • PRINCE - Controversy (1981). The album on which Prince started wearing purple, and also on which he wrote possibly his coolest-ever song in the title track. This was the last album he recorded as a sort of eccentric musical outsider before becoming a legitimate pop icon. His Hunky Dory in that respect. Best Song: Controversy. Funk. 4/5

  • RICKIE LEE JONES - Pirates (1981). Thank God for Prince and RLJ, because 1981 was starting to prove a bit of a slog to get through. Pirates is just as catchy and free-spirited and thoughtful as her debut, but even more adventurous and with far more maturity and depth as she explores her break-up from Tom Waits. Best Song: We Belong Together. Jazz Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • TOM TOM CLUB - Tom Tom Club (1981). Just as Eno and Byrne had paired off, Talking Heads' Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth formed their own strange off-shoot project; one that sounds much more urban and American and less ethnographic than Eno and Byrne's effort. My favourite thing about this album is that it's one of two records of 1981 (along with King Crimson's Discipline) on which Adrian Belew makes his guitar sound like an elephant. Must've been his party trick. Best Song: Wordy Rappinghood. New Wave. 3.5/5

  • THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - Eye In The Sky (1982). The first APP album I ever heard, and the one that made me fall in love with their particular brand of slightly-intellectual symphonic pop-rock. Not quite their best album, though it does boast their best-known piece of music in the instrumental "Sirius." Best Song: Sirius/Eye In The Sky. Pop Rock. 4.5/5

  • BILLY JOEL - The Nylon Curtain (1982). On The Nylon Curtain, Billy Joel reveals an uncanny talent for musical mimicry, turning out to be the best songwriter since Jeff Lynne at writing songs that sound exactly like they could've been written by the Beatles. It's a talent he would take to even further extremes on his next outing. Best Song: Goodnight Saigon. Rock. 3/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Ambient 4: On Land (1982). The last of the original Ambient series is the progenitor of the sub-genre "Dark Ambient," consisting of bleak, mournful soundscapes inspired by desolate beaches, that sometimes barely sound like music at all. Of those first four records, it's the one that has by far the strongest emotional impact. It's utterly devastating. Best Song: The Lost Day. Ambient. 4.5/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Nebraska (1982). Bruce ditches the E Street Band for Nebraska, releasing it just as a series of stark, solo acoustic demos, stripping the songs back to their core emotions and stories and bitter cynicism. There's not many great tunes here, but the general aesthetic of the whole thing makes a powerful statement. Best Song: Atlantic City. Folk. 3.5/5

  • DEVO - Oh, No! It's Devo (1982). Titled as a knowing piss-take of their own perceived unpopularity at this point. As usual, a lot of the stuff here is a bit too quirky for its own good, but there are a good few songs on the first half in particular that lean heavily on goofy, aggressive synth work that are a lot of fun. Best Song: Out Of Sync. Post-Punk. 3/5

  • DIRE STRAITS - Love Over Gold (1982). Dire Straits finally realise their full potential here. Every song is as dynamic and exciting and brilliant as the best songs on Making Movies and, thanks to the epic length of "Telegraph Road," there's no room for throwaway filler here. Their best album by some considerable distance. Best Song: Telegraph Road. Roots Rock. 4.5/5

  • HALL & OATES - H2O (1982). As with all their albums, the big hit singles on H2O are among the best pop songs released that year. Unlike most of their other 80s albums, though, H2O has a level of care and thought put into the B-material too, so that it's actually a consistently enjoyable listening experience. Easily their best album of the decade. Best Song: Maneater. Pop. 4/5

  • JETHRO TULL - The Broadsword And The Beast (1982). 1980's terrible could have given the impression that Tull were now a spent force, but The Broadsword And The Beast is surprisingly good. It's a collection of tongue-in-cheek hard rock songs about swords and monsters and Nordic folklore, brought up-to-date with smatterings of synth and drum machines. Genuinely good fun. Best Song: Pussy Willow. Rock. 3.5/5

  • JUDAS PRIEST - Screaming For Vengeance (1982). Screaming For Vengeance retains everything good about British Steel, but applies a greater level of polish to everything to make it into an even more commercial product. After this, Judas Priest steered into a more frenetic power-metal style, which I enjoy a lot less than the classic rock sound of their early 80s stuff, so this is where my interest in them wanes. Best Song: You've Got Another Thing Comin'. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • KATE BUSH - The Dreaming (1982). Kate Bush throws conventional pop songwriting completely out of the window for what she aptly described as her "she's gone mad" album, all clattering percussion and weird sound effects over which she screams, rasps and brays like a donkey, or puts on a cartoon Cockney or Australian accent. It's bewildering and bizarre and terrifying and, intermittently, astonishingly beautiful. One of her very best pieces of work. Best Song: Night Of The Swallow. Art Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • MARVIN GAYE - Midnight Love (1982). In '82, Gaye was crippled by depression and drug addiction and felt alienated from his fans and record labels. He desperately needed a hit record to reverse his fortunes, hence the overtly polished, commercial sound of Midnight Love compared to his previous work. He got his wish as "Sexual Healing" became one of the biggest hits of his career, but he couldn't enjoy it for long as in 1984 he was tragically shot and killed by his own father. Best Song: Sexual Healing. Soul. 3.5/5. ALBUM 400 OF 1001!

  • MICHAEL JACKSON - Thriller (1982). Thriller is so well-known and universally beloved that there's not really anything insightful I can say about it. I'll just say that, while its good songs are ubiquitous and enormously well-known, it's worth pointing out that "The Girl Is Mine," Jackson's duet with Paul McCartney, is one of the most hilariously awful songs ever recorded. Best Song: Billie Jean. Funk. 4/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Trans (1982). Young's uncharacteristically weird synthpop/vocoder album was panned at the time as a transparent effort to pander to the trends of the era, but it's since emerged that its vocoder experiments were his attempt to express his frustration at his inability to communicate with his disabled son. As such, it's been reappraised as a genuinely interesting attempt to do something different, and "Like An Inca" is a really great song in its own right. Best Song: Like An Inca. Synthpop. 3/5

  • ORANGE JUICE - You Can't Hide Your Love Forever (1982). While a lot of post-punk music was almost stubbornly avant-garde and weird, there were also bands like Orange Juice who exploited the genre's intellectual back-to-basics approach just to make joyfully straightforward, feelgood pop music with slightly more emotional complexity in the songwriting. I find they get a bit better on their more adventurous second album, but this one is impossible to dislike. Best Song: L.O.V.E. Love. Post-Punk. 3.5/5

  • ORANGE JUICE - Rip It Up (1982). The title track, with its call to "Rip it up and start again," is one of the great anthems of post-punk, and reaps the rewards of Orange Juice putting a bit more quirky eccentricity into their sound. There's nothing else here as brilliant as that standout, but everything else is as charmingly fun as their first album, and that standout is one hell of a song. Best Song: Rip It Up. Post-Punk. 3.5/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - Peter Gabriel (IV - Security) (1982). The fourth and final of Peter Gabriel's self-titled albums is a much darker and stranger beast than its predecessors - there are few, if any, pop tunes here, just brooding, menacing, intense slabs of art rock. It also shows the beginnings of Gabriel's fascination with world music. Best Song: San Jacinto. Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • PRINCE - 1999 (1982). This is the album that first made Prince into a legit star. I've always found it a bit unwieldy, to be honest - it's a tad too long, and some of the less stellar songs outstay their welcome a bit. But its justifiably iconic songs are truly brilliant and deserve all the hype they get. Best Song: Little Red Corvette. Funk. 4/5

  • ROXY MUSIC - Avalon (1982). If you're the sort of person who thinks that the slick, Sophistipop sound of Roxy Music's later stuff is a betrayal of their avant-garde beginnings, then you'd hate their final album. I love it, it's one of the most suave, lush-sounding pop albums of the 80s. Sends them out on a lovely high before Bryan Ferry pursued his solo career more whole-heartedly. Best Song: True To Life. Sophisti-Pop. 4/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - ...Famous Last Words... (1982). As I've said, in general I much prefer Rick Davies to Roger Hodgson, as a songwriter, singer and human being, but Hodgson's final album with Supertramp sees him go out in a blaze of glory, with his bright-sounding pop songs showing up the fairly plodding bluesy numbers Davies serves up for this one. Hodgson would go solo after this, and Davies would become sole leader of Supertramp, which initially went very well, as we'll see. Best Song: It's Raining Again. Pop Rock. 3/5

  • TOM WAITS - One From The Heart (1982). Waits was all set to sail new musical waters with his new wife Kathleen Brennan, but was then asked to compose a film soundtrack by Francis Ford Coppola in the style of his old jazz albums. Needing the money, Waits had to go back to his old template one last time. You can tell his heart's not really in it, and it's his worst album for Asylum, but even Waits on auto-pilot is still a collection of really enjoyable, lushly-arranged jazz tunes. Best Song: This One's From The Heart. Soundtrack. 3/5

  • VAN MORRISON - Beautiful Vision (1982). The received wisdom seems to be that everything Van Morrison released after Into The Music was utter dross, but that's not really fair. Admittedly, on his 80s albums he seems to be communicating with himself in a less fascinating, creative way, and some of them are dogshit, but a few of them are perfectly lovely collections of very pretty songs, and there's nothing wrong with that. Best Song: Dweller On The Threshold. Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • BILLY JOEL - An Innocent Man (1983). After aping the Beatles on The Nylon Curtain, here Joel records an album of original songs that perfectly mimic the music styles of his own childhood - 50s doo-wop, 60s soul and R&B, and so on. Not every one is a classic in its own right, but the accuracy of the musical impressions is good fun. Best Song: Keeping The Faith. Rock. 3/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks (1983). Eno teams up with his brother Roger and flavour-of-the-month guitarist Daniel Lanois to record his best-ever album, intended as a soundtrack to a film about the Apollo moon landings. It combines the best elements of his first ambient records - the beauty of 2, the dark intensity of 4, the sheer ambition and scope and imagination of 1. The best ambient album of all time. Best Song: An Ending (Ascent). Ambient. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • CHARLIE - Charlie (1983). After a string of mediocre-to-bad albums in the late-70s, Charlie were reinvigorated by the addition of new vocalist Terry Slesser (who the entire band hated, I'm told), and adopted a sort of Journey-esque power-rock sound. It's goofy ridiculousness but its sheer entertainment value can't be denied. Best Song: It's Inevitable. Rock. 3.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Let's Dance (1983). David Bowie v.10.0 - a weird blonde man with perfect white teeth and an oversized suit singing disco/pop songs about having fun. Basically, Bowie temporarily shelved the idea of being an artist and just teamed up with Nile Rodgers to make fun pop music. Unlike the album that followed it, Let's Dance has the distinction of consisting of genuinely good pop music. Bowie's next album, Tonight, is one of the worst albums ever made. Worth hearing, to be honest. Best Song: Let's Dance. Pop Rock. 4/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Too Low For Zero (1983). This album utterly befuddles me. I can't comprehend how somebody could make an album with several of their best-ever pop-rock songs ("I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," "I'm Still Standing," "Kiss The Bride," "Saint"), then immediately go on to make a run of some of the most atrocious, boring, lazy albums ever recorded, but Elton somehow managed it. This album is great, but it's his last good one for nearly a decade. Best Song: I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues. Rock. 4/5

  • EURYTHMICS - Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983). Obviously 90% of what this list covers in the 80s will be obscure weird stuff, or the 80s output of artists who peaked in the 70s, but every now and again I'll make a concession to music that was actually popular at the time, like these guys. I like Eurythmics a lot, me and my brother used to listen to them and paint Warhammer models. Best Song: Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). Synthpop. 3.5/5

  • MARILLION - Script For A Jester's Tear (1983). Oh, here we go. The only band to routinely trouble Supertramp for my "best band of all time" accolade (they often nudge ahead in my estimations, to be honest, it's a close-run thing). Marillion decided to make ridiculous, over-the-top prog rock in the Genesis mould at a time when doing that couldn't have been any less popular, and have continued to make incredibly good music in defiance of everybody thinking they're shit right up to today. Their first album is a bit too close to Genesis for my tastes, but still, here they are. Best Song: Forgotten Sons. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • MIKE OLDFIELD - Crises (1983). Oldfield leaned less heavily on 45-minute instrumental suites as the 80s went on, incorporating more short pop-song formats in his songwriting. Admittedly, the title track on Crises is 20 minutes long and the highlight of the album, but the shorter songs are good fun too and include a guest turn from Yes's Jon Anderson. Best Song: Crises. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • NEW ORDER - Power, Corruption & Lies (1983). Ian Curtis's suicide was obviously a huge tragedy but, for my money, a better band emerged from the other side of it. The remaining members of Joy Division launched themselves as New Order and injected a large dose of New Wave-y, synthy fun into their music, without dumbing it down significantly. I find it all a whole lot more enjoyable. Best Song: Age Of Consent. New Wave. 3.5/5

  • PINK FLOYD - The Final Cut (1983). Roger Waters has basically gone mad with power at this point - he forced Richard Wright out of Floyd, and credited this album to "Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd." Admittedly, this is a collection of deeply personal songs about his father's death, but he was still basically a dick about it. After this he declared Floyd a "spent force" and went solo. Best Song: The Gunner's Dream. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • THE POLICE - Synchronicity (1983). This album houses, in "Every Breath You Take," the song that's responsible for everybody thinking the Police were a generic pop group. That opinion overlooks the fact that that song is incredible, and more significantly, overlooks the fact that this album also has loads of really weird and exciting stuff on it. On Synchronicity the Police morph from a white-reggae New Wave band into a really exciting art-rock group. Then they broke up. Best Song: Every Breath You Take. New Wave. 5/5

  • TALKING HEADS - Speaking In Tongues (1983). With Eno no longer mixed up with them, Talking Heads patch up their differences and make an album that's noticeably less experimental than Remain In Light, but that dials up the weird, dance-able fun. Most of it is goofy dance-pop par excellence, then "This Must Be The Place" swoops in at the end and is maybe the best song they ever made. Best Song: This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody). New Wave. 4.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Swordfishtrombones (1983). Kathleen Brennan had introduced Waits to the work of Harry Partch and Captain Beefheart and other neo-primitivist musical iconoclasts. Following his muse into uncharted waters, Waits recorded this squawking, honking, screeching cabaret monster of an album. Asylum ran a mile, so Island Records picked it up and released it, finally making Tom Waits into the cult icon he was always destined to be. Best Song: Shore Leave. Avant-Garde. 4.5/5

  • THE WATERBOYS - The Waterboys (1983). The Waterboys were my big new obsession in 2016. At their best, they sound a bit like classic-era Van Morrison started writing vast, epic rock songs that took advantage of 80s production trends. All their best stuff is in the 80s, and this one is the worst of their 80s albums, but it still has a couple of really great songs on it. Best Song: A Girl Called Johnny. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • YES - 90125 (1983). With Jon Anderson reinstated, guitar hero/poser Trevor Rabin installed as lead guitarist, and 80s super-producer Trevor Horn at the helm, Yes embraced the arena-pop-rock sound hinted at on Drama. Must have come as a huge surprise to their die-hard fans how good they were at making such different music. Honestly sounds like a completely different band, one that's simultaneously much cooler and much more stupid than their previous selfBest Song: Owner Of A Lonely Heart. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • ZZ TOP - Eliminator (1983). Another 70s classic rock band who had to inject a bit of goofiness into their music in order to thrive in this new decade. Unlike Yes, though, ZZ Top kept on playing exactly the same sort of music as before but just added a synth part and a drum machine to it. Everybody was fooled, and thought it was brilliant. Great fun. Best Song: Gimme All Your Lovin'. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - Ammonia Avenue (1984). This is the album where the APP's gradual decline starts. None of their 80s albums are bad, and most of them have some really strong high-points, but there's a growing sense that they're kind of on autopilot now. Nearly all their 80s albums still make the list, though, because it takes a lot for me to actually dislike an Alan Parsons Project album. Best Song: Prime Time. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER - Starlight Express (1984). Yeah, I'm not sure what this is doing here. It's nearly 2 hours long and I'd say about 1 hour 20 of it is really bad, so revisiting it was a chore. But I loved it as a kid, and got weirdly obsessed with it again as a teenager, and it does have about 5 really fun songs. It's here for nostalgia reasons, basically. Best Song: Only He. Soundtrack. 3/5

  • THE BLUE NILE - A Walk Across The Rooftops (1984). It's really hard to put your finger on quite what it is that's so brilliant about the Blue Nile. Every now and again you stumble across an artist that's somehow managed to make music that sounds like the inside of your head, and they're exactly that. It's basically just crystal-clear, perfectly-produced sophisti-pop, but there's so much warmth and beauty and intelligence and distance and sadness running through it. They're astonishing. Best Song: Stay. Sophisti-Pop. 4.5/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Born In The U.S.A. (1984). The stark, stripped-back aesthetic of Nebraska is replaced with a picture of Springsteen's bum in jeans in front of an American flag, and the E Street Band are back in force. The lyrics are actually often as cynical and introspective as on Nebraska, but it sounds like a pop album, so cemented Bruce as one of the few classic rock acts to not only survive into the 80s, but thrive in them. Best Song: Born In The U.S.A. Rock. 4.5/5

  • FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD - Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984). Trevor Horn was one of the most innovative and successful producers of the 80s, to the extent that the artists he worked with were basically just blank canvases for him to experiment on. For Welcome To The Pleasuredome, he removed all of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's contributions except their vocals and built dense slabs of synthesised bombat around them. Almost certainly a nightmare to work for, but a genius in his time. Best Song: The Power Of Love. New Wave. 4/5

  • HAROLD BUDD/BRIAN ENO - The Pearl (1984). Budd and Eno's second collaboration is less twinkly and New Age-y than The Plateaux Of Mirror, and more spacious and sad and mournful. The streak of albums Eno made from On Land through to Thursday Afternoon is pretty much the pinnacle of his ambient output, and the best run of albums he's ever done. Best Song: Late October. Ambient. 4.5/5

  • KEATS - Keats (1984). Keats was a short-lived off-shoot to the Alan Parsons Project, intended to place more focus on the musicians themselves rather than on the producer/songwriter duo of Parsons and Eric Woolfson. The album made no impact whatsoever, which is a shame as it's good fun and these guys deserved some time in the spotlight properly after all the good work they'd done with the APP. Best Song: Heaven Knows. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • KING CRIMSON - Three Of A Perfect Pair (1984). King Crimson generously make it easier to completely avoid the more experimental stuff if you want to by putting all the avant-garde soundscapes on the second side of this album, and all the actual songs on the first. Some of the instrumentals do fall just on the self-indulgent side of interesting for me, but the intense New Wave-y songs that frontload the album are some of the catchiest they ever wrote. Best Song: Sleepless. Avant-Garde. 3/5

  • MARILLION - Fugazi (1984). The best songs on Fugazi are better than the best songs on Script For A Jester's Tear, but the consistency and quality as a whole is slightly lower. However, Fish's vocal mannerisms are at their most gleefully eccentric here, and he has some of his most quotable moments on this album. Best Song: Assassing. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • PRINCE - Purple Rain (1984). There's a weird bit in the Purple Rain movie where Prince, characterised as the underdog, introduces himself into the film by singing "Let's Go Crazy" and after, the rival band who are the sort of antagonists of the film laugh and mockingly sing the song at him as though it's shit, and he has to earn their respect by writing "Purple Rain," despite the fact that "Let's Go Crazy," like every song here, is obviously incredible. Anyway, this is obviously great. Best Song: Purple Rain. Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • RICKIE LEE JONES - The Magazine (1984). RLJ's singing and songwriting are still great on The Magazine, but there's something about the sound of the album that strays close to just being "prettily nice" in an easy-listening sort of way rather than flat-out brilliant. The horn charts on some of the catchier choruses makes up for it, though. Best Song: The Real End. Jazz Rock. 3.5/5

  • ROGER HODGSON - In The Eye Of The Storm (1984). Hodgson became a real dick after leaving Supertramp, constantly claiming to be the "soul" of the band and passive-aggressively suggesting as often as possible that his songs were the only ones people knew. It's frustrating to concede, then, that his debut solo album is really great, combining an adventurous prog sensibility with some brilliant pop songwriting. I love this album, against my better judgment. Best Song: Had A Dream (Sleeping With The Enemy). Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • ROGER WATERS - The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking (1984). 1984 is a pretty exciting year for fans of egomaniacs called Roger who used to front prog bands launching solo careers. Everybody was at it. Anyway, Waters' debut solo effort gets a bit bogged down in an overly-convoluted attempt at a road trip narrative or something, but all its weighty ambition doesn't distract from the fact that, as ever, Waters is brilliant at writing dark, theatrical rock songs. Best Song: 5:06 A.M. (Every Stranger's Eyes). Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • SADE - Diamond Life (1984). I genuinely think in all the annals of music, you'd be hard pressed to find anything quite so smooth, suave, lush and achingly, lazily cool as Sade (pronounced Shah-day, obvs). My mum was a huge fan of hers in the 90s, and despite having only made a handful of albums, she's long been a fixture of my regular listening habits. It's just so effortlessly gorgeous to listen to. Best Song: Smooth Operator. Sophisti-Pop. 4/5

  • SCOTT WALKER - Climate Of Hunter (1984). Walker's first solo album in years shares a lot of the trappings of 80s art-rock, but his otherworldly voice paired with an off-kilter sense to the music itself (none of the musicians were told what the melodies were going to be) anticipates the more truly avant-garde territory he would explore ten years later. Best Song: Track Three. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • STEVE REICH - The Desert Music (1984). The Desert Music has all the pulsing, metronomic, multi-layered hallmarks of Reich's music, but the whole thing is weirdly jarring and slightly discordant in contrast to his earlier stuff like Music For 18 Musicians, where all the harmonies were so perfect it felt like the music was a living thing. Not his best, but still really interesting. Best Song: The Desert Music (Part V). Avant-Garde. 3.5/5

  • STEVE ROACH - Structures From Silence (1984). I became aware of Steve Roach because of a series of really interesting tribal ambient albums he made in the 90s, but it turns out he started off making more generic, twinkly-synth-type ambient music. It's not as innovative or engaging as his later stuff, but it's still really nice. Best Song: Reflections In Suspension. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • TINA TURNER - Private Dancer (1984). Something about the song "What's Love Got To Do With It" has seeped into my subconscious so that it now pops into my head most mornings when I'm showering. That just goes to show how great the earworms on this album are. Sadly, they're backed up by some embarrassingly bad Beatles and Bowie covers, but the good songs are great. Best Song: What's Love Got To Do With It. Pop Rock. 3/5

  • U2 - The Unforgettable Fire (1984). Thank God for U2 that they managed to impress Eno and Lanois enough to convince them to produce their albums, because I'm half-convinced, much as I like the end product of their music itself, that without those two at the helm applying their usual interesting treatments, all that would be left would be Bono's horribly sincere vocals and a bunch of brash, solipsistic, chest-beating rock anthems. To my shame, I do really like U2's 80s and early 90s albums, but I do think a lot of that is because Eno and Lanois worked hard to make them sound nice. Best Song: Pride (In The Name Of Love). Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • VAN HALEN - 1984 (1984). Literally nothing about Van Halen can be taken seriously. They're another goofy hard-rock band in the Bad Company/AC/DC/ZZ Top mould, but even Bad Company occasionally hit upon a profound moment by accident. 1984 is just wall-to-wall power solos, blaring synths and juvenile misogyny. It's embarrassing how much fun it is. Best Song: Jump. Hard Rock. 3/5

  • THE WATERBOYS - A Pagan Place (1984). See, this is how I wish U2 sounded. I also wish the Waterboys could've had U2's success - they've got the same vast grandiosity in the music, but there's so much more heart and soul here. Mind you, A Pagan Place has an 8-minute song about a Red Army conscript with loads of sax solos, so I'm always gonna be a fan of it. Best Song: Red Army Blues. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - Vulture Culture (1985). This seems to be one of the APP's most maligned albums, I guess because it's the only one without any of Andrew Powell's orchestral arrangements, so it just sounds like generic pop-rock with none of the symphonic stuff. But I still think it's a lot of fun. Best Song: Sooner Or Later. Pop Rock. 3/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Thursday Afternoon (1985). Not Eno's most innovative or unusual ambient album, and not even his best, really, but certainly his most perfect in terms of clarity and focus and simplicity. It's just an hour-long track of very gentle synth, with a bit of subtle birdsong near the end. So great to work or fall asleep to. Best Song: Thursday Afternoon. Ambient. 5/5

  • BRYAN FERRY - Boys And Girls (1985). I don't care that Bryan Ferry turned out to be a bit of a dickhead who loves fox-hunting and married a woman nearly 40 years younger than him, or that his music ended up being far more cheesy and populist than his avant-garde early stuff suggested, there'll always be a place in my heart for him because in 1985 he recorded one of the coolest albums of all time. This album is just effortlessly slick. Best Song: Slave To Love. Sophisti-Pop. 4.5/5

  • DIRE STRAITS - Brothers In Arms (1985). Their most successful album by a long way, but not in fact their best. It's front-loaded with some of their best songs, and the closing title track is a classic too, but the quality really drops off in the middle. It doesn't achieve the consistent brilliance that Love Over Gold reached, but still, it's insanely popular for a reason. Best Song: Money For Nothing. Roots Rock. 4/5

  • GRACE JONES - Slave To The Rhythm (1985). After Frankie Goes To Hollywood refused to work with Trevor Horn again, he chose Grace Jones as his muse for his next project - an album consisting only of several radically different arrangements of the same song. It includes snippets of interviews with Jones to maintain the illusion that the album is focused on her, but it's very much Horn's vision. Best Song: Ladies And Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones. New Wave. 3.5/5

  • KATE BUSH - Hounds Of Love (1985). Pianos and guitars are largely sidelined here in favour of strings and various ethereal sounds made by the Fairlight CMI. The first half is a selection of peerless art-rock songs, the second is a song-cycle about a woman lost at sea trying to dream her way back home. In a career with a few masterpieces in it, this is Kate Bush's great masterpiece. Best Song: Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God). Art Rock. 5/5

  • MARILLION - Misplaced Childhood (1985). Marillion's sound matures a bit here, focusing less on 70s-prog-esque virtuoso solo segments, and more on a combination of atmospheric, textural prog soundscapes ("Blind Curve") and masterful pop-rock songs ("Kayleigh.") It's their first truly brilliant album, and the one on which they really set out their stall. Best Song: Kayleigh. Neo-Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • NEW ORDER - Low-Life (1985). I know it's all part of their indie charm, and it's also the result of tragic circumstances, but it does make me laugh how obvious it is that Bernard Sumner was never meant to be the lead singer of a band. He sounds like a tired, sad old dog when he sings, I always think. But don't get me wrong, the music itself is great. Best Song: Love Vigilantes. Synthpop. 4/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - The Firstborn Is Dead (1985). Nick Cave's early stuff with the Birthday Party, and even on the first Bad Seeds album, is a bit too anarchic and formless for me, but on The Firstborn Is Dead he manages to marry his flair for anarchic melodrama with a sort of stately, Gothic sense of drama and gravitas. This is the album where he announces himself as a poetic force to be reckoned with. Best Song: Tupelo. Post-Punk. 4/5

  • PHIL COLLINS - No Jacket Required (1985). I'm not going to pretend that I in any way dislike Phil Collins' big hit songs - he was ridiculously popular for a reason, and that's that he was amazing at writing brilliant pop songs. But, much like his work with Genesis in the 80s, he struggled to back up those amazing hits with consistently enjoyable albums. No Jacket Required just about makes the grade, but it still has some stinkers on it. Best Song: Sussudio. Pop. 3/5

  • SADE - Promise (1985). After how fresh and exciting and cool Diamond Life sounded, I do think some of the songwriting on Promise is a bit rinse-and-repeat. But Sade's voice is so wonderful she could literally just sing a bunch of gameshow jingles and it would still be lovely to listen to. Best Song: The Sweetest Taboo. Sophisti-Pop. 3.5/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Brother Where You Bound (1985). On Brother Where You Bound, Rick Davies definitively proves that Supertramp wasn't reliant on Roger Hodgson's pop songs, and it was actually Davies doing a lot of the interesting stuff all along anyway. It's their most consistently progressive album in years, to the extent that they managed to convince David Gilmour to guest on guitar. Sadly this new lease of life wouldn't last, as their next album was real dogshit. Best Song: Brother Where You Bound. Neo-Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Rain Dogs (1985). All the weirdness and unfettered creativity of Swordfishtrombones, but the songwriting itself is even more spectacular here - there are heart-wrenching ballads, weird polkas, blistering rock songs, spoken-word pieces and even a bona fide pop song in "Downtown Train." Rain Dogs is one of Waits's crowning achievements. Best Song: Downtown Train. Avant-Garde. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • THE WATERBOYS - This Is The Sea (1985). Even though they're one of my more recent obsessions and I really love them, I have to admit that, unlike a lot of my favourite artists, the Waterboys only ever made one truly spectacular album. But what an album it is - it combines the more yearning, spiritual stuff in Mike Scott's songwriting with the most bombastic, exciting rock sound they ever achieved, and it's just brilliantly inspiring stuff. Best Song: This Is The Sea. Alternastive Rock. 5/5

  • BOBBY MCFERRIN - Spontaneous Inventions (1986). Quite simply one of the most technically impressive vocalists of all time. Most of this album is just McFerrin alone onstage singing by himself, but he switches registers so quickly that he ends up able to harmonise with himself and add a rhythm beat-boxing part at the same time, with no overdubbing or editing. I've loved this album since I was a child and I still have no idea how he does most of it. Best Song: Thinkin' About Your Body. Vocal. 4.5/5

  • CAMEO - Word Up! (1986). When I first discovered Cameo, I was labouring under the misapprehension that all funk music was in some way profound or in tune with the infinite, because of my new obsession with Funkadelic, and was convinceYoud that Word Up! had somewhere in it the keys to the universe. I now realise it's just a fun party album, and one with a couple of really duff tracks at that, but when it's on form it's a lot of fun. Best Song: Word Up. Funk. 3.5/5

  • THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Balance Of Power (1986). Basically ELO's final album - Jeff Lynne has cranked out the odd underhwelming comeback album since, sometimes even featuring other former ELO members in guest roles, but this is the last thing they did as a band, really. They're now almost unrecognisable from their avant-garde roots, but as far as silly 80s pop goes, it's pretty enjoyable. Best Song: Heaven Only Knows. Pop. 3/5

  • FALCO - Falco 3 (1986). God, '86 is a really weird year for music. You should hear some of the albums from this year that didn't make the list. Very few artists seemed to be trying to push the envelope of making interesting music this year, so most of the albums that make the list are the ones that just embrace the silly, kitsch naffness of 80s pop. As far as that goes, Falco is one of the best. Very knowingly daft, insanely catchy Austrian New Wave synthpop. I love it. Best Song: Rock Me Amadeus. New Wave. 4.5/5

  • GENESIS - Invisible Touch (1986). Finally, after several years of absolute rubbish, Genesis make their first consistently good album in a long time. It's their only 80s album where the quality of its big standout hit was applied to the rest of the album as well, and there's even a few mildly progressive elements in there too. Good fun. Best Song: Invisible Touch. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • PAUL SIMON - Graceland (1986). There is, unfortunately, a regrettable sort of egocentric obliviousness to the way Paul Simon positioned Graceland as though he'd in some way discovered African music and for his naive stance on apartheid. But, its ethnographic politics aside, the album itself is such a joyful masterpiece, and it did introduce Ladysmith Black Mambazo to a bigger global audience, so I like to think it did a lot of good overall. Best Song: You Can Call  Me Al. World Music. 5/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - So (1986). So is, hands down, one of the best art-rock albums of all time and Gabriel's best-ever work. It dumbs down absolutely none of the intelligence or intensity or strange beauty of his more alternative self-titled albums, but it marries all that to some of the best pop songwriting of the decade. It's the point at which he became a bona fide icon as a solo artist. Saw him do the whole thing live a few years ago, still one of the best things I've ever seen. Best Song: Sledgehammer. Art Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • VAN MORRISON - No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986). Van Morrison's 80s stuff isn't bad in the same way that other 70s artists' 80s stuff is bad. He doesn't embrace 80s production styles to make generic pop, he just forces a strange, overly-sincere metaphysical aspect onto everything that makes most of his albums that decade frankly quite boring. This is one of the few to overcome the creeping inertia in his work and make all the metaphysical elements into something strangely beautiful. Best Song: Foreign Window. Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - Gaudi (1987). This concept album about the Spanish architect was the APP's final proper album (they all worked together on the soundtrack to a musical about Freud in 1990, but that one's more an Eric Woolfson solo thing than a true Project album). Like a lot of bands' final albums, it falls into the "fitting swansong" category - they're not operating at the peak of their powers, but it's also not a stinker that tarnishes their legacy. Best Song: Standing On Higher Ground. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER - The Phantom Of The Opera (1987). I promise this is the last bit of Lloyd Webber on the list, because I basically think he's an awful shit. But, whereas I included Starlight Express for reasons of naff nostalgia, I genuinely think Phantom is a brilliant musical. Plus, it started a feud between Lloyd Webber and Roger Waters, who thought the title song ripped off Pink Floyd's Echoes, which I think is funny. Waters got his own back on 1992's Amused To Death. Best Song: The Point Of No Return. Soundtrack. 4.5/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Tunnel Of Love (1987). Springsteen ditches the E Street Band again, this time to record with some anonymous-sounding session musicians. The pop bombast of Born In The U.S.A. is gone, replaced with one of Springsteen's most personal, introspective albums. Its attempts at pop songs are fairly limp and forgettable, but the second half in particular features some of the most insightful, touching ballads of his career. A neglected gem. Best Song: One Step Up. Rock. 4/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Never Let Me Down (1987). David Bowie v.10.2 - ridiculous. So look, 1984's Tonight deserves all the hate it gets, it's an atrocious album. Never Let Me Down doesn't deserve half the hate it gets. Whereas Let's Dance was commercial pop music but genuinely good pop music, and Tonight was awful pop music, Never Let Me Down sees Bowie just shrug and go "I'm just gonna have fun." And it's so much fun. And yes, I think the most maligned song of Bowie's career, which was deleted from all subsequent pressings of the album because he was so embarrassed by it, is the best song on the album. Best Song: Too Dizzy. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • DEPECHE MODE - Music For The Masses (1987). By '87, Depeche Mode's brand of synthpop had evolved from jaunty silliness to these ominous, intense slabs of noise. I think I objectively dislike Dave Gahan's leaden vocals, but they actually work quite well in the context of their robotic, meancing music. Best Song: Never Let Me Down Again. Synthpop. 3/5

  • FLEETWOOD MAC - Tango In The Night (1987). Fleetwood Mac got a bit rubbish in the early 80s, then they all splintered off to record solo albums. They briefly reconvened for this reunion, despite their interpersonal problems at this point. The difficulties making it don't show as I think it's their second-best album with a bunch of their most exciting songs. Lindsey Buckingham quit before the ensuing tour and the band became rubbish again for well over a decade. Best Song: Everywhere. Rock. 4.5/5

  • GEORGE MICHAEL - Faith (1987). I know, I know, it's pretty weird of me to start including George Michael on here having not included even the barest mention of Wham! up until now. What can I say, guys, I guess no Wham! album has ever made a huge impact on me. Faith is brilliant, though, one of my favourites as a kid and one of the best pop albums of the 80s. Best Song: Faith. Pop. 5/5

  • JETHRO TULL - Crest Of A Knave (1987). You would've thought that a Dire Straits-esque hard-rock/synthpop album about farmers and steelworkers by Jethro Tull would be awful, but whaddya know, it's one of the best things they ever did. It even beat Metallica to a Grammy for Best Metal Album, prompting Ian Anderson to remark "Well, we do sometimes play our mandolins very loudly." Best Song: Farm On The Freeway. Hard Rock. 4.5/5

  • LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO - Shaka Zulu (1987). To capitalise on the bigger global platform he'd handed them by featuring them on Graceland, Paul Simon agreed to produce Ladysmith Black Mambazo's next album. He wisely refrains from forcing any of his own musical ideas into the mix, keeping the focus squarely on their traditional a cappella harmonies. A beautiful album. Best Song: Unomathemba. World Music. 4/5

  • MARILLION - Clutching At Straws (1987). I'm always torn as to which Fish-era Marillion album I prefer out of the more iconic, grandiose Misplaced Childhood or the more atmospheric, moody Clutching At Straws. As some of the more introspective lyrics show, Fish was getting concerned that his rock & roll lifestyle was going to kill him unless he took a step back at this point. He left the band after this album, putting an end to ther first phase of their exsitence. Best Song: Slainte Mhath. Neo-Progressive Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • MICHAEL JACKSON - Bad (1987). You'd expect that if the little boy who wrote "The Girl Is Mine" and "She's Out Of My Life" made a concerted effort to make a more "grown-up" album where he wears a leather jacket and tries really hard to be a "cool adult," it would be excruciatingly embarrassing. But MJ genuinely does come on a long way here, sounding more mature and confrontational and the songs genuinely are a lot cooler than on his earlier albums. Best Song: Man In The Mirror. Funk. 4/5

  • PINK FLOYD - A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987). After a hilariously bad solo album, David Gilmour reunited the other members of Pink Floyd (except Roger Waters) to disprove Waters' theory that the band was a "spent force." Admittedly this sounds more like slightly intellectual pop-rock than truly challenging prog, but it's still really good. Best Song: Learning To Fly. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • PRINCE - Sign "O" The Times (1987). After a couple of albums that struggled to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle of Purple Rain, Prince found his footing again with this longer, more eclectic album, ranging from the moody, stripped-back funk of the title track to the overblown ridiculousness of "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" (complete with a rap performance of an Edward Lear nonsense poem). Best Song: U Got The Look. Funk. 4/5

  • THE PROCLAIMERS - This Is The Story (1987). At one stage, when all I listened to were Best Of's, the Proclaimers were in my top 5 bands, I think. Their albums don't hold up as much as their bigger hits, though, and this debut is an inconsistent thing. But they're still a delightfully charming slice of unaffected, uncynical, upbeat positivity and when their songwriting is on form, they're enormously fun. Best Song: Throw The R Away. Folk Rock. 3/5

  • ROGER WATERS - Radio K.A.O.S. (1987). The concept of this album is absolutely nuts (Welsh paraplegic boy who can hear radio waves goes to stay with his uncle after his brother goes to prison, hacks into a satellite and causes global annihilation) and the music is cheesy 80s prog-rock at its finest. A ludicrously enjoyable album. Best Song: Radio Waves. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • STING - ...Nothing Like The Sun (1987). There's a lot more intellectual posing on Sting's solo stuff than on the more direct, fun stuff he did with the Police. But, on the occasions where he's able to make his ego subservient to his talent and not the other way round, he remains a really brilliant songwriter. Best Song: Englishman In New York. Jazz Rock. 3/5

  • TOM WAITS - Franks Wild Years (1987). The weirdest of Waits's deeply weird trilogy of albums in the 80s. He pushes his voice to some really outlandish places, and the music and instrumentation sound closer to Brecht-Weill-esque cabaret or circus music than anything resembling rock music. Another masterpiece. Best Song: Train Song. Avant-Garde. 5/5

  • U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987). The first three songs on The Joshua Tree combine the natural bombast and grandeur of U2's music with the ethereal loveliness of Eno and Lanois's production to make three of the best, most iconic songs in alternative rock. The rest of the album is fine. Best Song: Where The Streets Have No Name. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • YES - Big Generator (1987). Any die-hard Yes fans who found the commercial pop-rock tone of 90125 a bit goofy and silly will find Big Generator really depressing because it dials the goofiness up to 11. I think it's a lot of fun - Yes's music was always a bit silly, even back when they were taking themselves relatively seriously, so I see no problems with this. Best Song: Rhythm Of Love. Pop Rock. 3/5

  • BOBBY MCFERRIN - Simple Pleasures (1988). There are a lot more overdubs here than on the mostly-lived Spontaneous Inventions, so the awe-struck sense that you're listening to an actual magician is slightly diminished. The sheer joy of his music is still present, but the ingeniousness of his performance isn't as captivating here. Best Song: Don't Worry, Be Happy. Vocal. 3/5

  • FAIRGROUND ATTRACTION - The First Of A Million Kisses (1988). Really can't over-emphasise how much I love this album. It was on constant rotation in our house so often when I was a kid that I can no longer engage any critical faculties when I hear it to work out whether it really is a masterpiece or if I'm being clouded by nostalgia. All I can tell is that my heart fills with joy every time I hear any of the songs on it, and that's enough for me. Best Song: Allelujah. Folk. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • HALL & OATES - Ooh Yeah! (1988). Just noticed there was never actually an album credited to Hall & Oates, they were all credited to Daryl Hall & John Oates. I wonder if they're annoyed that posterity has chosen to erase their first names. I wonder if I should change how I refer to them. Hmm. Anyway, this is the last Hall & Oates album I've heard, and it's good fun. Can't be bothered to listen to their generally derided 90s output, though. Also, this is the worst album title of all time. Best Song: Downtown Life. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • HAROLD BUDD - The White Arcades (1988). One of the very first ambient albums I ever heard, and still one of my very favourites. It has all the New Age prettiness of Budd's earlier stuff, but with a far more developed sense of atmosphere and vastness and mystery. Best Song: The White Arcades. Ambient. 4.5/5

  • JOHN ADAMS - Shaker Loops (1988). I'm sort of cheating here as my recording of these pieces is from 2004, but they were all composed between '86 and '88 so I'm putting them here. John Adams was one of the new kids on the block of the avant-garde modern classical scene in the 80s, taking up the baton from Reich and Nyman and Bryars et al. "Shaker Loops" itself is great, but is eclipsed by "Short Ride In A Fast Machine," which is one of the most exciting pieces of modern classical music ever composed. Best Song: Short Ride In A Fast Machine. Avant-Garde. 4/5

  • LEONARD COHEN - I'm Your Man (1988). From the perspective of someone who's only heard Cohen's early 70s albums and this, this is pretty weird. I assume there's a long musical and personal journey that leads to him making a drum-machine-laden synthpop album. Maybe one day I'll find the time to delve into it. Despite some misfires, this is basically a pretty fun album. Best Song: I'm Your Man. Synthpop. 3/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Tender Prey (1988). I think Cave was right in the midst of his heroin addiction around the time that Tender Prey emerged (along with most of his 80s stuff), and it shows - it's one of the darkest, most unhinged and disturbing albums of the decade. Even the one song that comes close to sounding beautiful instead of demented is about spying on a woman as she dresses. It's a frightening album, but a brilliant one. Best Song: The Mercy Seat. Post-Punk. 4.5/5

  • PRINCE - Lovesexy (1988). One final decent album from Prince before his frustratingly inconsistent years with new backing band the New Power Generation. He's not at his best here, but it's an enjoyable enough album for him to bow out of the decade he helped define. Best Song: Alphabet St. Funk. 3.5/5

  • THE PROCLAIMERS - Sunshine On Leith (1988). My girlfriend is from Edinburgh, and this album is basically a love-letter to the city, so it always puts a smile on my face. It's also really saying something, considering this album boasts two of the Proclaimers' most iconic songs in the title track and "500 Miles," that my favourite song here is still "Then I Met You" because it always makes me think of her. Best Song: Then I Met You. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • TALKING HEADS - Naked (1988). The horn charts on the first two songs of Naked are just one of my favourite things. They're so much fun. The album kind of falls off a ledge after that, but it's still consistently enjoyable and never as plodding and lacklustre as their forgettable mid-80s stuff. This was their last album, and it's a decent one to bow out on. Best Song: Mr Jones. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Big Time (1988). As I've said, I'm not mad keen on live albums, but Big Time is well worth some attention for its two brilliant new songs, a vastly improved version of "Way Down In The Hole" and the gloriously-told story about the Civil War soldier that introduces "Train Song" which is the most delightfully-spun yarn in the annals of Waits's side-line as a storyteller. Best Song: Falling Down. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • TRACY CHAPMAN - Tracy Chapman (1988). Is it lame to love "Fast Car" as much as I do? I feel like there was a trendy remix of it recently that probably means it's a bit lame now. I mean, Chapman has done a huge amount of massively important social activist work; reducing all that to "that pop song she did was great" just because this is the only album of hers I know feels a bit glib. But there we go. She's a really great singer-songwriter, and "Fast Car" is really boss. Best Song: Fast Car. Folk. 4/5

  • THE WATERBOYS - Fisherman's Blues (1988). In which Mike Scott follows his mystic muse towards traditional Irish folk music. It's a really beautiful, lovely, joyful album, although, much as I really like the Waterboys' folk stuff, it's telling that by far the best songs are the two opening ones which still have half a foot in their former art-rock style. Best Song: Fisherman's Blues. Folk Rock. 4/5. ALBUM 500 OF 1001!

  • BILLY JOEL - Storm Front (1989). The days when Billy Joel made music with real artistry within it are long-gone by this point - this is, objectively, undemanding pop music. But, though I'm a music snob, I'm not that dreadful a music snob. If a formerly-great musical artist changes tack in order to make genuinely good pop music, I'll give them a pass. Also, "And So It Goes" is his most beautiful ballad. Best Song: And So It Goes. Pop. 3.5/5

  • THE BLUE NILE - Hats (1989). Once again, the Blue Nile make an album of synthpop that sounds not like an 80s relic, but like it was beamed in directly from the depths of somebody's soul. It's utterly beautiful. The ultimate late-night train journey album, to the extent that it has a song about a late-night train journey, but even without that, that's exactly what it is. Best Song: Saturday Night. Sophisti-Pop. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • KATE BUSH - The Sensual World (1989). There are individual moments on The Sensual World that are as good as Hounds Of Love, but whereas that album was an intense, deliriously imaginative continuous dream, this is less consistent or imaginative and very much feels like a collection of good songs in contrast. It's great when it's good, but her ambition has been scaled back a bit, which is a shame. Oh, but David Gilmour does some soling on it, so bonus points for that. Best Song: This Woman's Work. Art Rock. 4/5

  • LOU REED - New York (1989). In a decade where synths and studio trickery edged out the purism of guitar-rock and even guitar-rock itself became overtly commercial and populist, Lou Reed's best album in 16 years is a rallying-cry for stripped-back, aggressive garage-rock - just him, a guitar, bass and drums. It's good. Best Song: Busload Of Faith. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • MARILLION - Seasons End (1989). Steve Hogarth was born on the 14th of May. He became Marillion's lead vocalist in 1989. This means he celebrated his first birthday as Marillion's lead vocalist on the day I was born. THIS HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING. My only friend who also likes Marillion finds it enraging that I treat the Hogarth era with an equal amount of respect to the Fish era, but there it is. I think the Hogarth era is brilliant. Best Song: Seasons End. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Freedom (1989). After spending nearly the entire decade making music that ranged from entertainingly bad to depressingly bad, the first sign of Young's impending creative resurgence show their heads on this almost-really-good album. Granted, a huge part of its appeal is that it features one of Young's most iconic songs (two versions, no less), but even beyond that classic there is stuff to enjoy here for the first time in a long time. Best Song: Rockin' In The Free World (Electric). Rock. 3/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - Passion (1989). After the smash-hit success of So, Peter Gabriel could have done pretty much everything and it probably would've made a lot of money. He chose to record a soundtrack album to a film about the last temptation of Christ featuring intensely beautiful ambient soundscapes with Middle Eastern instrumentation. Given the option to choose to continue being a popstar, he chose to continue being an artist. An incredibly powerful album. Best Song: Passion. World Music. 4.5/5

  • PHIL COLLINS - ...But Seriously (1989). At the other end of the spectrum of Genesis alumni, Phil Collins has got being a popstar down to a fine art. No Jacket Required has far too much naff rubbish on it for me to be truly very affectionate of it, but ...But Seriously is genuinely great. Its big hits are wonderful, and even on the less stellar material, it rarely puts a foot wrong into becoming actively annoying like Collins' worse albums do. Best Song: Another Day In Paradise. Pop. 4/5

  • RICKIE LEE JONES - Flying Cowboys (1989). love this album. It's not quite up to the standards of her first two, but what I love about it is that it adopts the form of a collection of commercial pop songs, but there's a consistent strangeness to them and an independent spirit to the whole thing that makes it feel unknowable and magical throughout. I think it's a really lovely, mysterious album. Best Song: Flying Cowboys. Jazz Rock. 4.5/5

  • STEVE REICH - Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint (1989). For "Different Trains," Reich interviewed Holocaust survivors and American Jews and converted their actual recorded speech patterns into atonal melodies for a string quartet to be set to a collage of nightmarish sound effects. It's an incredible piece, if a tough listen. "Electric Counterpoint" is a less fascinating piece of music, but an utterly gorgeous one. Best Song: Different Trains (Part III). Avant-Garde. 4.5/5

  • TIN MACHINE - Tin Machine (1989). David Bowie v.11.0 - just the bearded lead vocalist and songwriter of a democratically-run band, because he felt like he'd burnt himself out as a solo act. Everybody hates Tin Machine and I think that's unfair because it's not bad music, it's just a particular brand of swaggering, slightly arty bluesy hard-rock which looked like a huge throwback in '89 and felt out of keeping with Bowie's usual eclecticism. But they're good at what they do. Best Song: Crack City. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • TRACY CHAPMAN - Crossroads (1989). Like Chapman's debut, this starts off with some absolutely killer songs, then trails off a bit after the halfway mark into the second half. But her voice is so wonderful, the aesthetic so sincere and unpretentious, and her songwriting when she's on form is so brilliant, that you can't help but really warm to it despite the lack of consistency. Best Song: Bridges. Folk. 3.5/5

  • BAD COMPANY - Holy Water (1990). Bad Company had been rubbish for over a decade when Charlie's Terry Thomas started producing their albums in '88. Full disclosure: they're still rubbish, but from Holy Water there's a short run of albums so aware of their own stupidity that they become ridiculously entertaining. Best Song: Holy Water. Hard Rock. 3/5

  • BRIAN ENO & JOHN CALE - Wrong Way Up (1990). Eno's first album of actual songs in over a decade is a collaboration with Velvet Underground alumnus John Cale, and introduces all the electronic eccentricities that would characterise all his subsequent song-based output. It also boasts his most beautiful ever song in "Spinning Away." Best Song: Spinning Away. Art Rock. 4/5

  • COCTEAU TWINS - Heaven Or Las Vegas (1990). Don't know much about Cocteau Twins - wasn't mad keen on Treasure, but this is nice. Not every song is a club banger, but there's a shimmery loveliness to the whole thing, and the whole not-quite-singing-actual-words thing is a cool effect. Best Song: Heaven Or Las Vegas. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • DEPECHE MODE - Violator (1990). Confession time - I have an enormous nostalgic affection for Songs Of Faith And Devotion, but outside of that album, I think Depeche Mode's music sounds a bit silly. It sounds like something you'd write to score a scene set in a 90s nightclub in a bad TV movie. I guess largely because they helped define 90s dance music maybe? Whatever. I mean, it's obviously good, but I'm shocked these guys were ever taken seriously. Best Song: Policy Of Truth. Synthpop. 3.5/5

  • EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL - The Language Of Life (1990). Throughout the 80s Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt were making a particular brand of lo-fi sophistipop that I find basically quite tedious. In '94 they released an album I still rank as one of my very favourites of all time. The Language Of Life is the starting point for the uptick in the quality of their stuff. Best Song: Driving. Sophistipop. 3.5/5

  • FISH - Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors (1990). Fish has never made a solo album as good as the two best albums he made with Marillion - whether that's because the musicians and co-writers he's worked with since aren't as good as his old band, or because he never quite recaptured the inspiration he had in the 80s I'm not quite sure. But even when making less essential work, he's still dependably one of the best neo-prog singers around and rarely makes uninteresting work. Best Song: Vigil. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • MAZZY STAR - She Hangs Brightly (1990). Hope Sandoval's voice is lovely and dreamlike, but David Roback's guitar accompaniments haven't yet taken on the epic, wounded, meditative qualities they would on the next album, so some of the music itself feels a bit pedestrian. Still an enjoyable harbinger of great stuff to come, though. Best Song: Give You My Lovin'. Alternative Rock. 3/5

  • MIKE OLDFIELD - Amarok (1990). As Oldfield's sales dwindled in the 80s, Virgin Records kept pressuring him to record a Tubular Bells sequel to make them money. In response, he made this hour-long piece of continuous, virtuosic brilliance which includes an extended solo by a Margaret Thatcher impersonator and a Morse code section that spells out "Fuck Off Richard Branson." Virgin subsequently dropped him and he immediately made a Tubular Bells sequel for another label. A gloriously brilliant album. Best Song: Amarok. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE - Ragged Glory (1990). Having pretty much invented the grunge movement 10 years ahead of time with Rust Never Sleeps, Neil reunites with Crazy Horse for an album of brutal guitar jams and intense solos that repositions himself as the father of the movement. His best-ever guitar rock album, and one of his very best full stop. Best Song: Love And Only Love. Hard Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • PAUL SIMON - The Rhythm Of The Saints (1990). Having explored and showcased traditional South African music on Graceland, Simon sets his fun pop-folk songs to accompaniments influenced by Latin American music, particularly in the percussive sounds. It's all really very lovely. Best Song: The Obvious Child. World Music. 4/5

  • THE QUIREBOYS - A Bit Of What You Fancy (1990). For my 12th birthday I got a CD called 20 Original Chart Hits Of 1989. Along with introducing me to genuinely good artists like Kate Bush and the Waterboys, it also had the Quireboys' "7 O' Clock." I later happened to see them live at a classic rock festival in 2010, and then really got into this album. I know it's silly lowest-common-denominator throwback hard-rock of the highest order, but it holds a place in my heart. Best Song: 7 O' Clock. Hard Rock. 3/5

  • THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS - Flood (1990). A really weird album. It includes some genuinely good, sincere actual music, then a bunch of novelty songs so bizarre they become brilliant, and a fair few novelty songs so bad they're quite embarrassing to listen to. It's never quite clear which of these tones was the one they were aiming for when they made this. Whatever they intended, it's a really fun oddity of an album. Best Song: Birdhouse In Your Soul. Comedy. 3.5/5

  • THE WATERBOYS - Room To Roam (1990). Whereas Fisherman's Blues married the Waterboys' art-rock style to Celtic folk music, Room To Roam is them making straight-up, purist Celtic folk music. They're really good at it, and the songs are lovely, but a part of me does miss the epic grandeur of their 80s stuff. Best Song: The Raggle Taggle Gypsy. Folk. 3.5/5

  • ZZ TOP - Recycler (1990). The follow-up to the great Eliminator was the terrible Afterburner, but the next one after that is a real return to form. It's slightly harder and less disco-y than Eliminator, but still has loads of silly good-time boogie-blues-rock tunes on it, and they're still having lots of fun. Lots more tedious albums to come, and one more brilliant one too. Best Song: Doubleback. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • DAVE GRUSIN - The Gershwin Connection (1991). Wow, I used to love this. I think it might have been my introduction to jazz or something - it's Grusin playing various Gershwin covers, and it's nice, but it's also much more clinical-sounding and muzac-y than I remember it. Still a lovely album and a formative experience for me, though, but not the work of genius I once thought it was. Best Song: Prelude II. Jazz. 4/5

  • EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL - Worldwide (1991). If you liked The Language Of Life, you'll like this. It's all very lovely still, even if we're not yet at Amplified Heart levels of brilliance. Lots of gentle synth beds and yearning, crooning vocals with loads of London place-names in it. As someone who was a kid in London then left, all these guys' music sounds like it's drifting to me from an exiled childhood, or something. Best Song: One Place. Sophisti-Pop. 4/5

  • FISH - Internal Exile (1991). Definitely one of the more bland, generic offerings from Fish's solo discography, but it makes the cut partly thanks to the stadium-rock brilliance of "Credo" and partly due to the Celtic folk of the title track, which my girlfriend loves as it's about Scottish independence, so I love it too. Best Song: Internal Exile. Rock. 3/5

  • GIPSY KINGS - Gipsy Kings Live (1991). I'm about to blow your minds about the Gipsy Kings, guys - they're French. I know, I'm not joking. Crazy, isn't it? Anyway, these French guys have probably done more for Spanish music than pretty much anybody else I can think of, and, much as I'm not mad-keen on live albums, this one is just club banger after club banger and I just think they're great. Best Song: Bamboleo. World Music. 4/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Night Ride Home (1991). Of all the great 70s artists who got shit in the 80s, Joni had one of the saddest falls from grace, as her 80s albums are truly awful. The leap in quality from '87's Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm to Night Ride Home is immense, and this is such a lovely, welcome return to form. Best Song: Come In From The Cold. Adult Contemporary. 4/5

  • MARILLION - Holidays In Eden (1991). Often unfairly derided as Marillion's shit pop album, this is actually alright. "Splintering Heart" and the closing suite of "This Town/The Rake's Progress/100 Nights" are great prog-tinged mini-epics, and "Cover My Eyes" is up there with "Kayleigh" among the best pop songs they've ever written. Best Song: Cover My Eyes (Pain And Heaven). Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • NATALIE COLE - Unforgettable...With Love (1991). A bumper-sized album on which Nat King Cole's daughter breezes through a stellar collection of songs made famous by her dad is as brilliant as that sounds, then it punches you in the gut at the end with the title track, a duet between the two of them using 30-year-old archive recordings of Cole Snr. One of my very, very favourite jazz albums. Best Song: Unforgettable. Jazz. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • RICKIE LEE JONES - Pop Pop (1991). The first RLJ album I ever heard, so it has a special place in my heart. It's a spirited, woozy collection of covers, mostly of Tin Pan Alley standards but also of a few gems of psychedelic 60s rock by the likes of Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane. Best Song: I Won't Grow Up. Jazz Rock. 4/5

  • STING - The Soul Cages (1991). "Hey mate, do you wanna go listen to Sting's 1990 jazz-rock album about the decline of the Newcastle ship-building industry and his dead dad, with no hits on it?" "No thanks, that sounds really awful." "Joke's on you because it's one of the best albums ever made." Best Song: Why Should I Cry For You? Jazz Rock. 5/5

  • TAKE 6 - He Is Christmas (1991). This album of Chrismas carol reimaginings from one of the best a cappella gospel groups of all time has been on constant rotation in my family Christmas every year since I was a kid. These days my flatmates tell me it sounds like cheesy 90s porn music, so it's slightly lost its edge for me. Still fun though. Best Song: Amen! Vocal. 3.5/5

  • TIN MACHINE - Tin Machine II (1991). Because Tin Machine is technically a democratic band not a Bowie solo project, Bowie generously lets drummer Hunt Sales write and sing two songs himself on Tin Machine II. Predictably enough, they're two of the worst songs Bowie's ever had anything to do with. A shame, because other than those two I think this is a slight improvement over the first album, and contains a couple of absolute classics that most Bowie fans probably don't know. Best Song: Goodbye Mr Ed. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • U2 - Achtung Baby (1991). Neither as epic and grandiose as The Joshua Tree, nor as weird and experimental as Zooropa, Achtung Baby is basically just U2 making generic 90s rock music. That might sound like a horrible prospect, but there are actually some decent tunes here. Best Song: One. Alternative Rock. 3/5

  • YES - Union (1991). On which the over-the-top official Yes lineup of Squire/Rabin/Kaye/White/Anderson teams up with lacklustre Yes splinter group Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe to record this over-the-top, lacklustre pop album. It's actually such a stupid endeavour that a lot of it ends up being hugely entertaining, even if lots of it isn't necessarily that good. Best Song: The More We Live - Let Go. Pop Rock. 3/5

  • ANNIE LENNOX - Diva (1992). The whole deal with Eurythmics was how Annie Lennox's very warm, soulful vocals were a counterpoint to David A. Stewart's cold, robotic-sounding synth arrangements. In Lennox's solo work, the music itself is still synth-driven, but much warmer and more soulful to better complement her voice. It may not be as interesting a combination, but I think it makes for better music. Best Song: Walking On Broken Glass. Pop. 4.5/5

  • BAD COMPANY - Here Comes Trouble (1992). The last album that Terry Thomas produced for Bad Company, and the best. Obviously it's technically still an absurd stinker of an album, the bottom of the barrel of hard-rock music, with some appallingly earnest full-throated, full-choir ballads, but God help me, I can't help but enjoy this kind of rubbish. Best Song: Brokenhearted. Hard Rock. 3/5

  • ELTON JOHN - The One (1992). The first Elton album I ever heard, and still one of my absolute favourites. It seems to be fairly universally disliked, which I just can't understand. Maybe this is one of those situations where nostalgia clouds my judgement, but all I can hear when I listen to this is by far and away his best album since the early-70s. Yes, the production style is very 90s, but I think the songwriting is the best it's been in decades. Best Song: On Dark Street. Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL - Acoustic (1992). Even on the good albums, there's a certain twinkly synth-y naffness to EBTG's earlier stuff. On this acoustic set, including reworkings of their own songs and covers of songs by artists including Tom Waits and Springsteen, the duo get much closer to the emotional core of what they're capable of. Best Song: Time After Time. Adult Contemporary. 4.5/5

  • MIKE OLDFIELD - Tubular Bells II (1992). Oldfield's belated sequel to his original masterpiece isn't hugely original - it follows the structure of the original beat-for-beat, and never really does anything better than he managed it first time round. But it does have a few really fun surprises up its sleeve, and it feels closer to a sprightly, slight reinvention than a pointless second lap, which it could easily have been. Best Song: The Great Plain. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE MUPPETS - The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). For the first year ever I've noticed a bit of an internet backlash to The Muppet Christmas Carol, joyless trolls mouthing off about it being overrated. I think some people are just desperate to be contrary about anything. When you listen to the soundtrack you can't even see Michael Caine or any Muppets, and it still lifts your heart with joy. Haters gonna hate, this is the best Christmas album of all time. Best Song: It Feels Like Christmas. Soundtrack. 5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Harvest Moon (1992). In '92 Young reunited with the acoustic band he recorded Harvest with and made this sort-of follow-up which, as far as I'm concerned, is right up there with Harvest as one of his very best. I went to visit a friend in Vietnam once and the first thing we did when I got there was sit in silence and listen to this. I consider this an album worth going all around the world for. Best Song: Natural Beauty. Folk. 5/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Henry's Dream (1992). Having spent the 80s alternating between brilliant albums and slighlty mediocre ones, Henry's Dream is the start of a 5-year streak of brilliance for Nick Cave in which he consolidates himself as one of the most essential artists of the 90s. Best Song: Straight To You. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - Us (1992). Us is a slightly frustrating album - it has scattered moments which easily match the brilliance of So, but between those moments, getting on for half of it is a bit of a flat disappointment. Given how long Gabriel takes between releasing albums, it's a shame it couldn't have boasted more material which felt really essential. Best Song: Secret World. Art Rock. 3.5/5

  • PJ HARVEY - Dry (1992). For me, PJ Harvey became truly brilliant in the mid-90s when her sound became a bit more eclectic and unusual - her simpler, more noisy garage-rock early albums feel less essential to me. But even in these early days where she's finding her feet, there's still enough strangeness on show to grab your attention. Best Song: Dress. Alternative Rock. 3/5

  • PORCUPINE TREE - On The Sunday Of Life (1992). I can't think of many bands who have done more to keep the spirit of prog alive into thr 21st century than Porcupine Tree (I prefer Marillion, obvs, but Porcupine Tree always took the genre more seriously). Their first album is a massive mixed bag, containing as many irritating novelty pieces as genuinely brilliant prog epics, but it's a bold statemet of intent from one of the essential modern-day prog bands. Best Song: Radioactive Toy. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • ROGER WATERS - Amused To Death (1992). In a career principally defined by cynicism and world-weariness, this is Waters' most cynically world-weary album. It's also his most intensely epic and, occasionally, his most moving. It might just flat-out be his best, though it's a bit bloody long. Best Song: Three Wishes. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • SADE - Love Deluxe (1992). Sort of the same old formula as on the band's 80s albums, but enhanced to perfection. The music has the same Latin-esque, smooth jazz vibe to it and Sade's vocals are as brilliant as ever, but the lush arrangements and synth parts are so beautiful they almost become ambient pieces that her voice floats over. Brilliant album. Best Song: Pearls. Sophisti-Pop. 5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Bone Machine (1992). I once read a review of this album that said if you did anything other than praise it to the rafters it would come alive and eat you. That about sums it up - the carnivalesque, surreal sense of invention of his 80s album is replaced with something much more primal and skeletal and brutal and terrifying. Another Waits masterpiece. Best Song: Goin' Out West. Avant-Garde. 5/5

  • TORI AMOS - Little Earthquakes (1992). Sort of like somebody took up the quirky piano-based art-rock baton from Kate Bush and replaced most of the ethereal fairytale elements with a boatload of attitude and psychosexual drama. A bit like that. Best Song: Precious Things. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • ALAN PARSONS - Try Anything Once (1993). Parsons' debut "solo" album actually sees him maintain his previous, invisible/ever-present producer role while a rotating assortment of guest musicians play most of the music rather than actually putting Parsons himself in the spotlight. Without Project cohort Eric Woolfson co-writing the songs, though, there's slightly less 80s cheese here and slightly more brooding intensity. How you feel about that will depend entirely on how brilliant you thought the Project was in its previous incarnation. Best Song: Turn It Up. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • BILLY JOEL - River Of Dreams (1993). Billy Joel's last-ever proper studio album has a first half consisting of some of the most wince-inducingly awful songs he ever wrote, and a second half including three of his absolute best-ever club bangers. A weirdly mixed album to bow out on, but there we go. Best Song: All About Soul. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • BJORK - Debut (1993). Bjork has to go down as one of the most truly brilliant genius artists of the 90s. One of very few artists I really like to actually be at the cutting edge of 90s production techniques and musical styles, and always be incorporating them in a way that illuminates her strange artistry rather than feeling like she's trying to make something cynical or populist. I wish I continued to enjoy and understand her later work as much as I love her early stuff. Best Song: Venus As A Boy. Electronic. 4/5

  • BRYAN FERRY - Taxi (1993). I think this is a fairly hated album, consisting of covers of 60s classics in a style a million miles away from anything their writers ever intended. Radical though these takes might be, I actually really enjoy the neon-lit, swooning, late-night sophisti-pop vibe Ferry brings to everything, and I really enjoy this. Best Song: All Tomorrow's Parties. Sophisti-Pop. 3.5/5

  • COUNTING CROWS - August And Everything After (1993). As an adult, I have mixed feelings on Counting Crows. I now hear a lot of generic, angsty solipsism in Adam Duritz's songs, and it all sounds a bit like the sort of thing you'd play over a sad montage during the third-act crisis of a bad American teen movie. But I can't listen to this and screen out how much I loved these guys as a teenager or how formative this music was for me. And occasionally they're genuinely good. Best Song: Round Here. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - The Buddha Of Suburbia (1993). David Bowie v. 13.0 - a suave, suited, bearded 90s man making his most interesting music in over a decade. After a fairly mediocre comeback album the same year, Bowie made this soundtrack to a TV adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's novel and it's principally jazzy electronica or avant-garde ambient stuff. Fascinating and occasionally really beautiful. Best Song: Ian Fish, U.K. Heir. Electronic. 4/5

  • DEPECHE MODE - Songs Of Faith And Devotion (1993). I've said how I find Depeche Mode's earlier albums a bit naff and clubby, and Dave Gahan's voice quite monotonous, but some weird alchemy happens on Songs Of Faith And Devotion and suddenly every song is brilliant and his voice is a force of nature. Ranges all the way from primal cool to being genuinely quite profound in places. Wonderful album. Best Song: Walking In My Shoes. Electronic. 4.5/5

  • IGGY POP - American Caesar (1993). Having been kept alive through the 80s largely thanks to Bowie covering his songs for him, Iggy Pop starts making a new concerted effort to be good again in the 90s. American Caesar is a bit long and directionless, and has some stinkers alongside the great stuff, but it's just nice to hear Iggy with a bit of conviction for the first time in ages. Best Song: Beside You. Rock. 3.5/5

  • KATE BUSH - The Red Shoes (1993). Sure, Kate Bush's last album before a long hiatus is much more scattershot and poppy than the artistry of her 80s masterpieces, but to be honest, it's nice to listen to her just having fun, even if some of the songs aren't her best. It has to be a good album when one of the worst songs is the one Prince contributed to. Though this was 90s Prince, to be fair. Best Song: Moments Of Pleasure. Pop Rock. 3.5/5

  • MAZZY STAR - So Tonight That I Might See (1993). Light-years ahead of She Hangs Brightly, Mazzy Star's second effort is far more strange and epic and unknowable. I owe my awareness of them to my best friend who had a big thing for "Into Dust" for a while. It's angsty 90s music, admittedly, but of the highest order. Best Song: Into Dust. Alternative Rock. 4.5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • STEVE ROACH - Origins (1993). I don't know if Steve Roach was the first person to experiment with the idea of "tribal ambient" music, but he's certainly one of the most significant. Basically, if you've ever listened to a fairly generic dark ambient album and thought "I wonder what this would be like with tribal drumming and ominous chanting and loads of didgeridoo?" then you're on this guy's wavelength. Best Song: Clay, Wood, Bone, Dirt. Ambient. 4.5/5

  • STING - Ten Summoner's Tales (1993). One of a handful of Sting albums we listened to near-constantly when I was a kid, and my least favourite of that handful. I mean, it's got "Fields Of Gold" and some other bangers on it, but also rather a lot of quite bland adult contemporary stuff. Still, I'm enormously fond of it. Best Song: Fields Of Gold. Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • U2 - Zooropa (1993). My second-favourite of the U2 albums I've heard, possibly because it sounds more like a Brian Eno album than a U2 album. Bono doesn't even sing on a couple of tracks here, letting exciting new up-and-comers like Johnny Cash have a go for once. Best Song: The Wanderer. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • DES'REE - I Ain't Movin' (1994). An album best-known for being mocked on The Office, but I quite like it. Contemporary R&B isn't really a genre I gravitate towards or know much about, so this is never gonna be one of my all-time favourites, nor do I have much insightful to say about it, but Des'ree's voice is great, and there are a couple of club bangers here. Best Song: Crazy Maze. R&B. 3/5

  • EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL - Amplified Heart (1994). I've been listening to this near-constantly since I was 5, and there are still multiple songs on it that have the ability to reduce me to tears if they catch me off-guard. Certainly in my top 5 albums of all time and, I think, in my top 2 most beautiful albums of all time. There's just nothing about it I would ever want to change or improve without feeling like I was cutting off a bit of myself. Best Song: Two Star. Adult Contemporary. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • FISH - Suits (1994). Unlike his first two albums, Suits doesn't have that many songs I would consider all-time Fish classics. Also unlike his first two, it has no songs I nod off in or feel like skipping. It's a much more consistent if slightly less stellar album than those that preceded it, and probably my favourite of his first three. Best Song: Lady Let It Lie. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • JAN GARBAREK & THE HILLIARD ENSEMBLE - Officium (1994). In which an early-music choral group sing Gregorian plainchant and an avant-garde jazz saxophonist improvises over the top of it. It somehow manages to occupy a similar imaginative space to ambient music, despite having words and melody. A really fascinating album. Best Song: Parce Mihi Domine (Part I). New Age. 3.5/5

  • JEFF BUCKLEY - Grace (1994). Maybe it's the sheer iconic status this album has taken on, particularly since Buckley's tragic death, but I have trouble accepting that Grace is the masterpiece people say it is. He's got a beautiful voice and the songs are mostly lovely and occasionally very special, but as a whole it's just fine, really. I think it boils down to my inherent misgivings about excessive sincerity in art. Very suspicious of an artist as overwhelmingly sincere as Buckley is here. Nice, though. Best Song: Hallelujah. Indie. 3.5/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Turbulent Indigo (1994). Repeats Night Ride Home's trick of just being a lovely treat to hear a really solid Joni Mitchell album again after all these years, then one-ups it by also throwing in two or three songs that still stand as some of the best she ever wrote to this day. Probably the last Joni album I would conider essential, but it's impressive she was still making essential albums at this point. Best Song: The Sire Of Sorrow (Job's Sad Song). Adult Contemporary. 4.5/5

  • MARILLION - Brave (1994). Once you've processed the fact that Hogarth-era Marillion are in many ways a completely different sort of band to Fish-era Marillion, one that focuses more on atmosphere and mood than on theatrics, it becomes easier to accept that Hogarth-era Marillion are capable of making masterpieces on a par with, or possibly better than, their 80s stuff. Yes, Brave is very different to "classic" Marillion. It's also probably the best album they ever made. Best Song: Made Again. Neo-Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE - Sleeps With Angels (1994). After the full-on onslaught of Ragged Glory, Neil Young ropes in Crazy Horse again for something far more subtle and subdued and atmospheric and sinister, the lengthy guitar jams that define their collaborations almost absent. It's one of the very best Young-Crazy Horse albums, and certainly the most atypical. Best Song: Prime Of Life. Alternative Rock. 4.5/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Let Love In (1994). This, for me, is the point where Cave leaps from being a really great artist to one of the all-time great musical geniuses. There's something slightly more "elder statesman" about this album compared to the slightly "trying things out" vibe of his earlier albums. Plus, "Red Right Hand" and "Loverman" are two of his absolute very best. Best Song: Red Right Hand. Alternative Rock. 5/5

  • PINK FLOYD - The Division Bell (1994). In 2014 David Gilmour and Nick Mason recorded a bunch of overdubs onto some unreleased keyboard demos by Richard Wright and released it as "the final Pink Floyd album." A shame, as it's a bit rubbish and sort of tarnishes the legacy of this, the actual final Pink Floyd album, and a really great swansong for one of the greatest bands of all time. Best Song: High Hopes. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • PORTISHEAD - Dummy (1994). Hand on heart, I've no idea what trip-hop is, really. I guess it's sort of like slowed-down hip-hop? But with singing? So nothing at all like hip-hop, in that regard. I dunno. Stoners listen to it, and it's quite nice. Portishead are supposed to be one of the best at it, but they're no Morcheeba or Dido. Best Song: Glory Box. Trip-Hop. 3/5

  • PRINCE - Come (1994). After his fleetingly good, frequently confusing, and more often than not irritating dalliances with the New Power Generation, Prince makes a welcome return to form with this more jazz-inflected offering. It's also filthy. Prince had changed his name to an unpronouncable symbol at this point, and was going round with "Slave" written on his face. The music's surprisingly good for somebody who'd clearly gone loopy. Best Song: Come. Funk. 3.5/5

  • STEVE ROACH - Artifacts (1994). I'm docking it some points for basically being exactly the same as Origins, but the musical worlds Roach creates are so vast and strange and unknowable that I can't hold it against him too much for recycling his own ideas. Best Song: Begin Where I End. Ambient. 4/5

  • THOMAS NEWMAN - The Shawshank Redemption (1994). As a rule, film soundtracks don't really get to feature on this list, because it's just a whole musical world I can't be bothered to get into. But, while most film scores just make me go "That's some nice film music," Newman's score to The Shawshank Redemption genuinely makes me feel things deep in my heart and is beyond brilliant. Best Song: Brooks Was Here. Soundtrack. 4.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - The Black Rider (1994). Of Waits's three avant-garde theatrical collaborations with director Robert Wilson, the demonic cabaret of this Germanic folk tale (co-written with William S. Burroughs) is probably the one I find hardest to enjoy as a musical album, but is almost certainly the one I imagine made the most exciting and brilliant live theatrical experience. It's full of character and drips with weirdness, but some of the music edges just over the line to be truly enjoyable. Best Song: Lucky Day. Avant-Garde. 3.5/5

  • TORI AMOS - Under The Pink (1994). Little Earthquakes was already very good, but Tori Amos really ups her game for her second album, cranking out club bangers like "Cornflake Girl" and 10-minute dreamscape epics like "Yes, Anastasia" and clanking art-rock like "God" and spooky underwater ghost music like "Bells For Her." Stirs lots of feelings, this album. Best Song: Cornflake Girl. Baroque Pop. 4.5/5

  • YES - Talk (1994). It'd be easy to just blame Trevor Rabin for the gradual diminishing returns of Yes's music by the mid-90s, but I actually enjoy the silly fun of his era of the band, and the rest of Yes did go on to make several really quite bad albums after he left before getting a bit good again in the 2000s. Talk isn't the best Rabin-era album, but it's a fun last hoorah for an unfairly-maligned period of the band's existence. Best Song: The Calling. Pop Rock. 3/5

  • BAD COMPANY - Company Of Strangers (1995). By this point, when even Paul Rodgers also-ran Brian Howe has been replaced by Brian Howe also-ran Robert Hart, you'd assume Bad Company would never make anything decent ever again, but bizarrely enough this is their best album since Run With The Pack and even has a couple of songs that I think hold up ok alongside their classic 70s stuff. Best Song: Clearwater Highway. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • BJORK - Post (1995). For my money, I think Bjork has made one really great album (Debut), one masterpiece (yet to come in this list), and everything else ranges from "this is almost really good" to "this is actually quite bad." Post is the former and has some brilliant stuff on it, but already shows her tendency to slip into the avant-garde for the sake of the avant-garde. Best Song: Hyper-Ballad. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - The Ghost Of Tom Joad (1995). A return to the acoustic folk aesthetic of Nebraska, but it's so much better. The stories are more expertly written and more human and moving and the tunes are better and the arrangements more exciting. One of his neglected classics. Best Song: Highway 29. Folk. 4/5

  • THE CORRS - Forgiven, Not Forgotten (1995). Yeah, yeah, I'm a music snob who sneers at pop but really likes the Corrs. Deal with it. Anyway, the Corrs aren't really pop because they've got a fiddler and a whistler and some bangin' guitar solos. Best Song: The Minstrel Boy. Folk Rock. 3.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - 1. Outside (1995). David Bowie v.13.1 - a deranged weirdo making an avant-garde rock opera with Brian Eno in the style of Nine Inch Nails about the ritual mutilation and murder of a child for an art project. Without a shadow of a doubt one of the 5 best albums of Bowie's career, despite the fact that nobody's heard it. One of the greatest tragedies of his death is that the planned trilogy this was supposed to kick off never materialised. Best Song: Strangers When We Meet. Avant-Garde. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • JETHRO TULL - Roots To Branches (1995). Not the last Tull album, but certainly the last one really worth your time. It's less metal-esque than their more recent albums, harking back to some folk-rock elements in some places, and incorporating a Middle Eastern vibe on some songs which really refreshes their sound a lot. It's the last two tracks that really make me love it, though, which rank as two of my favourite obscure Tull classics. Best Song: Another Harry's Bar. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • KING CRIMSON - Thrak (1995). As above, not the last King Crimson album but the last one I consider essential. Unusual for a 90s album by a classic prog group in that it easily ranks alongside their best-ever stuff, while sounding completely radical and new with its industrial metal vibe. The only album from Crimson's experimental "two-band" line-up (two guitarists, two bassists, two drummers) to back up its experimental nature with genuinely great music. Best Song: Dinosaur. Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • MARCUS MILLER - Tales (1995). I associate this a lot with my childhood. Not sure why at 6 years old I was listening to an instrumental jazz fusion album by one of the leading session bassists of the 80s. I guess because somebody in the house bought it and I correctly thought that it was really good. No great mystery. Best Song: The Blues. Jazz Fusion. 4/5

  • MARILLION - Afraid Of Sunlight (1995). The first half is a bit light and breezy, which is a bit disappointing coming off the back of the masterpiece of Brave. But the second half contains a handful of their best-ever songs, so this album balances out as another hit. Best Song: King. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Mirror Ball (1995). The last (and, being honest, worst) of Neil Young's startlingly good early-90s creative resurgence. From here on his frustratingly uneven late period starts, and continues to this day. Mirror Ball is a murky, grungey team-up with Pearl Jam and it's pretty good. Best Song: I'm The Ocean. Rock. 3.5/5

  • PJ HARVEY - To Bring You My Love (1995). The album on which I think PJ Harvey becomes one of the great geniuses. The sound is more mature, the musical styles more diverse, the tone more intense, and the unsettling extremes she pushes her voice to are incredible. Best Song: Long Snake Moan. Alternative Rock. 4.5/5

  • PORCUPINE TREE - The Sky Moves Sideways (1995). Porcupine Tree's first great masterpiece. The novelty elements of their earlier stuff are long-gone, and they're now taking the business of making prog rock deadly seriously. The two halves of the title track are not only the best prog epic of their career, but genuinely one of the greatest prog epics in the history of the entire genre. Best Song: The Sky Moves Sideways (Phase I). Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • PRINCE - The Gold Experience (1995). The concept is a bit weird and hokey (I think it's about a magic phone operator who can press buttons to give out certain types of experience, symbolised by Prince songs? I dunno) but this is the most exciting, fresh, confident and refined that Prince's music has sounded since Sign "O" The Times. Shame it didn't mean a long-term return-to-form was imminent. Best Song: Eye Hate U. Rock. 4/5

  • RADIOHEAD - The Bends (1995). I like Radiohead, they're good lads. I don't care about them, and I think they're enormously overrated, but I like 'em. The Bends is probably their second-best album, it sounds a bit like a Britpop band read some books and then got sad and anxious about something they read. Best Song: Fake Plastic Trees. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • RANDY NEWMAN - Randy Newman's Faust (1995). Newman's audacious, irreverent musical retelling of the Faust myth, with Newman perfectly casting himself as Satan and co-starring James Taylor, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and Elton John. Not every song is a classic (though several are), but the ridiculously over-the-top concept is brilliantly executed. Best Song: Feels Like Home. Soundtrack. 3.5/5

  • SCOTT WALKER - Tilt (1995). After decades in the musical wilderness, Scott Walker returns to set a new bar for strangeness. Of all the more unusual albums on this list so far, there is nothing anywhere near as unsettling and nightmarish and downright odd than Tilt. It would remain unparalleled in these stakes until being one-upped by Walker's own The Drift in 2006, which is actually too weird and horrible to be enjoyable. Tilt is brilliant though. Best Song: Farmer In The City. Avant-Garde. 4.5/5

  • VAN MORRISON - Days Like This (1995). It sure is nice to hear Van Morrison singing songs that are tuneful and fun to listen to, and which he seems to be actively engaging with the inner meaning of, rather than droning on about nothing as he did for most of the 80s. A handful of songs are a bit underhwelming, but it's his best album since Into The Music, and the organ solo on "Ancient Highway" is one of the most transcendent moments of his career. Best Song: Ancient Highway. Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5. ALBUM 600 OF 1001!

  • ALAN PARSONS - On Air (1996). The slightly kitsch concept (a neo-prog album charting the history of human flight, from Icarus to the Space Race) is straight out of the Alan Parsons Project handbook, but I do miss the naff cheesiness that Eric Woolfson's songwriting sensibility brought to things. Nonetheless, it's as crisp and fun as anything we've come to expect from Parsons at this point. Best Song: Cloudbreak. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • BELLE AND SEBASTIAN - Tigermilk (1996). Not sure I really get this. It's definitely very sweet and nice to listen to, but something doesn't click for me to help me understand why Belle And Sebastian became the cult sensation they did. I guess, if it hasn't happened long ago, that mid-90s indie is the point at which my music tastes officially lose their grip on what's generally considered good, because I have similar problems with Neutral Milk Hotel. Anyway, this is fine. Best Song: She's Losing It. Indie. 3/5

  • THE BLUE NILE - Peace At Last (1996). I just tried to mark Peace At Last down to 4/5 due to my knowledge, deep down, that the acoustic instruments on show here aren't quite as natural an aesthetic for them as the synths on their 80s stuff. But my heart won't let me do it. The music these guys produce is too beautiful and too perfect to get anything less than 4.5. I love their work so much. Best Song: Happiness. Sophisti-Pop. 4.5/5

  • THE DIVINE COMEDY - Casanova (1996). Neil Hannon's suave Baroque pop aesthetic borrows a little from Scott Walker and Jacques Brel, but with an air of dandyish, rakish irony that's largely responsibly for the Divine Comedy so often being dismissed as a novelty band. A shame, because beneath some of the sillier affectations, Hannon's a truly gifted songwriter. Best Song: A Woman Of The World. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL - Walking Wounded (1996). After that terrible Todd Terry club remix of "Missing," EBTG decided that downtempo electronica was the route they would follow next. They're surprisingly good at it, and manage to produce one of the best electronica albums of the 90s. They released one more album after this, but it's a bit of a damp squib. This is their last good one. Best Song: Single. Electronic. 4/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - And. (1996). Alcoholism and depression had put paid to John Martyn's creative powers for over 15 years, but And. is a tentative step back towards him being good. It's strongest on its more adventurous songs, which borrow a little from downtempo trip-hop. It didn't lead to a big critical or commercial resurgence for him, but it's nice to know he still sort of had it. Best Song: Sunshine's Better. Trip-Hop. 3/5

  • LUDOVICO EINAUDI - Le Onde (1996). My dad bought me the sheet music to this on holiday in Ireland when I was 14 and I learned to play some of it on piano. That's Einaudi's great secret, really - he found the key to composing music that sounds very beautiful and poignant but is actually simple and formulaic enough that a 14-year-old who can't play the piano can play it. Le Onde is before he became ubiquitous in movies and adverts and was sort of making credible classical music. Best Song: Questa Notte. Classical. 4.5/5

  • MAZZY STAR - Among My Swan (1996). A bit of a rinse-and-repeat of So Tonight That I Might See, but then that album was such a pleasant, woozy dream to spend time in that the prospect of swimming in the same warm waters for another hour is a very nice one indeed. Best Song: Take Everything. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • MODEST MOUSE - This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About (1996). Modest Mouse are a side of 90s indie I can get behind more, it feels a bit less affected than some of the genre's other offerings. There's a bit of hair in the gate, a bit of grit in the milk, you know what I mean. This album starts off very strong, then really loses its way in the middle then finishes on stronger footing again. Best Song: Breakthrough. Indie. 3/5

  • MORCHEEBA - Who Can You Trust? (1996). Trip-hop again - everybody's at it in the 90s! Whatever it is we agreed it was. I got a free CD with a box of Golden Grahams in 1998 with a song by Morcheeba on it, and I owe my awareness of them to that. Same with the Divine Comedy, actually. Anyway, Morcheeba are my favourite trip-hop outfit because they feel a bit sillier and less serious than the others. Best Song: Trigger Hippy. Trip-Hop. 4/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Murder Ballads (1996). It was only a matter of time before Cave's obsession with Gothic darkness erupted into a full-blown album consisting solely of fanciful tales of murder and depravity. I think Murder Ballads holds the official record for having a higher body-count than any other album in history. But there are guest turns from PJ Harvey, Kylie Minogue and Shane McGowan to lighten things up a bit. Best Song: Where The Wild Roses Grow. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • PATTI SMITH - Gone Again (1996). The energy and angry propulsiveness that mostly Smith's 70s albums has mostly dissipated here, replaced by a sort of weary, unsettling, slow sadness, which makes sense considering Gone Again was recorded while she processed the death of her husband. Haunting stuff. Best Song: Summer Cannibals. Rock. 3.5/5

  • PJ HARVEY & JOHN PARISH - Dance Hall At Louse Point (1996). PJ Harvey's first collaboration with John Parish explores the avant-garde more than her previous work, and that's a sensibility increasingly evident on her subsequent solo stuff too, which is all to the good. Sadly, with that is the fact that too many songs here tip the balance a little too far towards atonal noise. But it's a very interesting album in terms of her musical evolution. Best Song: Rope Bridge Crossing. Alternative Rock. 3/5

  • PORCUPINE TREE - Signify (1996). Signify marks a slight shift in Porcupine Tree's sound away from vast, sprawling epics and towards shorter, more coherent songs. We're not yet at the point where their albums would be sprinkled with bona fide pop songs that we get from Lightbulb Sun onwards (my favourite era of the band's existence), but it's a step in that direction. Best Song: The Sleep Of No Dreaming. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • SPOCK'S BEARD - Beware Of Darkness (1996). Spock's Beard are a sort of naff American version of Porcupine Tree - another 90s band hoping to keep the spirit of prog alive into the 21st century, but they do it in a more gimmicky way that leaves them far more open to ridicule than Porcupine Tree's deadly serious aesthetic. I was obsessed with Spock's Beard in 2011, but with a bit of distance I can now see that they're a bit silly. Fun, though. Best Song: Waste Away. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • STEVE ROACH - The Magnificent Void (1996). I can't help but feel that Roach's music loses something when shorn of the "tribal ambient" trappings of his stuff earlier in the 90s. But as someone who doesn't listen to much "dark ambient," this album is interesting in how unremittingly it pursues a sort of horrible, empty, bleak sound. It's fairly unique in my own ambient collection in terms of how it sounds, to be honest. Best Song: Altus. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • STING - Mercury Falling (1996). Tied with The Soul Cages in terms of being a Sting album where the songs are so wonderful that the fact that Sting's a bit of an egocentric dickhead doesn't even enter your head while listening to it. "I Hung My Head" was more famously covered by Johnny Cash on the American IV album and people always go "Can you believe that brilliant Johnny Cash song was written by Sting?" These people are idiots who have never really listened to Sting and don't realise what an incredible songwriter he is. Best Song: I Was Brought To My Senses. Adult Contemporary. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • TINA TURNER - Wildest Dreams (1996). Due to a significant role this album played in childhood, every time I hear it I get strong Proustian flashbacks of being in a holiday cottage in Wales reading Philip Ridley's The Meteorite Spoon. It's therefore a sad fact that I cannot listen to Wildest Dreams by Tina Turner without experiencing an aching, profound nostalgia for a lifetime of things that have gone that I can never experience again. Best Song: Dancing In My Dreams. R&B. 3.5/5

  • ALISON KRAUSS & UNION STATION - So Long So Wrong (1997). Not a huge amount of country music on this list, it's not a genre my brain gravitates towards. But I've been a big fan of Alison Krauss since I was a kid, she seems to inject a whole lot more playfulness and sweetness and fun into a genre I usually find quite plodding and tedious. So Long So Wrong isn't one of her very best, but does have a handful of classic tunes on it. Best Song: So Long, So Wrong. Country. 3/5

  • AQUA - Aquarium (1997). My girlfriend thinks there's something really obnoxious about the fact that I'm a music snob who sneers at contemporary pop but unashamedly loves Aqua. I don't think there's a problem there. I know it's not just another Proustian nostalgia thing because I also really love their 2011 comeback album Megalomania, and I was 21 when that came out. I think they just have a better handle on how to make fun pop than most other pop groups. I won't have a word said against them. Best Song: Happy Boys And Girls. Pop. 5/5

  • BEN FOLDS FIVE - Whatever And Ever Amen (1997). I really like this, but not to the extent that I've ever made even the slightest effort to listen to anything else Ben Folds ever did. It was one of my brother's favourites, so I always categorised it as "Really good, but the furthest Ican be bothered to delve into this guy." The ballads are a bit 90s and dated, but in general it's really good fun. Best Song: Missing The War. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • BJORK - Homogenic (1997). Another one of those Bjork albums which I listen to and end up thinking "Well, I almost loved that." The first half in particular is solidly brilliant, but some aimless, listless meandering creeps into the second, and there's the deeply irritating "Pluto," which skirts far too close to hardcore for my tastes. Best Song: Bachelorette. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • BOB DYLAN - Time Out Of Mind (1997). Bob Dylan emerges from tedious obscurity to release a strong contender for the best album of his career. He sounds wearier and more ravaged here, and the music is leaner and scuzzier. There's a general feeling of burnout which does his whole aesthetic wonders. Best Song: Cold Irons Bound. Roots Rock. 4/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Earthling (1997). David Bowie v.14.0 - a bearded 50-year-old with dyed red hair and a Union Jack trench coat singing songd about satellites and Americans over drum & bass and jungle music. Slightly better than that sounds, though there is a whiff of mid-life crisis about the whole thing. He probably bought a moped around the same time. Best Song: I'm Afraid Of Americans. Electronic. 3/5

  • DEPECHE MODE - Ultra (1997). Sort of more of the same, but in a good way. It's not quite as good as Songs Of Faith And Devotion, but is miles better than their next album, 2001's Exciter, which is why I've assumed this is their last decent album and never shown any interest in any of their work since. Best Song: Useless. Electronic. 4/5

  • THE DIVINE COMEDY - A Short Album About Love (1997). The Divine Comedy's most sincere album until the emotional about-turn of Regeneration. The first two songs are sort of concessions to novelty pop, albeit strangely emotional ones, but the rest of the album consists of deeply introspective and occasionally quite bleak meditations on unrequited love. Really quite beautiful. Best Song: Everybody Knows (Except You). Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • FISH - Sunsets On Empire (1997). It's probably down to the presence of Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, who co-writes, produces and plays guitar here, but this is by far Fish's best solo album. The songs are the most compelling, the arrangements the most epic, and Fish resurrects some of the silly vocal theatrics that made early Marillion albums so much fun. Best Song: Brother 52. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • JOHN FOXX - Cathedral Oceans (1997). My favourite thing about Cathedral Oceans is the title. That's not a dig at the album, I just think it's a brilliant title. It's fairly generic ambient music, really, but welded to Gregorian chanting, which is sort of unusual and interesting. Best Song: Cathedral Oceans. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • MARILLION - This Strange Engine (1997). This Strange Engine is a funny one. It boasts, in the title track, by far one of the most magnificent epics of their career. It also boasts, in the execrable dreck of "Hope For The Future," one of the most embarrassingly awful songs any band has ever recorded. So a mixed bag. Best Song: This Strange Engine. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - The Boatman's Call (1997). Following his split from PJ Harvey, Nick Cave records one of the best breakup albums of all time. The Bad Seeds themselves are practically invisible here, shining the spotlight purely on Cave so that we can stare unflinchingly at his heart breaking. Best Song: Into My Arms. Alternative Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • RADIOHEAD - OK Computer (1997). So what I don't get about Radiohead is that OK Computer was hailed as one of the most avant-garde, daring, visionary rock albums of all time, seemingly because it sounds more ambitious than, say, Blur, who I suppose were the ones to beat at the time. I don't get it because it just strikes me as historical revisionism. Yeah, the 90s were super bland and Radiohead are a good deal less bland than a lot of other stuff at the time, but to claim they're real avant-garde pioneers ignores everything that had been achieved in art-rock for decades. Anyway, this is fine. Best Song: No Surprises. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • RICKIE LEE JONES - Ghostyhead (1997). Lots of 70s/80s singer-songwriters desperately throwing themselves at 90s production techniques this decade in a needy bit to remain relevant. It results in fun but slightly cringey things like Bowie's aforementioned jungle album, but also gives us things like Rickie Lee Jones's sublime trip-hop effort, which uses the sounds and moods of trip-hop to expand and build on the sensibilities that were already there in her music. It's brilliant. Best Song: Ghostyhead. Trip-Hop. 4.5/5

  • ROBERT WYATT - Shleep (1997). As always with Wyatt, there's not a moment on this that isn't fascinating and charming and deeply weird, but it's frequently not particularly musical or fun to listen to. At its best moments, Wyatt's imagination merges perfectly with Brian Eno's musical genius on the production side of things, but there are a fair few songs that are a tad too weird for their own good. Best Song: Heaps Of Sheeps. Avant-Garde. 3/5

  • ROLF HARRIS - Can You Tell What It Is Yet? (1997). I know this shouldn't be on here, due to reasons of objective quality, and due to our now more complete understanding of the man (his minor rewrite of "One Hand In My Pocket" is a particularly uncomfortable listen). But an 8-year-old me does backing vocals on some bonus tracks on this and I was so proud of that for such a long time. I have modified my score down to 4.5 from 5 in accordance with due propriety. Best Song: Sun Arise. Comedy. 4.5/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Some Things Never Change (1997). The first Supertramp album I ever heard, and a huge part of why I love them so much. After a truly dog-shite album in 1987 and a 10-year hiatus, they return as an expanded unit with trumpets and thumb pianos and a smoky, murky jazz-fusion vibe. One of the biggest stylistic evolutions of their career, and one of their best albums. Best Song: It's A Hard World. Jazz Rock. 5/5

  • VAN MORRISON - The Healing Game (1997). After the promising but slightly uneven return-to-form of Days Like This, Van Morrison continues an unexpected late-career winning streak with this really quite beautiful album. Everything sounds quite sincere and committed the way his best stuff does. Even a duet with Tom Jones that climaxes with the two of them shouting "Ta-loo-dap!" feels genuinely quite spiritual. Best Song: Burning Ground. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • AIR - Moon Safari (1998). Played a game called Beach Life on my Grandma's computer every time I used to visit. It was like a Rollercoaster Tycoon or Sim City type thing where you built the ideal beach resort. All very suave and tropical and modern and sophisticated in tone. Pretty certain the incidental music sounded exactly like this album. Best Song: Sexy Boy. Electronic. 4/5

  • ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS - Antony And The Johnsons (1998). I first heard Antony Hegarty's music at a funeral for a friend, so I can never quite separate it from how deeply sad it makes me feel. Plus it's all music that's irrevocably in some way about pain or loss or transformation. It's utterly beautiful, though. (S)he remains by far and away one of the most truly brilliant artists of the last 20 years. The self-titled debut isn't the best piece of work the group put out, but it's pretty bloody strong. Best Song: Cripple And The Starfish. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • BOARDS OF CANADA - Music Has The Right To Children (1998). I'm not a connoisseur of electronic music, but in my experience, I think this is the first time anybody elevated the genre to the level of real art. Most electronic stuff before this sounds like pop music experimenting with technology, but Music Has The Right To Children feels like it comes from another part of the universe, or another, deeper, more troubling and beautiful part of the human brain than anything before. Wonderful. Best Song: Aquarius. Electronic. 5/5

  • CAT POWER - Moon Pix (1998). Can't remember how Cat Power came into my awareness. She's pretty unlike a lot of the other stuff I listen to. I often argue with people about the significance of lyrics in music. Sometimes the lyrics will leap out and really stay with me, but I never listen to them first, my brain goes to the music itself first and then the lyrics crawl out if they're really good. I feel like Cat Power is the sort of thing where I should be listening closer to the lyrics because the music's pretty stripped-back and simple. But the tunes are lovely. It's basically very nice. Best Song: Colors And The Kids. Indie. 3.5/5

  • CRAIG ARMSTRONG - The Space Between Us (1998). Sort-of modern classical composer/film soundtrack man Craig Armstrong makes a solo album featuring guest turns from the Blue Nile's Paul Buchanan and Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser; rearrangements of that Des'ree song from Romeo + Juliet and of a Massive Attack song, and some sort of New Age-y neo-classical stuff. Weirdly eclectic, but all genuinely lovely and really compelling. Best Song: This Love. New Age. 4/5

  • THE DIVINE COMEDY - Fin De Siecle (1998). Fin De Siecle has the Divine Comedy's best-known silly novelty song in "National Express," but also plunges the depths of the soul more than any of Hannon's other work, with gorgeous songs like "Commuter Love" and "The Certainty Of Chance" or the astonishing ambient vastness of "Eric The Gardener." The band's greatest achievement to date. Best Song: Commuter Love. Baroque Pop. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • EVA CASSIDY - Songbird (1998). This is one of my mum's absolute favourites, but it's much more bluesy and soulful and less naff than that makes it sound. Bit of a sad one, this, as Cassidy died virtually unknown in 1996 and all her records were released posthumously after her music was championed on radio by Terry Wogan. Yet another thing to be grateful to Wogan for, then. Best Song: Fields Of Gold. Adult Contemporary. 4.5/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - The Church With One Bell (1998). Another hesitant step on Martyn's half-hearted road to creative resurgence. It's all covers this time, but the arrangements are vast and spacious and mysterious and his voice is like a force of nature, like a desperate wail from the mouth of a sad cave. Best Song: Death Don't Have No Mercy. Blues. 3/5

  • MARILLION - Radiation (1998). Marillion's tenth album kicks off with a sort of hard-rock thing about global warming and finishes with a ten-minute euphoric celebration of love which, when I saw them live, Steve Hogarth sang while dancing round with a massive flower. It's not all hippy nonsense, though, "Cathedral Wall" has some cool angry synth on it. A really solid if unexceptional album. Best Song: A Few Words For The Dead. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • MASSIVE ATTACK - Mezzanine (1998). More trip-hop again. Is anybody still making trip-hop? Has it lasted? I dunno. It's bloody everywhere in this decade. This album has a giant stag beetle on it and I always like to imagine the giant stag beetle getting stoned and stumbling about to this album. Always makes me laugh. Best Song: Teardrop. Trip-Hop. 4/5

  • MORCHEEBA - Big Calm (1998). Yet more of the stuff! This time from my favourite, slightly naff, populist trip-hop outfit. "Blindfold" was on that free Golden Grahams CD I keep banging on about here, and is still my favourite Morcheeba song. This is just before they went super chart-centric and started writing cheesy pop songs (which I still quite like). Best Song: Blindfold. Trip-Hop. 3.5/5

  • PJ HARVEY - Is This Desire? (1998). A lot of these feel more like moods than songs. They're not massively defined my melody or harmony or any conventional musical idea, but they all sure do create a feeling. I think the more experimental nature of her collaboration with John Parish pushed her music into more abstract territory. It's like painting with music, this album. Best Song: The River. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • SPOCK'S BEARD - The Kindness Of Strangers (1998). I mean, this is really silly. It sounds in places like they're deliberately trying to take the piss out of prog rock. Can't believe I used to sincerely love this band. But I still have a lot of affection for this very silly album, and "June" genuinely lifts my heart. Best Song: June. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • TORI AMOS - From The Choirgirl Hotel (1998). Just about my favourite Tori album. It's murkier and angrier and sadder, and the sound of it is more experimental and industrial and less twinkly. Maybe not as tuneful as "Under The Pink," but it's still got a few of her very best on it. Best Song: Northern Lad. Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • ALISON KRAUSS - Forget About It (1999). Not quite sure what the exact distinctions are between Krauss's solo albums and her Union Station collaborations because I think the personnel on both has a very broad crossover. But the band certainly has more importance on the AKUS records, and here the focus is more on ballads and less on jaunty bluegrass hoe-downs. As ever, her voice is wonderful, the songs are intermittently great, but when they're good they're very good. Best Song: Forget About It. Country. 3/5

  • COUNTING CROWS - This Desert Life (1999). I was a bit catty about Counting Crows last time I mentioned them here, but this is a really great album. I might even consider it their best if I didn't have so much nostalgia for Hard Candy. It's just a really good party album, even if the thought of Adam Duritz shrugging and smiling and describing his own album by saying "It's just a really good party album" is utterly obnoxious. Best Song: Mrs Potter's Lullaby. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • DIDO - No Angel (1999). Dido's full name is Dido Florian Cloud de Bounvialle O'Malley Armstrong. Can you believe that? Anybody'd opt for a mononym if they were saddled with that. Also, I didn't even need to google that. I'm the kind of Dido fan that felt genuinely betrayed by how bad her 2013 album was. Best Song: Take My Hand. Trip-Hop. 4.5/5

  • LUDOVICO EINAUDI - Eden Roc (1999). I think this is Einaudi's crowning achievement. He brings in elements to diversify and experiment with his palette of sounds, like the guitars on the title track, but he's not yet at the slightly blander, more populist formula end of his work that he'd resort to as his music got ever more popular. (Still just as lovely the more he composed, but nowhere near as exciting as his earlier stuff like this). Best Song: Eden Roc. Classical. 5/5

  • MOBY - Play (1999). I mean, the most interesting bits of Play are the vocal samples Moby basically nicks off old Delta blues recordings, but to be fair to him, he puts together some really lovely electronica to back them up. Still a bit of a cheeky boy, though. Best Song: Natural Blues. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • PORCUPINE TREE - Stupid Dream (1999). There aren't really any complaints I can make about Stupid Dream, except that it just doesn't really have a massive place in my heart, which is a pretty big complaint, really. It's all very competent and impressive and good and I'd be lying if I claimed to not like it, but not a single song on it has wormed its way into my brain and my life the way the best Porcupine Tree stuff has. It's a middling offering, really. Best Song: Even Less. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • SIGUR ROS - Agaetis Byrjun (1999). Sigur Ros's debut album Von seemed to me to be made with the mindset of "Shall we make something quite stressful and irritating to listen to?" Their second effort seems instead to have the mindset "Shall we make something really otherworldly and intensely beautiful, and continue making music following the same basic formula for the next ten years?" A sensible about-turn, I think. Best Song: Svefn-G-Englar. Post-Rock. 4/5

  • SPOCK'S BEARD - Day For Night (1999). Yay, it's these silly boys again! Listening again to these albums, I think this is the first Spock's Beard album which, with a bit of distance, I like in a mostly un-ironic way. "Skin" is a genuinely brilliant bit of pop-prog, and the closing suite "The Healing Colors Of Sound" has some great moments in it. Best Song: Skin. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • STING - Brand New Day (1999). I'm not mad keen on Family Guy, but they once did an incredibly cutaway gag that was a ridiculously accurate and specific piss-take of the title track of this late-90s Sting album. Fairly certain it must rank as one of the most niche jokes of any major American sitcom. Anyway, decent album. Best Song: Brand New Day. Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Mule Variations (1999). This is just about my favourite Tom Waits album. Most of his albums tend to come down heavily either on sincere ballads or on earthy blues-rock or on mutant circus weirdness. Mule Variations is the only one that splits its time equally between all three, and I think it's the best summing up of what the man can do and what he stands for. Best Song: Take It With Me. Roots Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • TORI AMOS - To Venus And Back (1999). The second side of To Venus And Back is a live album which is fairly inessential, but does have some quite cool extended versions of her classic songs. The new studio album that constitutes the first half is more exciting and original, though none of the songs are quite as timelessly brilliant as the best oldies on the live side. Still, there's nothing here I dislike, it's just not her at her very best. Best Song: Juarez. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • JOHNNY CASH - American III: Solitary Man (2000). I'm not that keen on Cash's classic early stuff, and there are a fair few duff ones on American III, but in its strongest moments it has a world-weariness and a gravitas that I find really interesting, which would only be dialled up even more for American IV. The cover of U2's "One" is particularly wonderful, and deserves to be talked about almost as much as "Hurt." Best Song: One. Country. 3.5/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Both Sides Now (2000). Best known as the album cheating bastard Alan Rickman buys for Emma Thompson in Love Actually, a plot beat that doesn't hold up as Thompson is clearly characterised as a big Joni fan and the film is set in 2003, so she would certainly have already owned this. If Rickman had bought her 2002's Travelogue I'd have been more on board. Anyway, it's a collection of orchestral covers of old jazz standards telling the story of a broken relationship and it's brilliant. Best Song: Both Sides, Now. Jazz. 4/5

  • MODEST MOUSE - The Moon & Antarctica (2000). A much more consistent effort than This Is A Long Drive..., with a twitchier energy and a more exciting sound palette. It still very much belongs to a genre I don't immediately warm to, but it's definitely a more exciting, innovative album and more the sort of thing I could get excited about. Best Song: Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes. Indie. 3.5/5

  • MORCHEEBA - Fragments Of Freedom (2000). If you're a proper Morcheeba fan, this is the album where things went a bit wrong and they went all populist and a bit naff. If you're not a Morcheeba fan, then the idea of there being a specific Morcheeba album where they went a bit naff is probably inherently funny. If you're me then you already thought their music up to this point was a bit naff but hugely enjoyable nonetheless, and think there's not a hugely discernible dip on this one. It's still fun. Best Song: World Looking In. Trip-Hop. 3.5/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - OVO (2000). You'd be forgiven for assuming that Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for the opening of the Millennium Dome might be a bit crass and rubbish, but he really pulls out all the stops, combining some of the Middle Eastern instrumental elements of Passion with the intensely beautiful art-rock of So to make another superlative album. Best Song: Downside-Up. Art Rock. 4.5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • PJ HARVEY - Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (2000). Combines the raw grunginess of PJ Harvey's early albums with the more artistic sensibilities of her more recent ones and throws in a sort of commercial polish entirely new to her (Radiohead's Thom Yorke guests on one track). Somehow it manages to do all this without feeling in any way compromised. One of her best. Best Song: We Float. Alternative Rock. 4.5/5

  • PORCUPINE TREE - Lightbulb Sun (2000). Definitely Porcupine Tree's most "pop" record, but I don't count that against it in any way, considering Steven Wilson is genuinely a really good pop songwriter, and manages to write good pop-prog songs without compromising the artistic elements of his music. I think Lightbulb Sun ushers in the best run of albums of the band's career, and is one of their best. Best Song: Feel So Low. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • RADIOHEAD - Kid A (2000). I moaned about OK Computer that it seems to have a reputation as a far more innovative album than it really is. Kid A, to be fair to it, does sound pretty radically different and strange (although it apes Aphex Twin in places), even if its most avant-garde moment (the title track) is also its most irritating. Look, basically I like Radiohead but I don't really get the excessive hype. Best Song: How To Disappear Completely. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • ROGER HODGSON - Open The Door (2000). Hodgson had been pretty quiet for a while because in the late 80s he fell out of an attic and broke both his wrists. This comeback album is ridiculously sincere and earnest as well as incredibly naff and pop-centric, and boasts an instrumental break with zoo animals and that rarely seen wonder, the flute solo. I love it so much. Best Song: Death And A Zoo. Pop Rock. 4/5

  • SADE - Lovers Rock (2000). Lovers Rock feels more searing and personal than Sade's previous stuff, and is founded more on acoustic riffs and less on the more languid R&B grooves of their early albums. For me, it's not quite up to the lush, wonderful high-water mark of Love Deluxe, but it's still a masterpiece and a career highpoint. Best Song: By Your Side. Sophisti-Pop. 4.5/5

  • TIN HAT TRIO - Helium (2000). A collection of slightly off-kilter Balkan-style folk jazz from an accordion, violin and guitar trio. Really compelling, fun, lurching stuff, then Tom Waits turns up on the closing track to knock it out of the park and up the ante even more. Best Song: Helium (Reprise). Indie. 3.5/5

  • THE WATERBOYS - A Rock In The Weary Land (2000). The first Waterboys album after a 7-year hiatus is essentially a Mike Scott solo album cashing in on the name by having a couple of cameos from old bandmates. It also largely ditches the band's old folk vibes in favour of a more contemporary sound. Despite all this it's a really solid album that proves Scott could still write great songs. Best Song: The Wind In The Wires. Rock. 3.5/5

  • ALISON KRAUSS & UNION STATION - New Favorite (2001). Krauss's masterpiece, and my favourite ever country album. It entirely sidesteps the grating sincerity I find country can often dip into, as well as the goofier twangly nonsense it's also sometimes guilty of. "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn" is their finest ever epic, and the ballads are just peerless. Best Song: New Favorite. Country. 5/5

  • BJORK - Vespertine (2001). Is it a coincidence that Bjork's best album and greatest masterpiece is the one that features a full choir that includes my mum? I think it isn't and my mum is owed a great debt. This album is wonderful, it sounds like how it would feel to be trapped inside a giant ice cube and then have a breakdown. Best Song: Hidden Place. Electronic. 5/5

  • BONOBO - Animal Magic (2001). I got into Bonobo at uni because a friend had one incredible Bonobo song on her iPod but didn't know the name of the song or the artist, so we had to reverse-engineer a bunch of google searches to figure out who he is, which is tricky with this sort of instrumental downtempo electronica (the song was "Turtle," we eventually learned). Animal Magic is, I think, one of the most pleasant and relaxing albums ever made. Best Song: Silver. Electronic. 4.5/5

  • THE CARETAKER - A Stairway To The Stars (2001). The Caretaker, a long-running musical project by Leyland Kirby, is one of the most fascinating artistic projects of the last 20 years. Kirby takes ancient recordings of old ballroom jazz and then distorts and warps and loops them, sometimes beyond the point of recognition and into total disintegration, as an exploration of how memory degrades in Alzheimer's sufferers. A Stairway To The Stars is one of his early attempts, and the idea only gets more refined and fascinating and beautiful and terrifying in his late work, but he still starts pretty bloody strong. Best Song: A Stairway To The Stars. Ambient. 4/5

  • DAFT PUNK - Discovery (2001). Some French robots became self-aware and started making music in the late 90s, but it wasn't very good because it was sort of dance-y house music, so in 2001 they decided to write robot pop songs instead, and became much better. Discovery is front-loaded with a handful of some of the best pop songs of the early 00s, though the quality does flag a bit over a quite long album. Impressive for robots, though. Best Song: One More Time. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • DAVID BYRNE - Look Into The Eyeball (2001). There's a song on this album that you got free with, I think, Windows Vista. I'd probably have eventually found it eventually anyway thanks to Byrne's Talking Heads history, but it's a fun bonus that I remember one bit of this album as something you'd stumble across on your mum's computer as a kid. Some of the songs on it are great as well. Best Song: Like Humans Do. Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE DIVINE COMEDY - Regeneration (2001). The most sincere and heartfelt album Neil Hannon ever put out, to the extent that he recruited angst-fueled Radiohead hero Nigel Godrich as producer. "Bad Ambassador" and "Perfect Lovesong" are tips of the hat to the band's more tongue-in-cheek past, but in essence this is a very serious and very affecting album. Best Song: Eye Of The Needle. Indie. 4.5/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Songs From The West Coast (2001). Most famous for the music video to "I Want Love" in which Iron Man wanders round a house looking sad, I find the production style of Songs From The West Coast a bit airless and sterile, though the simplicity of the arrangements is a huge relief after the cluttered sound of his 90s albums. Also, other than The One, this is his best collection of tunes in around 20 years. It's basically great fun. Best Song: I Want Love. Rock. 4/5

  • FISH - Fellini Days (2001). This is sort of a concept album about Fellini, but it's not very clear what that means. There's a projector whirring throughout, and the odd recording of Fellini himself in there, but most of the songs don't seem to have much relevance to any of that. None of it matters really, it's a solid album - not up to the standards of Sunsets On Empire, but a big improvement on the let-down of Raingods With Zippos. Best Song: Long Cold Day. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • KARL JENKINS - The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace (2001). I listened to this a huge amount as a teenager and it blew my mind. My mum organised and conducted the African premiere of The Armed Man and went out there with Jenkins and met Desmond Tutu, so it holds a huge place in my life and it's tricky for me to be objective about it. But regardless of how close I am to it, this is without a doubt one of the finest works of modern classical music ever composed. Best Song: Benedictus. Classical. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • MARILLION - Anoraknophobia (2001). There are a few songs on this where you can tell Marillion were at the peak of their slightly defensive "We're not just a dinosaur prog band, we're just like all the really popular early-00s generic alt-rock groups!" phase, but its more ambitious songs are as good as their very best stuff. Just skip "Between You And Me" and "Map Of The World." Best Song: If My Heart Were A Ball, It Would Roll Uphill. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • MARIZA - Fado Em Mim (2001). It's a testament to just how beautiful and, by turns, how much fun Mariza's collection of traditional Portuguese fado music is that, after becoming absolutely sick to death of it in the early 00s thanks to it being my mum's favourite album that she'd play on repeat near-constantly, going back to it today was an absolute delight. Best Song: O Gente Da Minha Terra. World Music. 4/5

  • PRINCE - The Rainbow Children (2001). One of Prince's most conceptually convoluted album (which is saying something) - it roughly explores Prince's conversion to Christianity via complicated mythology involving the Digital Garden and the Everlasting Now and some sort of Pharaoh. Also one of the most stylistically daring albums of his career, focusing on a jazzy acoustic vibe in place of the synths and guitar solos that are his usual stock-in-trade. Best Song: Last December. Jazz Fusion. 3.5/5

  • THE PROCLAIMERS - Persevere (2001). This seems to be a fairly unpopular Proclaimers album, which is a shame because I think it's great. There's a bit of filler on it, but the upbeat pop of "There's A Touch" and, in particular, their tribute to their dad on "Act Of Remembrance," are among their best songs. Best Song: Act Of Remembrance. Folk Rock. 3.5/5

  • YANN TIERSEN - Amelie (2001). Went to Paris for the first time in about a decade in 2013 and wandered round Montmartre listening to the Amelie soundtrack. Continued listening to it while eating in a restaurant but had to hide my iPod every time the waiter came over because I didn't want to look unimaginative. Great music, anyway. Best Song: La Redecouverte. Soundtrack. 4/5

  • ALISON KRAUSS & UNION STATION - Alison Krauss & Union Station Live (2002). As I've said before, live albums are hard to make particularly interesting. This one's on here largely because it's the only reason I'm aware of Krauss and all her stuff, so I'm fond of it. Also there are some great instrumentals on here that I haven't been able to track down on other albums, and some fun bits of audience banter. Best Song: We Hide And Seek. Country. 4/5

  • BOARDS OF CANADA - Geogaddi (2002). Not quite as accessible or memorable as Music Has The Right To Children, but because of that it feels more frightening and vast and unknowable in some way. I listened to it while lost in the mist on top of a mountain at dawn after an ill-advised wilderness adventure, so it always reminds me of feeling frightened and lost. Hugely evocative music. Best Song: Dawn Chorus. Electronic. 4/5

  • BONNIE RAITT - Silver Lining (2002). Another album that found its way into my favourites via my mum's love for it in the early 00s. Raitt's music is fairly generic adult contemporary fare - sentimental ballads and sassy blues-rock - and rarely rocks the boat much, but her voice has enough character and soul in it to sell the whole thing very well. Best Song: Gnawin' On It. Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • BONOBO - One-Offs...Remixes And B-Sides (2002). Shouldn't really be on the list because, as its name suggests, it's not a proper album but a compilation of odds and ends. But it includes "Turtle," a piece of music so wonderful I became obsessed with it and couldn't rest until I'd found out who made it and got into Bonobo as a side-product. Best Song: Turtle. Electronic. 4/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - The Rising (2002). There's a story that, having been pretty much out of action for over five years, in the days after 9/11 somebody drove past Springsteen in the street, rolled down his window and shouted "We need you now!" at him. The Rising is Bruce's response to that tragedy and is the most committed and impassioned he's sounded for decades. Despite the in-built nostalgia surrounding albums like Born To Run, I genuinely think The Rising is one of his two best albums, along with another one that came ten years later. Best Song: My City Of Ruins. Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • COUNTING CROWS - Hard Candy (2002). Oh, man. I mean, I loved this album throughout my teens, but I never noticed at the time just how "American teen movie" it is. I made the same complaint about their earlier stuff, but I remembered Hard Candy so fondly I assumed it couldn't also be true of that, but yep, this is pretty ridiculous. I still like it, though. Best Song: Holiday In Spain. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • DAMIEN RICE - O (2002). So much teen angst associated with this album. I'd rated it 5 stars, but I've knocked half off because as an adult I find sentimentality and self-conscious emotional sincerity in art grates on me almost as much as it moves me. These days I prefer stuff that moves you almost by accident rather than because it tried really hard to do so with a string quartet and everything, and I find this sort of thing more manipulative than I used to. He's undoubtedly a writer of beautiful songs, though. Best Song: The Blower's Daughter. Folk. 4.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Heathen (2002). David Bowie v.15.0 - a sharp-suited old dude who looks a lot like the G-Man from Half-Life singing thoughtful, elder statesmanlike art-rock songs about ecological collapse and your big fat dog. He's no longer trying hard to sound relevant as he did in the 90s, he's just effortlessly bashing out great music. Really great period of his career. Best Song: Heathen (The Rays). Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • THE DAVID REES-WILLIAMS TRIO - Hidden Colours (2002). Cracker of an album on which a traditional piano/bass/drums jazz trio rearranges a bunch of famous classical pieces in a sort of cool lounge jazz style. Instrumental jazz and classical are two of the best genres to work and concentrate to, I find, so this album is a dream come true for focus. Best Song: Music For A While. Jazz. 4/5

  • EVA CASSIDY - Imagine (2002). After Wogan unleashed Cassidy-mania on the world, more and more posthumous collections of her recordings were released as albums. Imagine is one of the better ones. It focuses more on ballads with less soulful bluesiness as on the brilliant Songbird, but she's still an incredible voice and a wonderful interpreter. Best Song: Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • FOCUS - Focus 8 (2002). After the two really terrible attempts at albums Focus made in the late 70s and 80s, you'd have no reason to expect an early 00s comeback album to be any good at all, but it's wonderful. They sound more full of life and energy than they have in a very, very long time. A few more albums came after this, but none were as much of a pleasant surprise as this wonderful thing. Best Song: Neurotika. Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - So, It's Like That (2002). The debut album by the 21st century's greatest blues-rock guitarist was, in my opinion, a bit hit-and-miss. This, his second, is much more consistent and has some really epic moments, even if it occasionally veers towards a more pop-rock sound than the leaner, bluesier style he would later adopt. Best Song: Pain And Sorrow. Blues Rock. 4/5. ALBUM 700 OF 1001!

  • JOHNNY CASH - American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002). I feel like the presence of Cash's definitive take on "Hurt," paired with his death shortly after its release, has conferred a sort of mythic status onto American IV. In truth, there's a handful of tracks on this that are fairly prosaic and forgettable, but on its better tracks Cash is so magisterial and brilliant that the album just feels like a toweringly great example of someone at the end of life looking back on everything they did and everything they regret. Best Song: Hurt. Country. 4/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Travelogue (2002). This double album, where Joni rearranges her back catalogue for a full orchestra, is way too long and not every one's a zinger, but on tracks like "Woodstock" and "The Sire Of Sorrow" and "Sex Kills" the orchestra utterly transforms the song. I enjoy Travelogue more than her actual final album, 2007's Shine, so I think of this as a nice final hoorah for her. Best Song: Woodstock. Adult Contemporary. 3/5

  • MAROON 5 - Songs About Jane (2002). I'm 13 years old and I'm enjoying some downtime by playing through some Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure books and listening to Songs About Jane on repeat. I think it's about the coolest music I've ever heard. Repeat ad nauseam for about 3 years, then I abruptly stop listening to it and pretty much never listen to it again until today. Best Song: Must Get Out. Pop. 4/5

  • NORAH JONES - Come Away With Me (2002). I really love Norah Jones's voice, but revisiting this I'm not sure quite why she ended up head-and-shoulders above all the other adult contemporary folk/jazz singers and interpreters of the early 00s. I mean, this album was massive and a lot of it is quite paint-by-numbers. "Don't Know Why" and "Come Away With Me" are brilliant, though. Best Song: Don't Know Why. Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - Up (2002). A rare beast, this, a Peter Gabriel album of original material coming just 2 years after the previous one. In general it takes him around 8 years to make an album, and Up is still his most recent original studio album. You can't really begrudge him the time he takes over them, though, when the results are always so reliably brilliant. Up is his most intense and least pop-hook-oriented to date, but it's really wonderful. Best Song: More Than This. Art Rock. 4.5/5

  • THE POLYPHONIC SPREE - The Beginning Stages Of...The Polyphonic Spree (2002). If you ignore the 37-minute track of irritating drone noise that finishes this album, it's pretty much a perfect feelgood album. It's all acoustic woodwinds and strings and brass and jubilant choral stuff and it just makes you feel lovely. Seven out of its ten tracks have the word "Day" in the title, as well. Not sure what that means. Best Song: Soldier Girl. New Age. 4/5

  • PORCUPINE TREE - In Absentia (2002). Although "Trains" has one of the poppiest hooks of Porcupine Tree's entire discography, In Absentia has, in general, a much heavier and darker sound than most of their other albums. It sort of focuses quite a lot on angry guitars and metal sections, but my favourite bits of it are the sad, lonely-sounding bits like "Collapse The Light Into Earth." Think they're really good at that sort of feeling. Best Song: Trains. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • SIGUR ROS - ( ) (2002). Sort of the same kind of aesthetic as Agaetis Byrjun, but with the clever twist of not giving the songs any titles, so the fact that they all sound indistinguishable feels deliberate. On the next album they made the novel change of making some of the songs sound different from one another and have individual identities, but hey, the music's too lovely and beautiful to care about how homogenous it is. Best Song: Untitled #3 (Samskeyti). Post-Rock. 4/5

  • SPOCK'S BEARD - Snow (2002). These silly boys again, this time banging on for a full two hours about an albino priest who I think starts some kind of counter-cultural revolution? It's all a thinly-veiled analogy for the fact that Neil Morse was about to quit the band and start making Christian rock. Or it's sort of thinly-veiled, then right at the end Neil belts out "And God was there behind the veil!" and then it's not so thinly-veiled any more. Some great keyboard solos here, though. Best Song: Freak Boy (Part II). Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • SUPERTRAMP - Slow Motion (2002). Supertramp's final album to date and, due to Rick Davies' health, likely to remain that way, sadly. It has a few clunkers on it, but particularly on its longer songs it has a sort of bluesy, gritty swagger that I really like, and some of the shorter ones are fun jazzy pop numbers too. Best Song: Tenth Avenue Breakdown. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Alice (2002). Waits's soundtracks to his second and third theatrical collaborations with Robert Wilson were released simultaneously in 2002. Of the two, Alice, a sort of cabaret reworking of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, is the safer and more listenable, though it has moments of intense madness. It's mostly comprised of very stately chamber orchestra ballads and jazz numbers, and has some of the most painfully beautiful moments of Waits's career. Best Song: Alice. Avant-Garde. 4/5

  • TOM WAITS - Blood Money (2002). Blood Money, by contrast, is insane. It's the soundtrack to Wilson's retelling of Georg Buchner's nihilsit fairytale Woyzeck, and is by far the harder of the two to get into. The songs are miserable and angry and nightmarish, the sound is clattering and discordant and unrelenting. I honestly couldn't choose between them. Not only is Blood Money deliriously brilliant obce you've taken the time with it, it even finds time for some really beautiful moments too. Best Song: All The World Is Green. Avant-Garde. 4/5

  • ANNIE LENNOX - Bare (2003). Don't know much about Annie Lennox, so I've no idea if there was some reason in her personal life, but whereas Diva very much felt like a feelgood party album, Bare feels more serious and mournful and introspective, even on its more upbeat tracks. They all feel like songs about thinking rather than about experiencing. Diva just about edges it for me, possibly partly due to nostalgia, but they're both excellent. Best Song: The Saddest Song I've Got. Pop. 4/5

  • BONOBO - Dial 'M' For Monkey (2003). I don't really understand Bonobo's music, because it's supposedly electronic, but it mostly consists of obviously acoustic instrumental performances - steel drums and double bass and flute and so on. I don't know if Simon Green plays everything himself, or if he just writes and produces everything and it's played by other people, and I'm not invested enough in downtempo as a genre to find out how it works. All I know is that it sounds like magic. Best Song: Wayward Bob. Electronic. 4/5

  • CAT POWER - You Are Free (2003). As I said before, I don't know enough about Charlyn Marshall's life to really know what her music is about, and I've never put the requisite amount of effort into piecing it together. But somehow it always makes me feel empowered and hopeful and lonely and lost all at the same time, and I think that's a pretty impressive cocktail of emotions to be able to elicit in music. Best Song: He War. Indie. 3.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Reality (2003). For ten years this was thought to be Bowie's final album as it preceded a decade-long hiatus where he essentially became a recluse who would occasionally pop up in Extras or The Prestige. It says a lot for how good his comeback albums in 2013 and 2016 were that Reality is miles behind them and yet still felt like a perfectly decent swan-song to end his career on if that's what it ended up being. Best Song: She'll Drive The Big Car. Rock. 4/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - A Reality Tour (2003). Actually not released until 2010, but it's a record of Bowie's final tour in 2003 so I've plced it here. It may not have the ferocity or iconic status of, say, Live Santa Monica '72, but it's my favourite Bowie live album. Partly for the sheer breadth of the setlist, for how friendly and good-humoured Bowie comes across, for how audibly moved the crowd are to be spending time with him, and for its bold reworkings of some of his back catalogue. Best Song: Loving The Alien. Rock. 4/5

  • DIDO - Life For Rent (2003). Dido was absolutely smashing life back in 2003. Admittedly, even a deaf person could hear that Life For Rent is nowhere near as good as No Angel, one of the great albums of the 90s. But it's still very nice and has some catchy tunes on it and it had a couple of real big hits, and I'm really pleased for her. Best Song: White Flag. Trip-Hop. 3.5/5

  • ERLEND OYE - Unrest (2003). I remember this as the first CD I ever bought. It certainly wasn't the first I owned, but I think it was the first I specifically asked for and then borrowed money and went and bought. It wasn't because I liked Kings Of Convenience and wanted to hear Oye's solo stuff, I've still never heard their music. It was just because you could listen to a free sample of it in HMV in Salisbury and I liked it. It's less good than I remember, to be honest. But it's decent. Best Song: Like Gold. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • FLEETWOOD MAC - Say You Will (2003). Fleetwood Mac's sort-of reunion album (though there's no Christine McVie) seems to be generally disliked, I guess because it's pretty long and does have some filler on it. The truly excellent songs are scattered throughout, though, and five or six of them rank among my all-time favourite songs the band ever recorded. I really love this album. Best Song: Murrow Turning Over In His Grave. Rock. 4.5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • I MONSTER - Neveroddoreven (2003). I was obsessed with this in my teens. It has songs I used to listen to near-constantly on a loop ("Daydream In Blue," "Who Is She?") and songs that terrified me so much I coudn't listen to them with the lights off ("A Scarecrow's Tale," "These Are Our Children.") To this day, I don't know what I Monster were. Dunno if they were a band, or a pseudonym for one guy, or a collaborative musical project like Boards Of Canada. Don't really need to know. Best Song: Daydream In Blue. Electronic. 4.5/5

  • JOSE GONZALEZ - Veneer (2003). I think Jose Gonzalez is right up there with Nick Drake as one of the few people who can make a whole album of nothing but their voice and an acoustic guitar and make it dynamic and emotionally rich enough to never once lose focus. Best Song: Heartbeats. Folk. 4.5/5

  • KATIE MELUA - Call Off The Search (2003). I was going to be a little bit snide here and say that Katie Melua is good, but that this album is mostly fairly generic adult contemporary-style folk/jazz/pop. Then I googled her and found out that she was 19 when it came out and it conquered the world, plus by far the best song is one of the two she wrote herself, so you know what, good on her. Best Song: Belfast (Penguins And Cats). Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • LOU REED - The Raven (2003). Over an hour of The Raven is unlistenable (particularly the interminably long, over-acted spoken word sections where Willem Dafoe and Steve Buscemi recreate Edgar Allan Poe's works) but if you get rid of all the rubbish there's a normal-length album of really great stuff, including some of Lou's best songs. There's a short, very good version of The Raven in there somewhere, you just have to sift for it. Best Song: Who Am I? (Tripitena's Song). Avant-Garde. 3/5

  • OPETH - Damnation (2003). Opeth are pretty big in the modern prog scene, but I've not got much time for them because they're prog-metal and indulge in a lot of death-metal screaming, and death-metal is a genre I really can't stand. Damnation is actually pretty good though, as they rein all that in and go for an aesthetic that's very spooky and mysterious and occasionally quite pretty. Best Song: Ending Credits. Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • PRINCE - N.E.W.S. (2003). It's interesting, this one. It consists of four extended instrumental funk jams which have more in common with the stuff Prince was doing with his more experimental side projects than the sort of thing he was putting out on his other solo albums at the time. I like it a lot. Listened to it loads on holiday in Whitby last year and haven't really revisited it since, but it was really nice to come back to. Best Song: North. Funk. 3.5/5

  • REGINA SPEKTOR - Soviet Kitsch (2003). I was aware of Regina because Peter Gabriel covers a song of hers on his covers album Scratch My Back, and it's a really great song. But for some reason it took my girlfriend Eleanor's recommendation for me to actually listen to her, as she's one of her favourites. Soviet Kitsch is my least favourite of the three albums I've heard, but she's already amazing at bashing out pop hooks with big, strange ideas in them. Think she's great. Best Song: Us. Baroque Pop. 3.5/5

  • THE WATERBOYS - Universal Hall (2003). Easily the best Waterboys album since Fisherman's Blues, and the one that brought fiddler Steve Wickham back into the fold. It has the same acoustic Celtic folk style as their late 80s stuff, but is more explicitly concerned with spirituality and religion. Beautiful. Best Song: The Christ In You. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • THE WHITE STRIPES - Elephant (2003). Three or four songs on this are really great - proper old-school bluesy garage rock. The rest I've always found really quite bland and tuneless and boring, and I'd go so far as to say that I think Jack White is actually massively overrated. But hey, whatever, this album's decent. Best Song: Ball And Biscuit. Hard Rock. 3/5

  • ALISON KRAUSS & UNION STATION - Lonely Runs Both Ways (2004). I guess following up the high-watermark of New Favorite was always going to be tricky, but I've always been slightly disappointed by how little of Lonely Runs Both Ways sticks in my head the way that album does. It's undeniably good and spirited and pretty music, but they're not firing on all cylinders here. Best Song: Gravity. Country. 3.5/5

  • BETH NIELSEN CHAPMMAN - Look (2004). Spent a lot of time in the early 00s listening to my mum's album collection because they were often, and there's some real gems in there. The sort of adult contemporary soft folk/pop singer-songwriter vibes she prefers isn't a genre I'd naturally gravitate towards, but I've ended up really enjoying quite a lot of it by proxy. This is one of my favourites from that stable. Best Song: Trying To Love You. Adult Contemporary. 4/5

  • THE BLUE NILE - High (2004). Technically the "worst" Blue Nile album, but on a technicality and it's really unfair of me to call it that. All that means is that the other three feel like sublime works being beamed into your head from somewhere special, and on High there's a vague sense of having heard this sort of thing from them already, and of its just being really lovely music. It doesn't significantly shake up their output, but it's still gorgeous. Best Song: She Saw The World. Sophisti-Pop. 4/5

  • COCOROSIE - La Maison De Mon Reve (2004). I think 2010-13 was the period when CocoRosie were making truly visionary music, but there's an honesty and an intimacy and a clarity of vision to their homemade debut, made in their Paris flat on toy instruments, that's more evident here than even their best work. Like a lot of works of art that are the result of unfettered muse-following, not everything on this works, but its best songs are stunningly beautiful. Best Song: Good Friday. Freak Folk. 4/5

  • THE DIVINE COMEDY - Absent Friends (2004). I always considered this one of the Divine Comedy's lesser efforts, and have only just decided to add it to the list. It's still true that there are a couple of songs here I think are pretty bland, verging on poor, but most of it is perfectly nice and in the title track and "Our Mutual Friend" it boasts two of the best songs Neil Hannon ever wrote, so it just about justifies a spot. Best Song: Absent Friends. Baroque Pop. 3/5

  • ELTON JOHN - Peachtree Road (2004). I just think this is a really lovely album. The tone is very laid-back and gentle; it no longer sounds like Elton is trying really hard to rock the boat or write big hits, he's just having a nice time writing really beautiful ballads about ageing gracefully and being happy with what you've got. It's a really commendably happy-with-my-lot sort of late-career album. Best Song: Weight Of The World. Adult Contemporary. 3.5/5

  • FEIST - Let It Die (2004). More of a gritty, indie-rock coolness finds its way into Feist's music as it develops, but at this point the focus is almost entirely on prettiness, from the perfection of her voice to the quiet sweetness of the music. It's to her enormous credit as a songwriter that it sounds as effortlessly beautiful as it does without ever feeling compromised or contrived. Really lovely. Best Song: Let It Die. Indie. 4/5

  • FRIPP & ENO - The Equatorial Stars (2004). Fripp and Eno's first collaboration in nearly 30 years may not be as pioneering as their first two (it basically repeats all their old tricks), but I think it's the most accomplished and pleasant to listen to. There's nothing here that skirts close to abrasiveness as some of their older stuff did, it's just all quite vast and scary and beautiful. Best Song: Meissa. Ambient. 4/5

  • GEORGE MICHAEL - Patience (2004). This is pretty long and only just scrapes onto the list, really. It's strongest when it sticks closer to the sort of dancey electro-pop that made up most of Faith, but there are a few attempts at piano ballads that show up George Michael's shortcomings as a songwriter. Best Song: Amazing. Pop. 3/5

  • GRETCHEN PETERS - Halcyon (2004). Going just on the bare bones of the songs themselves, Gretchen Peters doesn't do a huge amount here to differentiate herself from a bunch of other country-folk-pop singer-songwriters, but then there's the odd surprising flourish like the soprano sax on "The Aviator's Song" that actually takes you by surprise and marks her out as somebody with a more interesting sonic pallette than a lot of her contemporaries. Best Song: The Aviator's Song. Adult Contemporary. 4/5

  • GWYNETH HERBERT - Bittersweet And Blue (2004). I was a big fan of this album long before I learned Gwyneth Herbert's actually a mate of my dad's and has made a bunch of radio programmes with him. She deserves to be a bigger name than she is, really, as she's a really diverse interpreter (she covers Neil Young, Portishead, Tom Waits, Cole Porter, Crowded House and a bunch more here) as well as a gifted songwriter on the tracks she wrote herself. Best Song: At Seventeen. Vocal Jazz. 4/5

  • JOANNA NEWSOM - The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004). Joanna Newsom's debut sounds so utterly unlike most other singer-songwriter debuts at the time, it's utterly the product of her forging her own strange path, from the warbling, childlike quality of her voice (which spawned a whole bunch of imitators) to the intricacy of her harp playing to the self-consciously verbose and inscrutable lyrics. She's not operating at full genius levels yet, but it's clear she's about to. Best Song: Sprout And The Bean. Folk. 4/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - Had To Cry Today (2004). A sort of mid-tier Bonamassa offering, but one that includes one of his best songs in the fairly brazen "When The Levee Breaks" rip-off that is "The River." The pace never really lets up either, the only slightly dodgy moment is the weird title track but it's basically JB being consistently very cool and good again. Best Song: The River. Blues Rock. 4/5

  • JOHN MARTYN - On The Cobbles (2004). The last album Martyn released in his liftetime is a decent last hoorah. His voice is genuinely masterful here, and he has fun pushing it to its rougher and gentler extremes from moment to moment, and there's a woozy, jazzy gentleness to the sound that makes this a nice album to say goodbye to him with. Best Song: Go Down Easy. Adult Contemporary. 3/5

  • JON BRION - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004). One of my favourite film soundtracks of all time, and one I frequently used as a panacea as a teenager to just evoke any and all emotion I needed to cleanse cathartically from myself. All of human feeling exists in this soundtrack, it's a minimalist masterpiece. Best Song: Theme. Soundtrack. 4.5/5

  • LUDOVICO EINAUDI - Una Mattina (2004). I've only just added this to the list, but my only reason for not including it previously was a vague sense of guilt for just including every Einaudi album I heard. To its discredit, Una Mattina feels a bit more formulaic and less distinctive than his best work, but he still knows how to do what he does to perfection, and it's another really lovely listening experience. Best Song: Nuvole Bianche. Classical. 3.5/5

  • MARILLION - Marbles (2004). One of those rare albums that's incredibly long and yet I'd gladly listen to loads more of it. Another massive career high-point for Marillion, with several of their best-ever songs on it, it also saw them perfect their manipulation of their own fanbase via the internet (which they pioneered years before Radiohead) by convincing fans to buy the lead single multiple times to get them their first Top 10 hit since the 80s. Clever boys. Best Song: Neverland. Neo-Progressive Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • MAX RICHTER - The Blue Notebooks (2004). Max Richter's sort of like a more intelligent Einaudi, really. He's just as good, if not more so, at composing music that's precision-engineered to pull on your heartstrings and make you think for ages, but he's less prone to resorting to a populist formula, and engages more with artistic ideas. This one's sort of about the Iraq War. It's not his best, but it's pretty strong. Best Song: Horizon Variations. Classical. 4/5

  • MODEST MOUSE - Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004). Oh, this is where I got all the Tom Waits associations I make in my head with Modest Mouse. This still has the indie-rock snark of their 90s stuff, but there's more twanging banjos and parping horns and rasping vocals and lots of talk of Bukowski and it generally all feels very Waitsian. Like most Modest Mouse albums, there's a handful of brilliant songs and a handful of less impressive stuff, but it's a good album. Best Song: Float On. Indie. 3.5/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus (2004). After a couple of albums of basically treading water and seeming like he'd lost his way a bit, Nick Cave re-acquaints himself with his muse on this really brilliant double album of haunting gospel and terrifying alt-rock and the odd typically Cave-ian beautiful ballad. They sound like they've done a lot of growing up on this album, and their run as one of the greatest elder-statesmen rock bands starts here. Best Song: O Children. Alternative Rock. 5/5

  • PATTI SMITH - Trampin' (2004). I reckon this is definitely Patti's best since Easter. It maintains the sort of ragged, tired wisdom of Gone Again, but the free-form, angry, wiry energy of her 70s work that was mostly absent on that album resurfaces its head in long, intense pieces like "Gandhi" or "Radio Baghdad." Best Song: Trespasses. Rock. 4/5

  • THE PETE CHURCHILL TRIO - The Bad And The Beautiful (2004). I got into this guy because he was a friend of my mum's and used to run singing workshops for her choirs. He's got a great voice and is a really good pianist, even if his jazz trio doesn't do much to go beyond the bounds of pretty much what you'd expect from a new jazz trio making music in 2004. Best Song: Going Back To Joe's/Learning The Blues. Jazz. 3.5/5

  • PRINCE - Musicology (2004). This was the big commercial success of Prince's later-career stuff. It takes a similar acoustic, stripped-back funk aesthetic to The Rainbow Children but applies it to shorter, catchier, less mythologically-convoluted songs. It's therefore less adventurous or startling than that album, but I guess, admittedly, slightly more fun to listen to. Best Song: Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance. Funk. 3.5/5

  • STARS - Set Yourself On Fire (2004). Two songs on this album absolutely grabbed hold of my imagination at uni and wouldn't let it go. There are two others that are pretty good too. The rest is faintly forgettable bland indie stuff which I couldn't even hum to you, but those two songs are absolute bangers. Best Song: One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead). Indie. 3/5

  • TOM WAITS - Real Gone (2004). One of my least favourite Tom Waits albums, as somewhere between the turntable scratches and the beatboxing he demonstrates an uncharacteristic eagerness to seem self-consciously cutting-edge and contemporary, which strikes me as very un-Waitsian. But even Tom Waits having a midlife crisis and not making his best work is still able to include some absolutely drop-dead brilliant songs in between the more questionable stuff. Best Song: Day After Tomorrow. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • ANDREW BIRD - Andrew Bird And The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (2005). Ooh, I love Andrew Bird, he goes on to become one of my favourite kookie indie artists of the 2000s and 2010s. Just a very sharp, shy, intelligent man whistling and playing the violin with a loop pedal and singing some gorgeous pop songs with a ridiculous verbosity to them. The only guy who can use the word "cephalopod" in a song and not sound pretentious. Best Song: Tables And Chairs. Baroque Pop. 3.5/5

  • ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS - I Am A Bird Now (2005). Most of the time I claim Supertramp's Crime Of The Century is the greatest album of all time. Deep in my heart I know I'm being partly motivated by nostalgia and fan loyalty when I say that, because I know really that no musical album as affecting and as heartfelt and as visionary and as beautiful as I Am A Bird Now will ever be made by anybody. I could write pages and pages about how good "Fistful Of Love" is on its own, let alone the rest. I cannot rave enough about this album. It transforms me every time I hear it. Best Song: Fistful Of Love. Baroque Pop. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • BOARDS OF CANADA - The Campfire Headphase (2005). I think this is generally accepted as the worst Boards of Canada album, and I think that people usually blame the fact that they use acoustic instruments like guitars. I don't mind that, I think it brings an interesting warmth and texture to their music, I just think there's less going on musically on these pieces, there's less to hang ideas off and fewer moments that really stick in your head. Best Song: Hey Saturday Sun. Ambient. 4/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Another Day On Earth (2005). Brian Eno's first solo album of actual songs since 1977 (and first album of songs full stop since 1990's collaboration Wrong Way Up) includes a few of the really bright, bell-like, gorgeous pop songs he'd become great at writing in the 00s and a bunch of really weird electronic vocal experiments, the most terrifying of which is "Bone Bomb," which is maybe about a suicide bomber or maybe anorexia or maybe a hunger strike. Weird, beautiful album. Best Song: This. Electronic. 4/5

  • ELIZA CARTHY - Rough Music (2005). I often feel a bit ignorant using the term "folk music" because often I use it when I really mean "a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar singing songs with vaguely pastoral or socially-conscious themes." Eliza Carthy is one of those folk singers in the purest sense who you can call a folk singer without feeling self-conscious. Proper Celtic reels on fiddles and accordions and old-timey Cornish tavern knees-ups and wagon ballads. Proper Wicker Man stuff. Best Song: King James Version. Folk. 4/5

  • KATE BUSH - Aerial (2005). Kate Bush's first album in over a decade is astonishing. It follows the same structure as Hounds Of Love (one half of disconnected art-rock songs, one half consisting of an interconnected storytelling suite), but whereas that album is cold and austere and haunting, Aerial is warm and joyful and beautiful. The first half has a couple of misfires on it, but the intense beauty of the second half more than makes up for it and secures this as one of her two best albums. Best Song: Nocturn/Aerial. Art Rock. 5/5

  • M83 - Before The Dawn Heals Us (2005). Anthony Gonzalez's gift for earworm pop hooks that would develop later in the life of M83 isn't yet fully apparent here, and there are some bits of this album that sound like young posers showing off on synths, but mostly it consists of really lovely electronic soundscapes. Best Song: Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun. Electronic. 3/5

  • MATT BERRY - Opium (2005). It was a genuine delight to learn that Matt Berry is actually genuinely good at music and has a really impressive discography of great stuff, I got quite obsessed by it in the late 2000s. His innate comic sensibility does show through on occasion, but it never feels like he's trying to be funny, the priority always seems to be making really good, prog-tinged pop without making any concessions, then there's the odd comic flourish. Really worth your time. Best Song: Introduction. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • MOBY - Hotel (2005). I was obsessed by this album in 2005. Listened to it near-constantly on a family holiday in Spain. The instrumental/ambient tracks really made me feel stuff in my teenage bones. Looking back, its attempts at more upbeat pop-rock songs are really quite aggravating in a mid-00s sort of way, but the ambient stuff and the ballads are still beautiful. Best Song: Love Should. Electronic. 4/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Prairie Wind (2005). From 2000 onwards, Neil Young's discography is frustratingly and fascinatingly inconsistent, and it's pretty much pot luck where each release will sit on the scale between "actually pretty good" and "absolute dreck." Prairie Wind is a lovely album, though, and mines a similar gentle folk-rock vibe to old favourites like Harvest and Harvest Moon. Best Song: This Old Guitar. Folk Rock. 3.5/5

  • PORCUPINE TREE - Deadwing (2005). I was listening to Deadwing while climbing up a massive hill in Edinburgh in 2013 at dusk. I fell off the edge of the hill into a thicket of gorse while "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" was playing and got a text saying my friend had won the Edinburgh Comedy Award and thought "So this is how I die." Always reminds me of that. There are two rubbish metal songs on Deadwing, but the rest is great. Best Song: Lazarus. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • SIGUR ROS - Takk... (2005). Sigur Ros's work takes a big leap up to the truly exceptional thanks to their bold decision to add actual dynamic shifts in tone and memorable melodies to the more ambient post-rock they were making before. It's as beautiful as it always was, but you can actually sort of hum along and feel different things at the same time now. This album was a massive thing for me when I was at uni, it made me feel better about all the girls I was hopelessly in love with. Best Song: Hoppipolla. Post-Rock. 5/5

  • SPOCK'S BEARD - Octane (2005). Spock's Beard first album since the departure of Neal Morse was a damp squib, and it might have looked like they'd drift off into being truly rubbish without him there to guide them. But Octane completely rewrites the band's output, avoiding the sillier excesses of their earlier stuff and opting for a more serious tone. It's easily their best album to this point, and secured the Nick D'Virgilio era as one actually worth paying attention to. Best Song: As Long As We Ride. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • SUPERGRASS - Road To Rouen (2005). I once played keyboardist Rob Coombes in an unofficial Supergrass musical which bassist Mick Quinn came to see. He told me he'd never seen anybody play clarinet quite like me before. I told him Road To Rouen was one of my favourite albums and thanked him for it. I neglected to tell him that Road To Rouen is the only Supergrass album I like as it's so uncharacteristic of their usual stuff, which I don't love to be honest. But Road To Rouen is a phenomenal album. Best Song: Tales Of Endurance (Parts IV-VI). Alternative Rock. 5/5

  • VASHTI BUNYAN - Lookaftering (2005). This album is just one of the loveliest happy endings in music history. After decades living as a recluse due to the fact that her debut album didn't do very well, Vashti Bunyan became a cult folk hero when "Diamond Day" was used in an advert and suddenly loads of folk singers started citing her as an influence. It boosted her confidence enough to come out into the light and make this album. It sounds like it could've been made days after her first. It's so honest. Best Song: Hidden. Folk. 4/5

  • BEIRUT - Gulag Orkestar (2006). They've gone a bit quiet now, but in the late 2000s Beirut were my number one exhibit that actually I did enjoy listening to new music, something which is basically no longer true. But from 2006 to about 2011 Zach Condon was just one of the most interesting, wonderful musicians working. Each album sort of feels like it takes its influences from a different part of the world, and Gulag Orkestar has a strong Balkan folk vibe to it. Not their best album, but close to it. Best Song: Postcards From Italy. Indie. 4/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006). Such a fun album. Bruce assembles an old-timey folk band of accordions and trombones and upright bass around himself and then orchestrates a series of barnstorming covers of old folk songs popularised by Pete Seeger. Maybe one of the most purely fun albums he's ever made. Best Song: Pay Me My Money Down. Folk. 4/5

  • CORINNE BAILEY RAE - Corinne Bailey Rae (2006). As should be fairly apparent by now, mid-00s pop/R&B has never been a genre my brain has gone to for any reason whatsoever, but, maybe just due to how successful this album was, it broke through into my awareness and, do you know what? I really like it. I think she has a great voice and the tunes here are lovely. I'm not going to go and obsess over the entire genre any time soon, but I do think this is a really good album. Best Song: Put Your Records On. R&B. 4/5

  • DAMIEN RICE - 9 (2006). really doubles down on the tortured angst far more than did, and feels less obliged to offer up beautiful, catchy melodies as it does so, frequently favouring stuff that's more dirgelike or moody. It's therefore a much less enjoyable album, and still feels a tad too affected to actually make up for it in emotional stakes, but in-between the more self-consciously moody stuff there are some beautiful songs here. Best Song: Dogs. Indie. 3.5/5

  • DARONDO - Let My People Go (2006). Not really a studio album, as it's a compilation of songs Darondo recorded in the 70s, but he was almost entirely ignored at the time he was making music, and this belated release only occurred after "Didn't I" started being used in films in the mid-00s. A shame he was so marginal as the stuff collected together is up there with some of the best and rawest and most emotional soul music of the 70s. Bit of a sad story, really. Best Song: Didn't I. Soul. 4/5

  • DAVID GILMOUR - On An Island (2006). Gilmour's solo albums up until this point had been, inexplicably, absolute dogshit (the song "Cruise" is worth listening to as it's one of the worst things anybody's ever done), but, as later Floyd showed, he still had the ability to make great gentle prog. Only a couple of songs on On An Island show him rocking out the way you might expect, but in general it has a sort of calm, thoughtful mood that actually works really well. Best Song: Take A Breath. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • JOANNA NEWSOM - Ys (2006). This is Joanna Newsom's masterpiece and boasts, in particular, one of the finest minutes of music ever recorded in minute 6 of "Only Skin." All the songs are between 7 and 17 minutes long, so how much you enjoy it might depend on how much you enjoy diving into music that's vast and complicated and difficult to wrap your head around, but I find this album such a fascinating, beautiful world to swim in. Best Song: Only Skin. Folk. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • JOE BONAMASSA - You & Me (2006). Quite rare among JB albums in that it doesn't have a single song I'd whole-heartedly call an absolute top-tier JB classic, but aslo quite rare among JB albums in that it doesn't have a single song I consider truly throwaway. Most of his albums are a mixed bag of disposable filler and absolute bangers, but You & Me is a solidly mid-tier offering and, ironically, therefore one of his most consistent efforts. Best Song: Bridge To Better Days. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • LUDOVICO EINAUDI - Divenire (2006). Wow, really running out of things to say about Einaudi albums in order to differentiate them from one another, but they're all too good at what they aim to do for me to not include them. I mean, I absolutely love his music, but it is like wallpaper. I've always thought the title track would be good set to a montage of some scientists urgently trying to solve something in a movie about a pandemic or something. Dunno why. Best Song: Divenire. Classical. 4.5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Living With War (2006). Neil Young's later career is packed full of albums he rushed out due to his weirdly pathological need to constantly be making new music, which is commendable even if it's produced some absolute rubbish. Living With War, his protest album against the Iraq War, was made in something crazy like six days, but sees him in one of his moods where he's in touch with his muse and manages to produce something fairly exciting and good even while rushing. Best Song: The Restless Consumer. Rock. 3/5

  • THE PUPPINI SISTERS - Betcha Bottom Dollar (2006). A close-harmony trio inspired by the amazing film Belleville Rendezvous, the Puppini Sisters caught the public imagination thanks to doing vocal jazz reworkings of pop songs by the likes of Kate Bush and the Smiths, but for me, it's the more traditional stuff they tackle here, which was actually written in that style in the first place, that ends up being more enjoyable than the more radical reinventions. Best Song: Mr Sandman. Vocal Jazz. 3.5/5

  • REGINA SPEKTOR - Begin To Hope (2006). This is my favourite of the Regina Spektor albums I've heard. The palette of sounds is richer and more exciting, taking in full orchestras as on "Apres Moi" or big pop-rock arrangements as on "Better." The songs are more emotionally wide-ranging too, from the sinister oddness of "Edit" to the simple prettiness of "Fidelity." I think this is really great. Best Song: Apres Moi. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • SPOCK'S BEARD - Spock's Beard (2006). Unfortunately sandwiched between what I consider their two career highlights, Octane and X, Spock's Beard's self-titled album is diminished a bit in comparison, but I still think even when pedalling on auto-pilot a bit, Nick D'Virgilio-era Spock's Beard sounds less goofy than most of the best stuff from the Neal Morse-era. Best Song: With Your Kiss. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE SWELL SEASON - The Swell Season (2006). This album's probably best known as most of its songs ended up forming the backbone to the soundtrack of Once, which eventually became a major West End musical. But before all that success spun out from it, this album was just something very simple and very intimate and just consisted of love songs that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova had written for each other. Their second album is more interesting, but this one's still great. Best Song: Leave. Folk. 4/5

  • TOM WAITS - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (2006). A mammoth archive of unreleased Tom Waits oddities, loosely categorised into rock songs, ballads and uncategorisable weird stuff. The categorisations mean the individual volumes are less varied or rich than a typical Waits album, but taken as a whole it's an amazing treasure trove of great stuff that's well worth taking time to go through. Best Song: If I Have To Go. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • ANDREW BIRD - Armchair Apocrypha (2007). ...The Mysterious Production Of Eggs introduced all the unusual elements that would become hallmarks of Andrew Bird's music but it's not until Armchair Apocrypha that he takes all those elements and makes them into something brilliant. There are moments on it that are genuinely breathtaking. He was a guy with interesting ideas before, but on this album he becomes an artist to really pay attention to. Best Song: Armchairs. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • BEIRUT - The Flying Club Cup (2007). This was pretty much my absolute favourite album for a good year or so. It never does anything other than put a huge smile on my face. It's more French-sounding than the Balkan vibes of Gulag Orkestar, and is also more delicate and intricate and focuses more on keyboards and strings and brass than the ukulele arrangements of their debut. I really love it. Best Song: Nantes. Indie. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • COCOROSIE - The Adventures Of Ghosthorse And Stillborn (2007). Maybe CocoRosie's weirdest album, to be honest. I feel like on the subsequent two albums they hit on a formula where their music sounded more like actual songs without losing its spirit, and on the preceding album they sounded too experimental for their own good, but on Ghosthorse And Stillborn they sit in an odd middle ground where it's not quite clear what's going on other than that it's exciting and strange. Best Song: Rainbowarriors. Freak Folk. 3.5/5

  • EDDIE VEDDER - Into The Wild (2007). Absolutely no idea whether Pearl Jam are any good, I have zero interest in the grunge movement despite Neil Young's role in it. I understand Eddie Vedder's soundtrack to Into The Wild is very atypical of his band's stuff, much more gentle and folk-y, so I'll continue to take no interest in them despite really loving this soundtrack. Best Song: Society. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • FEIST - The Reminder (2007). The Reminder is nowhere near as good as 2011's Metals, and opts for a slightly more generic indie-rock sound than the slightly Latin, lounge jazz vibes of Let It Die, so I've always remembered it as a decent but middling album. I was surprised by how much I loved it when I revisited it. It's not as memorable as her best stuff, but some of its individual songs are really brilliant, and she's just always a pleasure to listen to even when she's being a tad generic. Best Song: 1234. Indie. 4/5

  • FISH - 13th Star (2007). Fish albums are usually great examples of a "mixed bag" artist. There'll be some ridiculously over-the-top standouts, and somewhere in there a really turgid, boring ballad or two. Only a couple of songs on 13th Star stand out as Fish favourites, and they're slightly understated ones, but it's unique in his discography in having nothing I dislike on it, and the ballads are actually really well-written and good and not just chucked in half-formed for good measure. Best Song: Square Go. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • GRINDERMAN - Grinderman (2007). Essentially the same band as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, but minus a couple of the key members and with more focus on a band mentality, and on Warren Ellis's weird violin loops. There's also less sense that Cave's songwriting is where the spotlight is being shone, instead feeling like the main purpose is the amount of noise and weird attitude the band can have fun with around the edge of the songs themselves. Took me a while to enjoy them, but they're great. Best Song: (I Don't Need You To) Set Me Free. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - Sloe Gin (2007). This is the point in JB's discography where he goes from being a cool guitarist who I like, to being just one of my favourite people, and it's largely down to the title track, which is phenomenal. The album starts strong and tails off a bit at the end, but that title track (a Tim Curry cover, funnily enough) is really something. Best Song: Sloe Gin. Blues Rock. 4/5

  • JONI MITCHELL - Shine (2007). I have mixed feelings about Joni Mitchell's final album. I think it struggles to offer up much that you'd consider late classics (bar one song I love), it has a bit of a redundant do-over of "Big Yellow Taxi" and a couple of the songs are a bit wishy-washy for me. But "If" is incredible, and it's Joni's final album, so fair enough. Best Song: If. Jazz Fusion. 3/5

  • JOSE GONZALEZ - In Our Nature (2007). For the most part, In Our Nature is the same gentle, acoustic vibe as Veneer, but with fewer standouts that really jump out and tug on your heartstrings. Then "Cycling Trivialities" turns up at the end, all eight uncharacteristically long minutes of it, and punches the entire album up a notch. Best Song: Cycling Trivialities. Folk. 3.5/5

  • JUSTICE - Cross (2007). I think this album was basically the French electro-dance scene noticing that the last Daft Punk album wasn't very good and drastically cooking something up to rectify the situation. I basically think of this as a Daft Punk album, to be honest, which is unfair and maybe slightly xenophobic of me. But anyway, it's the most fun album Daft Punk never made. Best Song: D.A.N.C.E. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • PJ HARVEY - White Chalk (2007). The journey towards PJ Harvey's masterpiece Let England Shake really kicks into gear on White Chalk, where she completely avoids the more up-tempo aggression and conventional song structures of her earlier stuff and goes for a ghostly, skeletal, floating sound composed of her voice and a piano and the odd broken harp and very little else, and a bunch of songs that feel brittle and fragile and half-formed. It's beautiful, and feels like a big step towards that masterpiece. Best Song: Dear Darkness. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • PORCUPINE TREE - Fear Of A Blank Planet (2007). Porcupine Tree's most intense album, and probably best. There are more or less no pop hooks here (with the possible exception of "Sentimental"), just 6 intense, bleak prog-metal epics about technological anxiety and loneliness and paranoia. My favourite Porcupine Tree songs are mostly peppered on other albums, but Fear Of A Blank Planet is so consistently good that it's probably my favourite album overall. Best Song: Way Out Of Here. Neo-Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • RADIOHEAD - In Rainbows (2007). Radiohead's best album by a country mile and, in my opinion, the only one good enough for me to really understand why people rave about them so much. Anybody who tries to argue that they've ever done anything even almost as good as the double whammy of "Reckoner" and "House Of Cards" is an idiot. Best Song: Reckoner. Alternative Rock. 4.5/5

  • RICKIE LEE JONES - The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard (2007). A lot of RLJ's later stuff sort of descends into middling adult contemporary fare, but that's not the case with The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard, an exploration of the themes of the Passion of Christ via lean, stripped-back country-folk-rock played by a clattering ensemble in a bunch of songs pieced together from jams and improv sessions. It's incredible, by turns haunting and jubilant and beautiful and effortlessly cool. Best Song: Circle In The Sand. Folk Rock. 5/5

  • ROBERT PLANT & ALISON KRAUSS - Raising Sand (2007). This unusual collaboration is more in Krauss's wheelhouse than Plant's, favouring a stripped-back country-folk vibe rather than anything resembling the sort of thing Led Zeppelin usually do, but Plant's vocals are a wonderful counterpoint to Krauss's and the two of them work very well together. A shame they didn't do more together after this. Best Song: Fortune Teller. Country. 4/5

  • BEYONCE - I Am...Sasha Fierce (2008). I Am...Sasha Fierce is a double album even though it's only an hour long, shorter than some single albums. I guess it's symbolic that it's a double album or something. I'll hold my hands up, I'm not a big fan of contemporary R&B-esque pop music, and there are songs here that do nothing for me, but there are also some absolute bangers. Best Song: Sweet Dreams. R&B. 3/5. ALBUM 800 OF 1001!

  • BON IVER - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008). The backstory to this album is that a sad hipster went and exiled himself in a cabin in the woods to record some sad lo-fi folk songs about how heartbroken he was. What's most surprising about it is that it turned out incredible rather than horrible affected and self-obsessed and infuriating. Best Song: Skinny Love. Folk. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • BRIAN ENO & DAVID BYRNE - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008). There's a clearer division of labour on Eno and Byrne's second collaboration, with Eno making all the music and Byrne writing and singing all the lyrics and vocal melodies. It's nowhere near as weird or radical as My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, and it has some surprisingly forgettable songs, but when it soars it really soars. Best Song: Strange Overtones. Art Rock. 4/5

  • THE CARETAKER - Persistent Repetition Of Phrases (2008). One of the Caretaker's less musical projects, in that it doubles down on the drone noises and less on the looping of musical fragments. It's also more on-the-nose in its exploration of Alzheimer's, with each track named after symptoms associated with the condition. Probably his bleakest listen up until his most recent release, which is truly horrible. Best Song: Rosy Retrospection. Ambient. 4/5

  • DIDO - Safe Trip Home (2008). A less well-known Dido album as it didn't have a big hit on it, but I actually prefer it to Life For Rent, it has a really lovely stillness and thoughtfulness to it. It also boasts a surprising cameo from Brian Eno, who co-writes and produces one of the best songs. Best Song: Don't Believe In Love. Adult Contemporary. 4/5

  • FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS - Flight Of The Conchords (2008). There are plenty of musical comedy acts with an equal level of wit and silliness and charm and imagination to FotC, but what made them truly exceptional was that they were such good musicians, able to effrotlessly and perfectly parody a huge range of musical styles while still generating brilliant tunes and musical ideas of their own. They're just brilliant. Best Song: Business Time. Comedy. 4/5

  • JASON MRAZ - We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. (2008). I've just remembered there was a period in 2009 where I related so closely to Jason Mraz's lyrics that I became convinced he was a future version of me sent back to warn me not to fall in love with my friend. Hahaha. Ridiculous. Fun album, anyway. Best Song: Make It Mine. Pop. 4/5

  • M83 - Saturdays = Youth (2008). After the ambient meandering of Digital Shades (Vol. 1), M83 up their game in the catchy pop hooks stakes, bringing one step closer to the world domination they'd achieve on their next album. Some tracks on Saturdays = Youth still feel a bit clubby and rubbish, but the catchier synthy stuff is great. Best Song: Kim & Jessie. Electronic. 4/5

  • MARILLION - Happiness Is The Road (2008). 2007's Somewhere Else was disappointing, but this double album is one of their best. Volume One: Essence focuses more on gentle, keyboard-centric soundscapes while Volume Two: The Hard Shoulder features more guitar-driven rock songs. Volume Two is probably the better overall, though my favourite song is on Volume One. Best Song: This Train Is My Life. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (2008). The mainline Bad Seeds line-up here adopts some of the looseness and garage-rock swagger of the Grinderman spin-off, making this easily their rawest, most primal album since the 80s and probably the most fun of their entire discography. It's the final Bad Seeds album to channel anything other than despair, though what was to come after this is undeniably their pinnacle. Best Song: More News From Nowhere. Alternative Rock. 4.5/5

  • SIGUR ROS - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endelaust (2008). This album's pretty top-heavy, with the first half consisting of some of the most joyful songs they've ever recorded. The tempo drops in the second half and things get a bit more sluggish, but it's still basically beautiful even when it's meandering a bit, and I love the first half so much I just can't mark the album down. Best Song: Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur. Post-Rock. 5/5 

  • SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY - Grapefruit Moon: The Songs Of Tom Waits (2008). Southside Johnny's kidding himself if he thinks his voice has even half the character and charm of Tom Waits's, but he's still a really good singer and the big band/lounge jazz arrangements of Waits's back catalogue are, mostly, really fun. Waits seems to agree as he pops up in person for a duet on "Walk Away." Lovely bunch of reinterpretations. Best Song: Walk Away. Vocal Jazz. 4/5

  • STEVEN WILSON - Insurgentes (2008). It's not quite the end of the road for Porcupine Tree, as there was one not-very-good album still to come (2009's The Incident), but Steven Wilson was already striking out on his own with this solo debut. "Harmony Korine" is by far the standout, but the whole thing is pretty good and clearly indicates that Wilson no longer needed his regular band around him to be making really great prog. Best Song: Harmony Korine. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • YETI - The Legend Of Yeti Gonzales (2008). I'd known my friend Howard for 3 years before I eventually learned his name wasn't Howard and he'd changed his identity in order to distance himself from his time as co-bandleader of Yeti. Don't know why as it's not like they're a bad band or anything, this album is a bunch of really great Beatles-esque pop. Cracking tunes. Best Song: Never Lose Your Sense Of Wonder. Pop. 3.5/5

  • ALESSI'S ARK - Notes From The Treehouse (2009). I still think Notes From The Treehouse is one of the most astonishingly good debuts by a young singer-songwriter of all time. These days I listen to it with a little sadness as every subsequent album has been a bit of a let-down and none of them have made the list, but hey, I guess everybody has a masterpiece in them and she found hers straight out the gate. Good on her. Best Song: Glendora. Folk. 5/5

  • ALEXANDRE DESPLAT - Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). I love this soundtrack, I think it's really great. Desplat's score is by turns beautiful and quirky and hugely characterful, and the other songs incorporated on the soundtrack, including the likes of the Beach Boys and Burl Ives, do a wonderful job of mood-building. Best Song: Kristofferson's Theme. Soundtrack. 4/5

  • ANDREW BIRD - Noble Beast (2009). Noble Beast is a great example of how an album's artwork can shape your feelings about the album, because I 100% believe that it was recorded in a sunny field next to a wood. It just sounds like a sunny field next to a wood. Best Song: Anonanimal. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS - The Crying Light (2009). Technically the weakest Antony and the Johnsons album, although partly because its songs just aren't as immediately obvious as masterpieces than on the others. It doesn't mean they're not masterpieces, it just means their qualities take a bit longer to emerge and they take a bit of persistence for you to really get you head into them. Best Song: Another World. Baroque Pop. 3.5/5

  • BAT FOR LASHES - Two Suns (2009). I think there's quite a grand fantasy plot to this album - something to do with Natasha Khan havig a dream alias called Pearl, and also maybe something about a knight made of glass and a big battle? No idea. It's big and dramatic and exciting anyway, and it's got a surprise guest turn from Scott Walker at one point. Best Song: Daniel. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • BEIRUT - March Of The Zapotec/Holland (2009). Technically a double EP rather than an album, but I love Beirut so I'll allow it. The first half continues the globe-trotting elements of their albums, consisting of Mexican mariachi-style brass band songs, and the second half is a more introspective collection of quiet electronica songs. Best Song: My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille. Indie. 4/5

  • CASSINO - Kingprince (2009). I was recommended this towards the end of my time at uni when I was trying to get more into indie folk and not just prog rock. Some of the suggestions I was given led me to discover geniuses like Joanna Newsom, but I never delved further into Cassino's discography than this. It's all very pleasant stuff and I enjoy listening to it, but none of it sticks in my head and I couldn't hum you a single song from this album. Best Song: Djom. Indie. 3.5/5

  • CHARLIE - Kitchens Of Distinction (2009). 23 years on from the last Charlie album, Terry Thomas releases what is basically a solo album but has a couple of cameos from old bandmates to justify the name. It's recognisably his sort of thing, with more slightly naff pop-culture-obsessed lyrics and catchy riffs, but the sound is heavier and angrier than the soft-rock sound of their 70s stuff. The best Charlie album, I reckon. Best Song: Don't Let Go. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • CHARLIE WINSTON - Hobo (2009). I know practically nothing about Charlie Winston. I don't know who he is or what his story is, or even whether he was popular or not. This is just an album my mum and sister really loved in 2009 and introduced me to, and I really like it. Never bothered to listen to more of him, but it's genuinely great. He's got a lovely voice and writes good songs. Best Song: In Your Hands. Indie. 4/5

  • FLORENCE + THE MACHINE - Lungs (2009). I think my problem with huge mainstream pop acts is that so often you can hear compromise in their work - you can hear how they've diluted the essence of what they wanted to make in pursuit of a bigger audience. Florence is one of those few huge pop acts that I genuinely really like because it doesn't sound that compromised, it just sounds like she's doing what she wants. I guess a big part of that is because she actually created a lot of the indie pop tropes others would imitate throughout the 2010s, so she sounds more like an originator than an imitator. Best Song: Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up). Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - The Ballad Of John Henry (2009). The high-watermark of Joe Bonamassa's career, by a long shot. It's so good it sort of transcends the modest accolade of "best album by relatively successful contemporary blues-rock guitarist" and stands perfectly well on its own in the "best traditional rock albums of the 21st century" category. I think it's brilliant. Best Song: The Ballad Of John Henry. Blues Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • LUDOVICO EINAUDI - Nightbook (2009). Another Einaudi album. Probably my favourite, to be honest. Yep, definitely run out of things to say about him now. Lovely weather today. Went to Crystal Palace with my brother and sister to look at the dinosaurs. Good fun. Best Song: Nightbook. Classical. 5/5

  • MATT BERRY - Witchazel (2009). Whereas Opium has goofier moments that still have half a foot in Berry's background in comedy, Witchazel feels more like a concerted effort to make a sincere album, drawing on pop, progressive folk, and the like. "Take My Hand" is now best known as the theme tune from Toast Of London, but like everything else here it stands up really well on its own musical terms separate from Berry's comedy work. Best Song: Take My Hand. Folk. 4/5

  • MUMFORD & SONS - Sigh No More (2009). Hand on my heart, I honestly couldn't tell you why I really like this album but hate Mumford & Sons. I guess there's a snobbery in there, a sort of "They were good just before they got really popular" kind of thing, because honestly, we all really loved this album when it came out. Maybe we loved them when all we knew about them was how their music sounded and before their major success made it apparent how obnoxious their personalities were. Best Song: Little Lion Man. Folk. 4/5

  • PJ HARVEY & JOHN PARISH - A Woman A Man Walked By (2009). Harvey's previous collaboration with Parish, Dance Hall At Louse Point, was already pretty weird, and White Chalk showed an increasing taste for the unusual in her solo work too. It all looks pretty tame next to this one. There's stuff here that's objectively brilliant, stuff that's objectively horrible to listen to, and some stuff that's weird and unusual in just the right way to become bizarrely brilliant. A tricky album to love, but a fascinating one. Best Song: Black Hearted Love. Avant-Garde. 3/5

  • REGINA SPEKTOR - Far (2009). Far features my favourite of Regina's songs, the really lovely "Eet." It's not my favourite album as I still think overall that Begin To Hope is more consistent and more adventurous with its sounds, whereas some of the songs on Far opt for a more generic pop sound. But it's a close second for me and has a bunch of really lovely songs on it. Best Song: Eet. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • STEVE HACKETT - Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth (2009). Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett's solo stuff from the 70s is decent, but never got me excited enough to want to include it on the list. No idea what he did in the 80s and 90s, but Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth is an incredible album, managing to do that weird thing great prog does sometimes where it's achingly pretty and lovely one minute and hugely epic and intense and heavy the next. One of the great modern prog albums. Best Song: Fire On The Moon. Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • STING - If On A Winter's Night... (2009). "Hey, do you wanna listen to Sting's acoustic folk non-denominational Medieval pagan winter season Christmas album?" "Um...is it any good?" "I mean, it's...yeah, it's sort of...I'll be honest, it's fine." Best Song: The Hounds Of Love. Folk. 

  • THE SWELL SEASON - Strict Joy (2009). Whereas on their first album Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were a couple writing love songs for one another, on Strict Joy they're ex-lovers writing far more mature and thoughtful and introspective songs about broken relationships and the bonds of friendship. It's a really stunning achievement, this album. Best Song: Low Rising. Indie. 4.5/5

  • THE WISHING TREE - Ostara (2009). Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery set up a side project in the 90s called The Wishing Tree featuring him and singer Hannah Stobart. Their first album was naff 90s prog-pop, but the unprecedented second album Ostara has some lovely acoustic elements and some really lovely melodies. Interesting. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • ANAIS MITCHELL - Hadestown (2010). This is an incredibly ambitious and well-realised folk-rock-opera retelling the story of Orpheus & Euydice but relocating it to an imaginary post-apocalyptic Depression-era America. The world-building and character work are impeccable and the songs are great, and it features an impressive cast including the likes of Justin Vernon, Ani Di Franco and Greg Brown. Best Song: If It's True. Folk. 4.5/5

  • ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS - Swanlights (2010). Swanlights is unique among Antony's discography, either under this prior identity or in her new identity as Anohni, in that the emotion it seems most preoccupied by is hope rather than despair. There are still some sadder songs here which are tough to listen to, but mostly this seems music that is in love with life and with possibility. Really quite special to hear Antony making music this joyful. Best Song: Salt Silver Oxygen. Baroque Pop. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION - Black Country (2010). Joe Bonamassa teams up with Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes, Dream Theater's Derek Sherinian and drummer Jason Bonham, who had a famous dad, to form a supergroup specialising in fairly generic macho bullshit cock-rock. In amongst the tedious posturing, though, there are some genuinely brilliant rock songs. Best Song: Song Of Yesterday. Hard Rock. 3/5

  • BONOBO - Black Sands (2010). Still don't for the life of me understand what's going on in Bonobo's music. Is it all just one guy? Playing all these instruments? It doesn't matter, it sounds like magic. I went on holiday to Cambodia in 2014 and ended up staying somewhere with a view almost identical to the artwork from this album and when I saw it I cried. Best Song: Black Sands. Electronic. 5/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Small Craft On A Milk Sea (2010). This album, on which Eno collaborates with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams, is bookended by more conventional Eno-esque twinkly ambient stuff, but the middle section consists of intensely percussive, angry electronic rock, presumably spearheaded by his collaborators as it sounds unlike anything Eno had done before. Best Song: Invisible. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • BRYAN FERRY - Olympia (2010). At one point this was maybe going to be a Roxy Music reunion album, as all the old band mambers contribute in some way (even Eno), but in the end their guest roles are small cameos, so it went out as a Ferry solo album. It's certainly his best since Boys And Girls, and in places does recapture some of the magic of 80s Roxy Music. Best Song: BF Bass (Ode To Olympia). Sophisti-Pop. 4/5

  • CEE LO GREEN - The Lady Killer (2010). Feels a bit gross advocating Cee Lo's music these days as he went on record defending some rapists a few years ago, so take his inclusion here with a whole-hearted acknowledgement that he is a shit. But in the innocent days before we knew that, I thought this was a really superlative pop album. Best Song: Cry Baby. Pop. 4/5

  • COCOROSIE - Grey Oceans (2010). Grey Oceans is, without a doubt, the Casady sisters' great masterpiece. It sounds utterly weird and uncompromising and alien, but always in a way that invites you in, rather than disappearing into excessive self-indulgence as some of their earlier albums did. It's also utterly heartbreaking, even if I have no idea what any of these songs are really about. Best Song: Lemonade. Freak Folk. 5/5

  • THE DIVINE COMEDY - Bang Goes The Knighthood (2010). The Divine Comedy's best album since Fin De Siecle, and sometimes I even think it might be their best full stop. It's objectively not, it leans a bit too much on the band's novelty elements, but there are still some sincere songs here, and it's a huge amount of fun regardless. Best Song: I Like. Baroque Pop. 4.5/5

  • ELTON JOHN & LEON RUSSELL - The Union (2010). Elton coaxes Leon Russell out of obscurity to collaborate on a back-to-basics album that's Elton's best in nearly 20 years, and his most authentic-sounding since the early 70s. Neil Young even pops up for a cameo, and there's guitar from Tom Waits cohort Marc Ribot. Really, really great. Best Song: I Should Have Sent Roses. Roots Rock. 4.5/5

  • FOALS - Total Life Forever (2010). The only Foals album I really like is Holy Fire, but I liked it enough to listen to some other albums of theirs and, while I don't love this, I can't really fault it all that much so it makes the list. It's a bit generic-2010s-indie-rock, but it's decent and it reminds me of some old flatmates who were great. Best Song: Spanish Sahara. Indie. 3/5

  • FRANCIS & THE LIGHTS - It'll Be Better (2010). Francis & The Lights are one of those bands who've got progressively less good as they've become popular. Their 2016 major label debut, Farewell, Starlite!, is fine and has celebrity cameos from Kanye and Justin Vernon, but can't even hold a candle to this brilliant obscure mini-album they released years ago. Go back and listen to his good stuff. Best Song: Darling, It's Alright. Indie. 4.5/5

  • GRINDERMAN - Grinderman 2 (2010). Grinderman's second album maintains the angry, raw garage-rock intensity of their first but feels more genuine and less goofy. It's still got a "What the hell, let's just fuck around" vibe to it, but this time the fucking around is deadly serious. This was their last album, after this Cave returned his attention to the Bad Seeds to make the best work of his career. Best Song: Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • JOANNA NEWSOM - Have One On Me (2010). Somewhere in Joanna Newsom's over-long triple album is a really brilliant single album, maybe even almost as good as Ys. But as a whole it feels unfocused due to its enormous length. Even if every song were brilliant it would be a daunting listen, but when several songs feel like unnecessary filler, there's not really any need for this much substance. Best Song: '81. Folk3/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - Black Rock (2010). Coming off the back of The Ballad Of John Henry was always going to be tough, and there is a bunch of filler on Black Rock that makes it one of JB's less exciting offerings. But "Blue And Evil" is a classic, there's a really fun collaboration with BB King, and there's a decent amount of stuff o really enjoy here. Best Song: Blue And Evil. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • LONE WOLF - The Devil And I (2010). This is an album I got really into in 2010, but I know absolutely nothing about this guy. His name's Paul Marshall but I don't know who he is or what his story is, or whether he was ever popular or successful, or whether he ever did anything else. Weird, that. Some albums really get in your head but just exist there by themselves. I wish him the best though, because this is great. Best Song: Keep Your Eyes On The Road. Indie. 4/5

  • MASSIVE ATTACK - Heligoland (2010). Not really followed the career of Massive Attack much, but Heligoland reached my attention thanks to the amazing "Paradise Circus," which features guest vocals from Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. Not everything on this album does much for me, but there are a handful of really inspired songs. Best Song: Paradise Circus. Trip-Hop. 3/5

  • MAX RICHTER - Infra (2010). I don't know what it is, because the music is actually very simple, but there's something about Richter's stuff that makes me feel very sad and very peaceful and veyr lonely and very connected to everything all at the same time. Infra isn't necessarily his most memorable work, but it's got loads of radio static in it that makes it feel strange and unusual. Best Song: Infra 3. Classical. 4/5

  • NEIL YOUNG - Le Noise (2010). Young's oddest album in years, consisting of nothing but his voice and his electric guitar, frequently bashing out angry unaccompanied rock, and all drenched in layers of reverb courtesy of producer Daniel Lanois (the title is a bad pun). The songs aren't his best ever, but it's the first time in a long time he's consciously tried to do something unexpected. Best Song: Hitchhiker. Rock. 3.5/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - Scratch My Back (2010). On which Gabriel sings along to melancholy orchestral reworkings of songs by Bowie, Radiohead, Bon Iver, Paul Simon, and more, on the understanding that they would cover one of his songs on a follow-up album, which not all of them did. I know people who find this album maudlin and boring, but I think it's absolutely beautiful. The follow-up is not great, sadly. Best Song: The Power Of The Heart. New Age. 5/5

  • SADE - Soldier Of Love (2010). It's just lovely to hear Sade again, to be honest. Other than "Babyfather" and "Skin," there's not much here that really holds a candle to the career highs of Love Deluxe and Lovers Rock, but I don't care, she'd been away a long time and we've not heard from her since, and I think this is a lovely album. Best Song: Babyfather. Sophisti-Pop. 4/5

  • SPOCK'S BEARD - X (2010). This album is goofy as all hell, but it's absolutely brilliant. I think it's the one where these guys suddenly twigged and thought "Oh, we're RIDICULOUS!" and really doubled down on the cheesiness, but it actually really works. After this drummer/singer Nick D'Virgilio left, and on subsequent albums they seemed to forget the major breakthrough they had here, so this is the last album of theirs I have any interest in. Best Song: Edge Of The In-Between. Neo-Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • ALISON KRAUSS & UNION STATION - Paper Airplane (2011). Other than her collaboration with Robert Plant, it'd been seven years since Krauss's last album where she was playing entirely within her own wheelhouse. Her reunion with Union Station sees them all on brilliant form, and it's easily their best album since New Favorite. She went a bit quiet again after this, up until a fairly mediocre solo album last year. Hopefully there'll be something else as good as this along soon. Best Song: My Love Follows You Where You Go. Country. 4/5

  • AQUA - Megalomania (2011). I always get a weird sort of reverse-snobbish affected satisfaction out of claiming to love this album. On revisiting it yesterday, I found I love half of it. Half of it is genuinely brilliant, silly Europop. The other half is really embarrassingly awful, and I'm sorry I was quite such a vocal advocate of this for such a long time. It could be brilliant, though. Best Song: Playmate To Jesus. Pop. 3/5

  • BEIRUT - The Rip Tide (2011). I pretty much love every Beirut album, and I do think The Flying Club Cup is their best, but The Rip Tide holds a special place in my heart because of its enormous heart. Some of the affected European-ness of their earlier albums can sometimes create a slightly aloof vibe in the music itself, but The Rip Tide feels very warm and human and genuine. It's a wonderful little album. Best Song: A Candle's Fire. Indie. 5/5

  • BETH HART & JOE BONAMASSA - Don't Explain (2011). Beth Hart has an incredible voice for soul and blues, and JB graciously takes a step back to let her have the limelight here, with all his guitar work remaining restrained and tasteful and leaning away from his usual heavy blues-rock and towards a more soulful sound that makes Hart the star attraction. She's great. Best Song: Well, Well. Soul. 3.5/5

  • BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION - 2 (2011). Much better than Black Country. It's the same sort of thing, but it feels like more effort has been put into the songs than just empty macho posing. There's nothing here as good as "Song Of Yesterday," but it's definitely a more consistently enjoyable listen. Best Song: The Outsider. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE BLACK KEYS - El Camino (2011). The earlier Black Keys albums I've heard had moments of greatness but never came together into a really compelling whole, I thought. El Camino is punchier and more to-the-point than their earlier stuff, and also has a more enjoyable, fierce pop energy to it. Best Song: Lonely Boy. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • BLOOD ORANGE - Coastal Grooves (2011). I saw Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) at Field Day in 2012 and was very excited that just a man with a guitar and a laptop could make such great music. Over half of Coastal Grooves sadly consists of quite unmemorable, wishy-washy songs, but there's a handful of tracks here, including the incredible "Sutphin Boulevard" and "Champagne Coast" that indicate how good the next album would be. Best Song: Sutphin Boulevard. Indie. 3/5

  • BON IVER - Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011). There's a slight preciousness to Bon Iver's music that can grate a bit, but you could never accuse him of predictability. Having made a stripped-back wintry acoustic folk album, Justin Vernon surprised everybody by releasing an album just as emotionally intense but full of wailing saxes and angry electric guitar and even 80s synth on the beautiful closing track. Best Song: Beth/Rest. Indie. 5/5

  • THE CARETAKER - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (2011). I think I've listened to this album more than any other in history. It's not as ambitious as Kirby's ongoing four-year album series Everywhere At The End Of Time, but I think it's the most perfect distillation of the ideas he explores. It makes me the happiest it's possible to be and the saddest it's possible to be at the same time. Best Song: Cameraderie At Arm's Length. Ambient. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • CONNAN MOCKASIN - Forever Dolphin Love (2011). Very strange to find that, 56 years into this list, it's still possible for an album to pop up that sounds utterly weird and stranger than anything that's come before. This is sort of psychedelic acid-jazz-folk from a mad guy from New Zealand. The 11-minute title track in particular is a masterpiece. Best Song: Forever Dolphin Love. Freak Folk. 4.5/5

  • FEIST - Metals (2011). Feist largely ditches the sweet pop angle here in favour of a lean, wiry, guitar-driven rock sound. There's still some absolutely beautiful songs here, but in general it feels like she's grown into herself here and has become really very cool as well as good. Best Song: The Bad In Each Other. Indie. 5/5

  • FLORENCE + THE MACHINE - Ceremonials (2011). I think this is my favourite album of Florence's, perhaps partly because the songs haven't become quite as ubiquitous and over-familiar as the ones on Lungs. She's generally very consistent and good though, and there's not a huge amount to choose from between her albums. Just another collection of good songs, really. Best Song: Spectrum. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • GOTYE - Making Mirrors (2011). There is some pretty generic, forgettable stuff on Making Mirrors, but there's also some songs that are either catchy or pretty or inventive enough to mean that he deserves to be remembered as more than just that guy who sang "Somebody That I Used To Know." It is the best thing here, though. Best Song: Somebody That I Used To Know. Pop. 3.5/5

  • HUGH LAURIE - Let Them Talk (2011). Having proven himself as one of the great comic actors and one of the great dramatic actors, Hugh Laurie decided he wanted more strings to his bow and revealed that he has a great voice and a really good blues sensibility. The epic piano intro to "St. James Infirmary" is the only point where it feels like he breathes new ideas into these songs to elevate them above fairly standard blues fare, but it's a fun album nonetheless. Best Song: St. James Infirmary. Blues. 3/5

  • JAMES BLAKE - James Blake (2011). Basically, in 2011, if you claimed to be into music but then said you hadn't heard this album people would look at you like you were an idiot, so I gave it a listen. It is, admittedly, really good and quite unlike anything else. Some of its weirder, glitchier songs I do actually think come off slightly irritating rather than interesting, but its more beautiful moments are really something. Best Song: Wilhelm Scream. Electronic. 4/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - Dust Bowl (2011). I think around the time of Dust Bowl JB could basically do no wrong as far as I was concerned. It's his second-best album after The Ballad Of John Henry, it's got a really characterful Americana vibe to it and some of its songs are among the coolest he ever recorded. The years that followed this were a series of very disappointing diminishing returns, but he's picked up a bit recently. This is his most recent masterpiece, though. Best Song: The Whale That Swallowed Jonah. Blues Rock. 4.5/5

  • KATE BUSH - 50 Words For Snow (2011). In a career principally defined by following her muse wherever it wanted her to go, this astonishing album sounds like Kate Bush is just doing whatever the hell she wants more than ever before. The songs are all between 7 and 14 minutes long, one's about having sex with a snowman and is absolutely heartbreaking, one's about bumping into Elton John throughout history, one's got her son singing about being a snowflake, one's got Stephen Fry listing made-up synonyms for snow. Somehow it does all this without ever feeling absurd, it just feels quietly majestic and brilliant. Best Song: Misty. Baroque Pop. 5/5

  • M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (2011). M83's world-conquering double album could be a smidge shorter, as there's a bit of filler here, but generally this is jam-packed with ridiculously fun, catchy, synthpop perfection and it's brilliant. And yes, my favourite song on it is the silly one where a child talks about psychotropic frogs, but I think it's really beautiful, that one. Best Song: Raconte-Moi Une Histoire. Synthpop. 4.5/5

  • THE MUPPETS - The Muppets (2011). I've seen this film over a dozen times and there are about seven different bits that still make me burst into tears, mainly the bit where Kermit says "Maybe you don't need the whole world to love you, maybe you just need one person." Oh God it's great. Oh, I should mention the music. Yeah, Bret McKenzie's songs are great. Best Song: Man Or Muppet. Soundtrack. 4.5/5

  • NILS FRAHM - Felt (2011). Apparently this came about because Frahm was practising the piano in his apartment and laid a piece of felt over the hammers to make it quieter so as not to disturb his neighbours, and liked the resultant sound so much he made a whole album of it. Frahm's one of the great modern ambient innovators, I reckon. Best Song: Less. Ambient. 4/5

  • PETER GABRIEL - New Blood (2011). To this day, this is still Peter Gabriel's most recent full-length album release, and it just consists of new versions of old songs of his set to a grand orchestral arrangement, sort of a companion piece to Scratch My Back. It's magnificent and the songs sound great, but I do hope we get a new studio album one day. Best Song: Mercy Street. New Age. 4/5

  • PJ HARVEY - Let England Shake (2011). PJ Harvey's great masterpiece, combining the rawness and authenticity of her early stuff and the directness and ear for a compelling tune of her 2000s stuff, and the increasing weirdness of her recent stuff. It's a sort of state-of-the-nation thing and is as angry and bewildered and sad as any state-of-the-nation ought to be these days. Best Song: Hanging In The Wire. Alternative Rock. 5/5

  • SAORI JO - Home, 2:17 A.M. (2011). I saw Saori Jo supporting Jethro Tull twice in 2010 and she was brilliant and I spent several years tracking down her album, which is hard to get hold of. She's an amazing sort of slightly gypsy-esque French singer-songwriter and nearly everything here is brilliant, and Ian Anderson guests on flute at one point. Deserves a much bigger audience than she seems to have. Best Song: Stay. Indie. 4.5/5

  • STEVE HACKETT - Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (2011). Hackett's solo stuff has always been mostly instrumental, but on Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth he found a way of incorporating vocals that really worked, so it's a shame that this follow-up returns to the dynamic of having some amazing guitar instrumentals among some really naff vocal songs. But the instrumentals are good enough to make up for it just about. Best Song: Catwalk. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • STEVEN WILSON - Grace For Drowning (2011). Major early King Crismson vibes from this, which has a strong free-jazz style to everything and features lots of wild flute and cor anglais solos and the like. It's a tad long, but is a big return-to-form for Wilson after Porcupine Tree's disappointing final album The Incident. Best Song: Postcard. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • TIM MINCHIN - Tim Minchin And The Heritage Orchestra (2011). I think Minchin is a much better musician than he is a comic. The flat-out novelty songs feel a bit slight to me, and the actual jokes are sometimes a bid broad and unimaginative. But when he's aiming to be intelligent or poetic in his lyrics, he knocks it out the park, and the songwriting itself is spectacular. By far the best moments here are the handful of totally sincere, unironic ballads, which are just wonderful. Best Song: Beauty. Comedy. 3.5/5

  • TIMBER TIMBRE - Creep On Creepin' On (2011). Bloody love Timber Timbre. It's sort of Gothic noir spaghetti western doom-laden lovelorn balladeering, if that's your sort of thing. Creep On Creepin' On isn't my favourite of the albums I've listened to, but it's got some brilliantly atmospheric moments. Indie. 3.5/5

  • TOM WAITS - Bad As Me (2011). Tom Waits's most recent studio album is one of his least innovative in a while - it's mostly fairly simple clattering, snarling rock songs or the odd bluesy ballad, without the eclecticism of Orphans or the experimental streak of Real Gone or Blood Money. But his voice sounds better than it has in a long time, and there's a fierce, joyous energy to the whole thing that makes it one of his best. Best Song: Satisfied. Alternative Rock. 4.5/5

  • YES - Fly From Here (2011). There's one more Yes album after this, but it's absolute dogshit. Fly From Here saw Jon Anderson depart due to illness, but saw the return of Buggles Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. The multi-part title track is a piece Horn and Downes had written for inclusion on Drama, but it finally gets its due here. It's not their best album by any means, but it's a decent send-off as their final good album. Best Song: Fly From Here (Part I - We Can Fly). Progressive Rock. 3/5

  • ANDREW BIRD - Break It Yourself (2012). Bird's masterpiece, which he still has yet to equal. The violin loops sound truly transcendentally beautiful, but in between the jaw-droppingly majestic stuff like "Desperation Breeds..." or "Hole In The Ocean Floor" it finds time for some really joyful upbeat songs too, like "Polynation" and "Orpheo Looks Back." The easy highlight of an already really impressive discography. Best Song: Desperation Breeds... Baroque Pop. 5/5

  • ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS - Cut The World (2012). Antony's final album before transitioning into her new identity as Anohni was a live album consisting of new songs set to lush orchestral arrangements, plus the wonderful new title track. It's absolutely beautiful, though it suffers from the "Did we really need this?" factor that all live albums succumb to. There's also a really interesting monologue included in which Antony explores his feelings about reincarnation and feminism and ecological collapse. Best Song: Cut The World. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • BAT FOR LASHES - The Haunted Man (2012). This will always remind me of an old flame who first played "Laura" to me, which is immensely beautiful and the easy highlight here. Despite the weird associations this album has taken on for me, it remains a near-perfect indie-art-pop album, and one of the best pop releases of the last ten years. Best Song: Laura. Baroque Pop. 4.5/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Lux (2012). There's not many faults to be found with Lux, it consists of four tracks which are all really gorgeous, lovely, glacial walls of strings and pianos and other soothing ambient sounds. But, though it's lovely to listen to, it loses points for a lack of originality. Considering Eno invented ambient and once massively reinvented the genre with each new release, he's now content to make ambient music that doesn't stray an inch from the generic template. Nice, though. Best Song: Lux 1. Ambient. 3/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Wrecking Ball (2012). Every now and again a classic rock artist will release a late-career comeback album that's good enough to stand proud alongside their classic stuff. Very rarely, a classic rock artist will release a late-career album that ends up being the best album of their entire discography. Very, very rarely, a classic rock artist somehow manages to release one of the best albums of all time forty years into their career. Wrecking Ball is that. Best Song: Land Of Hope And Dreams. Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • THE CARETAKER - Patience (After Sebald) (2012). Up until the recent Everywhere At The End Of Time (Stage 4), this was the most dissonant, unsettling and tough-to-listen-to Caretaker album. All the musical fragments are from Schubert's bleak masterpiece Winterreisse, but the distortion is often so overwhelming it's hard to actually hear the music. Harrowing stuff. Best Song: A Last Glimpse Of The Land Being Lost Forever. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • DAVID OWEN NORRIS - Prayerbook (2012). This is my dad's oratorio about tradition and change. Obviously I'm not necessarily the target audience for liturgical music, and some of the more operatic arias aren't quite for me, but the instrumental and choral sections are really beautiful. He's very good, is my dad. Best Song: Prelude: God The Father. Classical. 4/5

  • FIRST AID KIT - The Lion's Roar (2012). First Aid Kit's first album was a rather slight, forgettable thing, and you'd never have predicted they'd go on to produce such a perfect indie folk album. The songwriting is incredible, the harmonies they would quickly become famous for are gorgeous, and the arrangements, assisted by super-producer Mike Mogis, are irresistible. One of the most feelgood albums of 2012, I reckon. Best Song: New Year's Eve. Folk. 4.5/5

  • IAN ANDERSON - Thick As A Brick 2: Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock? (2012). Although Jethro Tull had pretty much been disbanded by this point, Ian Anderson nonetheless decided to mark the 40th anniversary of Thick As A Brick with a solo sequel. Some of its connections to the original album admittedly feel a bit contrived, and it's nowhere near as astonishing as that classic, but it's a worthy follow-up and a surprisingly good album considering how late it came. Best Song: A Change Of Horses. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - Driving Towards The Daylight (2012). My main man JB went through a few years of releasing a series of albums I really struggled to care about (his work with Rock Candy Funk Party probably being the nadir) and this is sort of where he started to lose his way a bit. It's by no means a bad album and has a few songs I'd consider JB classics, but it's also his first album in quite a while where there are multiple songs that really don't do much for me at all. Best Song: Too Much Ain't Enough Love. Blues Rock. 3/5

  • MARILLION - Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012). Marillion's best since Marbles, and it even gives that one a run for its money. The title track is the best thing here, but the most remarkable thing is "Gaza," a surprisingly affecting 17-minute reflection on the Israel-Palestine conflict that sees them leaning heavily into angry prog-metal, and acquitting themselves surprisingly well at it. "Montreal" is pretty embarrassing, but even without it there's still over an hour of brilliant stuff here. Best Song: Sounds That Can't Be Made. Neo-Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE - Psychedelic Pill (2012). This starts with an interminably dull 28-minute jam about the MP3 file format, but once you've persisted through that what remains is easily Young's best Crazy Horse album since Sleeps With Angels, and probably his best album of the 21st century full-stop, although considering the steep decline he was about to go into, maybe that's not saying much. Best Song: Psychedelic Pill. Hard Rock. 4/5

  • SIGUR ROS - Valtari (2012). I was a bit snarky about some of the early Sigur Ros albums for having no discernible melodies, but I think my problem there was that some of those songs sounded like they should have had melodies but didn't. On Valtari they've crafted a series of beautiful soundscapes so perfect that it doesn't really matter that they all blend into one another. It feels more or less like an ambient album, but with vocals, which is an interesting prospect. Best Song: Varúð. Ambient. 5/5

  • STEVE HOGARTH & RICHARD BARBIERI - Not The Weapon But The Hand (2012). Marillion's Hogarth and Porcupine Tree's Barbieri team up for what turns out to be a surprisingly thoughtful, nuanced, sensitive and quite beautiful bit of synth-heavy neo-prog. Sort of like a more intellectual, haunting development of Marillion's most sincere, pretty moments. Best Song: Red Kite. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • ZZ TOP - La Futura (2012). It's only a sort of goofy nostlgic affection for the iconic Eliminator that makes me hold off ever so slightly from saying this is ZZ Top's best album, but in my heart I know it is. They'd been faintly tedious for two decades now, but La Futura finds them sounding cooler and more gutsy and energised and exciting than in their entire career, to be honest. It's a brilliant, no-nonsense over-the-top blues-rock album. Best Song: Consumption. Blues Rock. 4/5

  • BETH HART & JOE BONAMASSA - Seesaw (2013). Bits of this remind me of Home Alone, for some reason. Very upbeat horn-driven bluesy, Christmassy soul, that kind of thing. Anyway, like I said, JB was starting his wilderness years here so the best bits actually aren't his contributions it's the sassy horn arrangements and Hart's smokey vocals. He cranks out one brilliant solo, though. Best Song: Strange Fruit. Soul. 3.5/5. ALBUM 900 OF 1001!

  • BLOOD ORANGE - Cupid Deluxe (2013). Coastal Grooves only had a couple of songs that really demonstrated how good Dev Hynes is, but Cupid Deluxe achieves far higher thanks to fleshing out the sonic pallette a lot - there are synths and woodwinds and guest vocalists 's a really tangible, profound melancholy shooting through the whole thing. Best Song: Time Will Tell. Indie. 4.5/5

  • BOARDS OF CANADA - Tomorrow's Harvest (2013). I don't consider The Campfire Headphase to be as big a misfire as a lot of BoC fans seem to think, but I will admit that it's really nice to hear the creeping weirdness and menace of their first two albums back with a vengeance on Tomorrow's Harvest, their second-best album, I reckon. Best Song: New Seeds. Ambient. 4.5/5

  • BONOBO - The North Borders (2013). A slight step down from the brilliant Black Sands, but it's still lovely. The addition of vocals on some tracks works in places ("First Fires") and doesn't in others ("Heaven For The Sinner"), but the soundscapes are as lush and compelling as ever. Best Song: First Fires. Electronic. 4/5

  • CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe (2013). I remember thinking CHVRCHES would become my new favourite band when this came out. Sadly, their two subsequent albums, particularly the most recent one, have been dogshit, but this album is a synthpoppy joy. Remember them as they were here. Best Song: The Mother We Share. Synthpop. 4/5

  • COCOROSIE - Tales Of A Grass Widow (2013). This is slightly less devastating than Grey Oceans - it feels like there's a bit more hope here among the bleaker songs, but as an album it's pretty much just as good as that masterpiece. I do feel it's a shame that the dynamic feels less evenly weighted between the Casady sisters and to lean more heavily on Bianca's childlike vocals than Sierra's more classically trained voice, but I'm nitpicking really. Best Song: Roots Of My Hair. Freak Folk. 5/5

  • CONNAN MOCKASIN - Caramel (2013). Connan jettisons the more organic-sounding, freak-folk, nightmare psychedelic jazz vibes of Forever Dolphin Love and opts for a more guitar-oriented funk sound that makes him sound like a creepy underwater Prince. The same sinister weirdness pervades this album, but the style he went for on the previous one felt like a more natural fit for him. Best Song: I Wanna Roll With You. Freak Folk. 3/5

  • DAFT PUNK - Random Access Memories (2013). This was one of the biggest albums of the year, though anybody who thinks "Get Lucky" is the best thing on it is kidding themselves. It massively shifts their focus away from electronics and towards live band performances and it says a lot for Nile Rodgers' lasting genius that on an album that features an autobiographical monologue by Giorgio Moroder and a song written and sung by Paul Williams from Sesame Street, Rodgers is still the best guest performer here by miles, and the best thing about the album full stop to be honest. Best Song: Lose Yourself To Dance. Funk. 4.5/5

  • DAUGHTER - If You Leave (2013). I feel like Daughter don't do a huge amount to differentiate themselves from a lot of other shoegazey indie folk-pop. It's still very pretty and enchanting, but this album doesn't rewrite the rule book very much. Best Song: Human. Indie. 3.5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - The Next Day (2013). Just as Bowie fans had pretty much accepted they'd never hear from him again, he dropped this album after a 10-year absence. Despite the stir it caused, it's not quite a masterpiece. It's more in the "It's nice to hear him making good music again" category rather than the "This is actually astonishing" one. That would come later. Best Song: The Stars (Are Out Tonight). Art Rock. 4/5

  • ELTON JOHN - The Diving Board (2013). Although Leon Russell isn't involved, this is a sort-of successor to The Union, maintaining veteran producer T-Bone Burnett and that album's leaner, back-to-basics bluesy authenticity. It's not quite as good as The Union, but if you categorise that as a collaboration, then this is Elton's best solo album of the 21st century. Best Song: Can't Stay Alone Tonight. Rock. 4/5

  • FISH - A Feast Of Consequences (2013). On which Fish accidentally commemorates the centenary of the First World War a year early with this concept album about the First World War. It has three truly awful songs, one about Facebook, one about climate change and one about the Pals' Battalions, but all the other songs are really great. Best Song: A Feast Of Consequences. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • FOALS - Holy Fire (2013). I think my friend Helen has a step-brother or something like that who's in Foals. Not the main guy. The bassist or something. Anyway, this is my favourite Foals album. It's got a few songs which I think are absolutely brilliant, and all the rest feels to me like the best sort of filler. Definitely filler, but of the highest order. Best Song: My Number. Indie. 3.5/5

  • LONDON GRAMMAR - If You Wait (2013). 2013 was a big year for indie pop groups releasing albums called "If You...something something," I guess. I like London Grammar, they sound a lot like Florence + The Machine, both in terms of Hannah Reid's vocals and the music itself, though whereas Florence's music sounds sort of timeless, this sounds more specifically millennial. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Best Song: Shyer. Indie. 3.5/5

  • LUDOVICO EINAUDI - In A Time Lapse (2013). Cleaned my kitchen today. A proper deep clean. Took me about 3 hours, it looks brilliant. Oh, yeah, this is a new Einaudi album. Sounds like all the others, though it does have some particularly good string arrangements. Reckon he'd been listening to Max Richter a bunch at this point. Best Song: Waterways. Classical. 4/5

  • MATT BERRY - Kill The Wolf (2013). After a couple of albums that veered between truly brilliant moments and less convincing ones, Berry really finds a voice and a style that suits him down to the ground on Kill The Wolf, blending psychedelic prog with pagan-sounding Wicker Man-style folk. His best album, I reckon. Best Song: Solstice. Folk. 4/5

  • MAZZY STAR - Seasons Of Your Day (2013). It's a slight disappointment that Mazzy Star's first album after a nearly 20-year hiatus doesn't sound all that different from what they were doing before. It sounds like it could've come out the year after Among My Swan, and maybe it would've been more exciting for them to return with something radically different. But it's just a real pleasure to hear them again, and the quality itself hasn't really dipped. Best Song: California. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Push The Sky Away (2013). Cave had already established himself as one of the most iconic elder statesmen of alternative rock by this point, so for him to make a defining masterpiece so late in his career is astonishing. It's streets ahead of everything he'd done before, and sounds more mature, thoughtful, radically new, tortured and brilliant than any previous Bad Seeds album. It's the sound of somebody who was already a genius substantially raising their game. Best Song: Jubilee Street. Alternative Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING - Inform - Educate - Entertain (2013). One of the most exciting debuts of the last 10 years. Public Service Broadcasting make really bright, poppy, dense, complex indie-electronic-rock and then raid the BFI's archives and use old snippets of audio instead of vocals. It's a bit gimmicky and it's been diminishing returns ever since their debut, but the concept and music is so fresh on this first album that it's truly quite special. Best Song: Night Mail. Electronic. 5/5

  • SIGUR ROS - Kveikur (2013). Having made the most serene, beautiful album of their career in 2012, Sigur Ros were reduced to a three-piece in 2013 and did an abrupt about-turn by making the most angry, heavy, intense album of their career. It's a big shock and shakes awake any listener expecting the usual angelic sounds. They sound hugely revitalised and it's brilliant. Best Song: Ísjaki. Post-Rock. 4.5/5

  • STEVEN WILSON - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) (2013). When I first heard opener "Luminol," I remember feeling truly excited about prog for the first time in years. This collection of ghost stories is the easy highlight of Wilson's entire career, including Porcupine Tree, and probably the best pure prog album of the 21st century. Best Song: The Raven That Refused To Sing. Progressive Rock. 5/5

  • STING - The Last Ship (2013). "Hey, do you wanna listen to the soundtrack to Sting's Broadway folk-musical about the decline of the Newcastle ship-building industry?" "Didn't you already ask me this in 1990?" "No, that was a rock opera, this one's a Broadway folk musical." "Is it any good?" "It's ok, yeah." Best Song: The Night The Pugilist Learned How To Dance. Folk Rock. 4/5

  • VOLCANO CHOIR - Repave (2013). I'm pretty certain when Volcano Choir formed, Justin Vernon said he was pretty much done with the Bon Iver project, but since then there's been another Bon Iver album and nothing else from Volcano Choir, so I guess he's just a massive flake. Anyway, this basically sounds a lot like a Bon Iver album but with more guitar. Best Song: Almanac. Post-Rock. 4.5/5

  • BRIAN ENO & KARL HYDE - Someday World (2014). Having made some weird electronica and generic ambient stuff over the last few years, Eno teams up with Underworld's Karl Hyde to make another of his sporadic albums of actual songs, very much in the vein of Another Day On Earth or Wrong Way Up and so on. Not solidly brilliant, but there are a few classics that rank alongside his best, most unusual and beautiful bits of songwriting. Best Song: Who Rings The Bell. Electronic. 4/5

  • BRIAN ENO & KARL HYDE - High Life (2014). Supposedly Eno and Hyde had so much fun making Someday World that they made this follow-up only about a month later. You can tell it consists of looser, probably more improv-led pieces that they probably just had fun exeprimenting with in between the more structured songs of their first album, because most of this is lengthy, intense instrumentals. A few are too insistent for their own good, but some are really beautiful. Best Song: Return. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - High Hopes (2014). The follow-up to Wrecking Ball was always going to feel a bit disappointing, so Bruce plays it safe and releases an album of new versions of old songs. The old songs are mostly obscure old archival tracks, so it still feels like a fresh new album, and it's good, but it does feel a bit like they're treading water until the next proper album. Best Song: American Skin (41 Shots). Rock. 3/5

  • BRYAN FERRY - Avonmore (2014). This is the only Bryan Ferry album released after learning that these days he's a big Tory who's massively into fox-hunting, and a bit of a dickhead, so this one feels more of a guilty pleasure than most Bryan Ferry albums do to me. But at the end of the day, good sophisti-pop is good sophisti-pop and he's still really good at what he does. Best Song: Johnny And Mary. Sophisti-Pop. 4/5

  • DAMIEN RICE - My Favourite Faded Fantasy (2014). I read a comment once that described this album as just Damien Rice going "Quiet, quiet, quiet, bit louder, bit louder, loud, loud, even louder, THE LOUDEST!" eight times. It's an astonishingly accurate description, but even its reliance on formula doesn't distract from the fact that this is the loveliest collection of songs he's ever written. Best Song: I Don't Want To Change You. Folk. 4.5/5

  • FIRST AID KIT - Stay Gold (2014). I'd find it tricky picking any faults with Stay Gold, it's a really lovely album, but whereas The Lion's Roar is full of absolute classics that are very close to my heart, there's nothing on this one that really got under my skin. The songs are pretty and the harmonies wonderful, but it doesn't quite soar for me. Still very good, though. Best Song: Shattered And Hollow. Folk. 4/5

  • FUTURE ISLANDS - Singles (2014). I'm fairly certain Future Islands would actually be a fairly generic indie-electro outfit if it weren't for Sam Herring. Anybody's who's ever seen any footage of him will know he has a terrifyingly enormous and intense personality, and I really do feel like that intensity infects his vocal performance and raises the bar for the entire band by several notches. Best Song: A Dream Of You And Me. Synthpop. 4/5

  • JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW - Post Tropical (2014). This is fine, I guess. I mean, I dread to imagine just how many albums were released in the last five years that sound exactly like this. It sounds like a sort of slightly less memorable Bon Iver, I guess, and I bet this sort of thing is ten-a-penny if you're looking for it. But some old flatmates got me into this album, and it reminds me of them. Best Song: Cavalier. Indie. 3.5/5

  • MATT BERRY - Music For Insomniacs (2014). This owes a huge debt to both Mike Oldfield and Jean Michel Jarre, and certain bits of it could have been cribbed directly from them, but, regardless of the extent to which it's indebted to old formulas, Berry's epic two-part instrumental musings on sleeplessness are the most interesting thing he's ever done. Best Song: Music For Insomniacs (Part II). New Age4/5

  • PRINCE - Art Official Age (2014). There's some sort of weird plotline buried in this album about Prince waking from a cryogenic sleep and learning mindfulness to help him adapt to the future. All a bit muddled, but certainly the music is the most awake and exciting he's sounded in over a decade. Best Song: Funknroll. Funk. 3.5/5

  • STEVE ROTHERY - The Ghosts Of Pripyat (2014). Rothery had worked on projects outside of Marillion before, such as his Wishing Tree albums, but whereas those had a sort of folk-pop vibe thanks to Hannah Stobart's vocals, his first fully solo albums plays much more within his own wheelhouse, sounding like a bunch of Marillion guitar parts scaled up into whole epic pieces by themselves. Best Song: Old Man Of The Sea. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • TIMBER TIMBRE - Hot Dreams (2014). The title track is, and I'm not exaggerating, one of the best songs of the 21st century. The rest of the album also raises the bar significantly from Creep On Creepin' On, but even if all these guys had ever done was the title track, they'd have left one hell of a mark. Best Song: Hot Dreams. Indie. 4/5

  • TODD TERJE - It's Album Time (2014). I doubt that an album of synth-heavy dance music would ever have entered my awareness if Bryan Ferry didn't cameo on it, but this album was a huge surprise to me. It pretty much is dance music, which as a rule I hate, but is also astonishingly inventive, exciting and just a huge amount of fun. Probably the most purely fun album of the year, I reckon. Best Song: Inspector Norse. Electronic. 4.5/5

  • VASHTI BUNYAN - Heartleap (2014). Vashti's final album (she claims, and hasn't followed it up yet, so seems to be true to her word) is her least overwhelming, but that doesn't mean it's disappointing. It doesn't have any breathtaking highlights like the other two, everything is very gentle and quiet and reserved, but that mood is a testament to her quiet spirit and sense of calm, I think. Best Song: Heartleap. Folk. 3.5/5

  • THE WAR ON DRUGS - Lost In The Dream (2014). Before The War On Drugs, I'd pretty much given up on any hope that any new artists would make anything that sounded like rock music any more, then along came Adam Granduciel sounding like an introverted Springsteen and making music that sounded muscular and vulnerable at the same time and felt like classic rock while still having a sort of shimmer that made it feel modern. Blew me away, this album. Best Song: In Reverse. Alternative Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • ANDREW BIRD - Echolocations: Canyon (2015). The first of an ongoing series of albums in which Bird stands in the middle of some sort of natural surroundings and records looped ambient violin music. This first one is recorded in a canyon and is decent, but was eclipsed by last year's river album. Best Song: The Return Of Yawny. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • BEIRUT - No No No (2015). I remember this being a bit of a let-down at the time, but it's loads more fun than I remember. The horns and strings of old Beirut albums have been scaled back a lot to mostly focus on skeletal piano and drum arrangements, but a lot of the tunes are absolutely joyful. Best Song: Gibraltar. Indie. 3.5/5

  • CHARLIE - Elysium (2015). Charlie's final album is over-long and still suffers from the cringeworthy pop-culture-obsessed lyrics that have always blighted them (there are songs here about Youtube, Kerry Katona and David Cameron), but there are some really solid riffs here and it's a decent album for them to bow out on. Best Song: Thinking About You. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • DAVID GILMOUR - Rattle That Lock (2015). I'll be honest, this isn't the best thing Gilmour's ever put out. There are moments where he experiments with a sort of light jazz style that really doesn't suit him, but the title track is really solid and a good half of the album is pretty strong too. Best Song: Rattle That Lock. Rock. 3/5

  • FLORENCE + THE MACHINE - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015). Bit more of an uptempo, guitar-y rock vibe to some of the songs here compared to the more piano-led ethereal vibes of the previous albums. But, a couple of outliers aside, it's mostly business as usual again and another really solid, fun album. I found out where she lives the other day. Nice little street. Best Song: What Kind Of Man. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • JOANNA NEWSOM - Divers (2015). Most Joanna Newsom albums, even at their densest and most convoluted, have a few moments of such obvious brilliance that even a difficult album will draw you in. I struggled with Divers as its hidden qualities aren't as obvious on first listen, so you really have to persist to find the loveliness in it. But it's there eventually. Best Song: A Pin-Light Bent. Folk. 3/5

  • JOHN FOXX - London Overgrown (2015). This is pretty textbook ambient, to be honest. Just a bunch of ethereal, floating synth, with pretty much nothing to embellish it. It means it's incresibly relaxing and lovely to listen to, but it makes no attempts to revitalise the genre in any way. Lovely if you're happy with undemanding ambient stuff. Best Song: Oceanic II. Ambient. 3.5/5

  • JOSE GONZALEZ - Vestiges & Claws (2015). It'd been quite a few years since Jose Gonzalez had really done anything, and his return sees him sounding exactly the same as before he disappeared, and making exactly the same sort of lovely, woozy, earthy folk music. If you'd hoped for a radical reinvention you'd be disappointed, but I think he always knew what he was doing and hearing him do more of it is just lovely. Best Song: Let It Carry You. Folk. 4/5

  • LUDOVICO EINAUDI - Taranta Project (2015). A rare beast, this - an Einaudi album that actually does something radically new and doesn't sound like every other Einaudi album. Incorporating percussion and woodwinds and vocals and all sorts into a clattering mix of folk-classical styles incorporating Mediterranean, Russian and African styles, it's the most interesting thing Einaudi's ever released. Not what a dyed-in-the-wool Einaudi fan might have expected, but all the better for that. Best Song: Ferma Zitella. World Music. 4/5

  • LUDOVICO EINAUDI - Elements (2015). Aaaand back to business as usual. It's more generically pretty wallpaper music from Einaudi, which I continue to be a sucker for. Although, to be fair, "Four Dimensions" is probably the most beautiful thing he's ever recorded. Best Song: Four Dimensions. Classical. 4/5

  • MAX RICHTER - From Sleep (2015). The full Sleep album is 8 hours long and is supposed to represent a full sleep cycle via gorgeous ambient/classical music, all of it with that strange, sad, haunting feeling that's Richter's trademark by now. From Sleep is a one-hour sample of the full project, and is one of the most hauntingly, achingly lovely and peaceful things ever. I listen to it most nights. Best Song: Path 5 (Delta). Classical. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • NEIL YOUNG - The Monsanto Years (2015). In 2015 Young teamed up with a new backing band, Promise of the Real, consisting of Willie Nelson's sons. They sound a bit like a cut-price Crazy Horse, but, even with its overly-sincere politcal posturing about farmers' rights, The Monsanto Years was a solid, sturdy rock album that suggested maybe this new band would reinvigorate his music. They didn't, and some of the depths they've sunk to since are pretty alarming to a big Young fan (I'm thinking mostly of the Paradox film). Best Song: If I Don't Know. Rock. 3/5

  • NEW ORDER - Music Complete (2015). I've not kept up-to-date with what New Order were up to since the late 80s, but this album was trumpeted quite a bit at the time so I gave it a listen and it's really good, actually. I never loved their 80s stuff, so for me this feels like it holds up alongside their best. I don't really know what I'm talking about, mind. There's a fun bit where Iggy Pop shows up and does a monologue. Best Song: Stray Dog. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • PRINCE - HITnRUN Phases One & Two (2015). I'll be honest, Phase One, despite its highlights, has some really annoying songs where Prince tries too hard to sound ultra-modern. But Phase Two is easily the best thing he's made in decades, and taken together this double-bill is a worthy swansong considering it ended up being his final album. Best Song: Baltimore. Funk. 3/5 for Phase One, 4.5/5 for Phase Two (cheating, I know). 4/5, then, I guess.

  • PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING - The Race For Space (2015). The music itself is less poppy and more epic here, though the archive vocals, despite the compelling premise of focusing on recordings about the space race, feel less well-implemented than on their debut. Basically the concept's still working here, though, and the music is great. Best Song: The Other Side. Electronic. 4/5

  • RICKIE LEE JONES - The Other Side Of Desire (2015). RLJ's later albums veer between weird experimental stuff like Ghostyhead or The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard and middling adult contemporary stuff like Balm In Gilead. Her most recent album veers towards the latter, but there are a few songs here that contain similar levels of joy or mystery to her early stuff to nudge it into the list. Best Song: Jimmy Choos. Adult Contemporary. 3/5

  • STEVEN WILSON - Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015). It's not quite as startlingly brilliant as The Raven That Refused To Sing, but this is another really strong contemporary prog classic. There's a concept running through the album about a woman who was found dead in her flat in real life and everybody who knew her had forgotten she existed, so there's a really beautiful sense of tragedy shot through the whole thing. Wilson does beautiful tragedy very well. Best Song: Hand Cannot Erase. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4.5/5

  • THE WATERBOYS - Modern Blues (2015). Difficult to rate this too highly, really, as it is generic crunchy guitar rock of the highest order, and I can't really claim it's revelatory in any way. But do you know what, I really like Mike Scott's musical sensibility, he has a way with a cool riff and a memorable tune and he makes really fun rock music. Good on him. Best Song: Long Strange Golden Road. Rock. 3/5

  • ANDREW BIRD - Are You Serious (2016). After the masterpiece of Break It Yourself and the exciting experimentalism of Echolocations: Canyon, this feels a bit of a step back. He sort of falls back on familiar formulas to diminishing returns, but squeezes in a few lovely songs, as well as one of his absolute best in the brilliant "Roma Fade." Best Song: Roma Fade. Baroque Pop. 3.5/5

  • ANOHNI - Hopelessness (2016). Antony's transition into her new Anohni identity was accompanied by a huge musical transition, ditching the baroque pop sensibilities of the previous albums and teaming up with electronica producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never to make something that married her incredible voice to weird-sounding beats and synths. There's an angry political voice here in place of the more spiritual leanings of the older stuff, too. The Antony albums will always have a huge place in my heart, but this new direction is still a really exciting one. Best Song: Crisis. Electronic. 4/5

  • BLOOD ORANGE - Freetown Sound (2016). The first half of this has some brilliant stuff on it and the second really trails off, so it ultimately feels like the least focused or compelling Blood Orange album. But it has a more searingly personal, political slant than the previous albums, so makes up a lot of lost ground there. Best Song: E.V.P. R&B. 3/5

  • BON IVER - 22, A Million (2016). This sounds like Vernon had been listening to a lot of James Blake and all that lot, all the people who pioneered experimental electronic vocals. There are a few irritating songs that are just him experimenting with weird beats and vocal glitches, but the good songs are as beautiful as ever. Best Song: 8 (circle). Electronic. 3.5/5

  • BRIAN ENO - The Ship (2016). Two of the most unusual/creepy ambient pieces Eno had made in years, followed by Peter Serafinowicz reciting a poem written by a computer, followed by a really beautiful Velvet Underground cover. A deeply weird album, and the most interesting thing Eno had released in a very long time. Best Song: Fickle Sun (Part III - I'm Set Three). Ambient. 4/5

  • THE CARETAKER - Everywhere At The End Of Time (2016). The Caretaker's ongoing project, which started in 2016 and will finish in 2019, is a six-album series that tracks in real-time the decline of a mind with dementia. I've listed it as just one album as it's so much more than the sum of its parts and is one of the most ambitious, sad, terrifying, beautiful artistic achievements in music, and it's not even finished yet. Best Song: It deserves better than for me to treat it like that. Ambient. 5/5

  • DAVID BOWIE - Blackstar (2016). This was already obviously a masterpiece of an album before Bowie died days after its release, but when recontextualised as his reflections on his own impending death while battling cancer during recording, it becomes one of the most startlingly, frighteningly brilliant artistic achievements in recent music history. One of the saddest losses in music, but incredible he could go out on something like this. Best Song: Lazarus. Art Rock. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • THE DIVINE COMEDY - Foreverland (2016). I remember this being a big disappointment on release, I guess because it had been a long time since Bang Goes The Knighthood and I hoped for something as good as that. It's nowhere near on the same level, and focuses much more on frivolous novelty songs than songs with any weight to them, but it has a lot of charm and fun to it, and "To The Rescue" is brilliant. Best Song: To The Rescue. Baroque Pop. 3.5/5

  • FRANCIS AND THE LIGHTS - Farewell, Starlite! (2016). This is definitely a very enjoyable album, but I do feel like on 2010's It'll Be Better Francis sounded like he was really following his own muse to make the music he felt like making. His major label debut has cameos from Justin Vernon and Kanye West and sort of sounds much more similar to a lot of other indie-electronica-pop stuff and less like it has real originality in its soul. Best Song: Friends. Indie. 3.5/5

  • IGGY POP - Post Pop Depression (2016). Iggy teams up with half of Queens of the Stone Age for this one and sounds completely revitalised by them. His vocals sound more impassioned than they have in decades, and the tough, wiry aesthetic makes it one of my favourite conventional rock albums of the last few years. Also, the furious rant with which Iggy brings the album to a close in which he rails against the vapidity of modern life, is unforgettable. Best Song: Paraguay. Rock. 4/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - Blues Of Desperation (2016). After a duff Black Country Communion album, a duff solo album and some boring rubbish with a band called Rock Candy Funk Party, JB rediscovers his mojo on this one. He's not back to the peak of his powers, but it's nice to hear him being good again. Best Song: Mountain Climbing. Blues Rock. 4/5

  • KATE BUSH - Before The Dawn (2016). This show, Kate's first live performance in about 30 years, remains the most astonishing, beautiful and unforgettable live music show I've ever seen. A live album can never hope to really represent the incredible imagination in that show, but it's a pretty excellent document of what a peerless artist she is, and it even has a new song (sung badly by her teenage son, but hey ho). Best Song: The Morning Fog. Baroque Pop. 4.5/5

  • KING CRIMSON - Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind) (2016). Another live album, but it has about a normal album's worth of new material on it, their first in about fifteen years, and the old songs sound incredible. Plus it would make the list just for the title anyway. Best Song: 21st Century Schizoid Man. Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • M83 - Junk (2016). It's a bit of a shame that, considering this album was self-consciously titled to mock the disposable way music is consumed these days, with people obsessing over singles but not caring about albums, it ends up being front-loaded with a couple of great singles and features quite a bit of filler. There's a lot of good stuff here, too, but ultimately Anthony Gonzalez seems to fall into the same music-industry habits he claimed to be trying to satirise here. Best Song: Go! Synthpop. 3.5/5

  • MARILLION - F*** Everyone And Run (2016). I personally think Steve Hogarth was talking this up a bit much when he said people would think of it as their best album since Marbles, as I don't think it's as good as Sounds That Can't Be Made. It's a bit more meandering and less focused. It's still great, obvs, but I just think it fell victim to their own self-generated hype. Best Song: Living In F.E.A.R. Neo-Progressive Rock. 4/5

  • NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Skeleton Tree (2016). If it weren't for Bowie's astonishing final album, this would run away with the Album of the Year accolade. Recorded in the wake of the tragic death of Cave's son, it's the most devastating, harrowing, desperately horrible study of grief ever recorded. A tough listen, but an astounding album. Best Song: Distant Sky. Alternative Rock. 5/5

  • PHORIA - Volition (2016). This band once played Radiohead and Coldplay covers and rehearsed in my garage, and my brother played piano. They got back together, minus my brother, years later, and turned into a genuinely good post-rock band. I think they've split up now as they all fell out, but this was a great little album. Best Song: Mass. Post-Rock. 3.5/5

  • PJ HARVEY - The Hope Six Demolition Project (2016). This sort of takes the off-kilter, skeletal approach of Let England Shake and really runs with it, though sadly one of its most distinctive features is that some of the lyrics feel overly clunky and literal, which is a shame after the lyrical brilliance of her last album. Certainly not a disaster, but certainly a backwards step. Best Song: The Wheel. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • RADIOHEAD - A Moon Shaped Pool (2016). As usual, I find myself in the position of really enjoying a Radiohead album but feeling disgruntled at the fact that it was hailed as a masterpiece. There are bits here I love - all of "Daydreaming," the mad strings on "Burn The Witch." The rest is a decent alt-rock album. I'll never really get the adoration for them, to be honest. Best Song: Daydreaming. Alternative Rock. 4/5

  • REGINA SPEKTOR - Remember Us To Life (2016). The arrangements here are stripped back to focus more on Regina's piano and voice, sounding less like full-band pop songs than on Begin To Hope or Far and more like the purer baroque pop of Soviet Kitsch. I kind of miss the poppier elements myself, but as ever her songwriting is on point and there are some brilliant moments. Best Song: Grand Hotel. Baroque Pop. 3.5/5

  • VAN MORRISON - Keep Me Singing (2016). By this point, the days of Van Morrison making music that really makes you feel anything are long gone (the last album that does was The Healing Game). But. by-the-numbers as it is, this has some very pretty songs on it, and one really joyful instrumental at the end. Best Song: Caledonia Swing. Adult Contemporary. 3/5

  • ANDREW BIRD - Echolocations: River (2017). I wasn't convinced of how exciting the Echolocations series was going to be until this second instalment, in which Bird plays violin knee-deep in a river (though much of it was edited in a studio). It's really beautiful, and the rushing water makes the idea of recording in natural surroundings hang more heavily on the music itself than the canyon acoustics of the first album. Best Song: Gypsy Moth. Ambient. 4.5/5

  • BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION - BCCIV (2017). Black Country Communion's 2012 album Afterglow was really very dull, then they all fell out and split up for 5 years. This comeback album is slightly less good than their second album, but just as consistent, so still edges out their first. They've never really secured themselves as real favourites of mine, but they're good at what they do. Best Song: The Cove. Hard Rock. 3.5/5

  • BONOBO - Migration (2017). There are songs on Migration that somehow lose the otherworldly, magical quality that makes Bonobo's music so unique and lovely most of the time, and sound more like generic dance-y electronic music. But the magic is still in there if you look for it, it's just his worst album in a while. Best Song: Grains. Electronic. 3.5/5

  • BRIAN ENO - Reflection (2017). There's very little to distinguish this from Thursday Afternoon, really - it consists of another single, hour-long piece of blissful, purist ambient music. The big change here is that while that was composed by Eno and played on instruments, this piece was generated by an app Eno designed, which could theoretically generate an infinite piece of music forever. Interesting idea, though the results do sound similar to what he'd done before. Best Song: Reflection. Ambient. 4/5

  • FEIST - Pleasure (2017). By the time Pleasure came out, Metals had been one of my favourite albums for six years so it took me a while to not consider it a bit of a let-down. I eventually realised I'd set unrealistic expectations for it and it's actually a really great album with some truly brilliant songs on it. Metals remains her masterpiece, but this is still great. Best Song: Baby Be Simple. Indie. 4/5

  • ISILDURS BANE & STEVE HOGARTH - Colours Not Found In Nature (2017). A weird little thing, this. Marillion's Hogarth teams up with an obscure Swedish symphonic prog band I'd never heard of before and makes something actually very impressive. It's not gonna win any prizes for the best prog band ever, but it further proves that Hogarth is more than just a mouthpiece for Marillion and has merit in his other collaborative work too. Best Song: The Love And The Affair. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • LEON RUSSELL - On A Distant Shore (2017). This was released posthumously, so has a sort of a bitter-sweet feel to it, as Leon Russell was a real favourite of mine. But it's by no means a harrowing document of a man confronting the end of his life, it has a really light, breezy loveliness to it and I think is a nice coda to a great career. Best Song: On The Waterfront. Rock. 3.5/5

  • MAX RICHTER - Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works (2017). I've listened to From Sleep way more than this as it's just so wonderful to fall asleep to, but I have an inkling this adaptation of Virginia Woolf's works might be Richter's masterpiece. The middle suite, "Orlando," gets a little bit lost, but there's enough terrifying majesty in the first, "Mrs Dalloway," and especially the last, "The Waves," to make it an incredible listening experience. Best Song: The Waves (Tuesday). Classical. 5/5. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • MIKE OLDFIELD - Return To Ommadawn (2017). I've not kept up-to-date with Oldfield's output since the 90s, but the idea of a sequel to his best album got me very excited. It's not his best work, and doesn't have many moments that really stick in your head, but he's succeeded in recreating exactly the feel and the tone of his early 70s symphonic suites, which I think is pretty impressive in this day and age. Best Song: Return To Ommadawn (Part I). Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING - Every Valley (2017). I think the premise of an album about the decline of the Welsh coal-mining industry is a really interesting one, but the trouble here is that the gimmick of setting their music to archive vocals is wearing thin here and the music feels uninspired, but they've tried to paper over that in places by having sung vocals, and the two songs they try it on are woeful. It maintains the magic of the first two albums in places, but it's a worrying decline. Best Song: The Pit. Indie. 3/5

  • ROGER WATERS - Is This The Life We Really Want? (2017). The biggest surprise here is that Waters has got his voice back, having sounded seriously past it vocally on Amused To Death 25 years earlier. The other surprise is the genuinely affecting tender ballads on show here, though the best song is the album's most cynical and angry. Best Song: Is This The Life We Really Want? Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • STEVEN WILSON - To The Bone (2017). We all already knew that, for a prog-rocker, Wilson had an unusual knack at writing pop tunes, but "Permanating" is almost taking the piss. Never has there been a more egregious, ridiculous pop song on a prog-rock album. I absolutely love it, but it's so tonally weird. Not Wilson's best work, this album, but it has brilliant moments. Best Song: Permanating. Neo-Progressive Rock. 3.5/5

  • TIMBER TIMBRE - Sincerely, Future Pollution (2017). In general, the quality here is a bit of a dip from Hot Dreams, but the final minute of "Western Questions," with its pentatonic guitar solo, ranks as one of the finest minutes of music of the last ten years. No joke. It's magnificent. Best Song: Western Questions. Indie. 4/5

  • THE WAR ON DRUGS - A Deeper Understanding (2017). I'm pretty certain it's unlikely The War On Drugs will ever release an album that challenges the general consensus that Lost In The Dream is the great masterpiece of their career, but once you've got over that initial disappointment, this is a worthy follow-up with some really great songs. Best Song: Strangest Thing. Alternative Rock. 3.5/5

  • THE WATERBOYS - Out Of All This Blue (2017). Far too long, and a substantial amount of it is really not great, but it's impressive in its sheer eclecticism and diversity and breadth of ambition. Definitely not as good as Universal Hall, but probably their most ambitious and open-minded and "let's just try this" album since Fisherman's Blues. Best Song: Man, What A Woman. Rock. 3/5

  • BETH HART & JOE BONAMASSA - Black Coffee (2018). I feel like the first two albums from this duo had some really strong highlights but struggled to maintain their momentum across a whole album. Black Coffee has fewer songs that really blow me away, but I think sustains itself better and might be the best overall listening experience of their three albums. Best Song: Joy. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • BLOOD ORANGE - Negro Swan (2018). It's odd, because all my favourite Blood Orange songs (except "E.V.P.") are on the first two albums, but the latter two feel more searingly personal, more political, more important and more ambitious in their artistic scope. They're more fragmented and sort of harder to really get a kick out of, but I think on some level I do admire them more than the more solid earlier ones. Best Song: Orlando. R&B. 3/5

  • CHIC - It's About Time (2018). Chic's first album in 26 years was always going to be less perfect than I wanted it to be, due to the sheer weight of expectation. "Queen" is a truly dreadful song and, while I can't begrudge Nile Rodgers changing up the formula after so long, it's a shame that in the places where he veers away from the traditional Chic sound it's just to imitate a generic flavour of 2018 dance-pop. But gripes aside, a good four or five songs here are asbolute bangers. Best Song: Till The World Falls. Disco. 3/5

  • CRAIG ARMSTRONG - Sun On You (2018). The only other Armstrong album I know is 1998's The Space Between Us. This is much more stripped back, less stark and cinematic, and with no vocal guests, so at first it felt like a smaller, less exciting album. After a few listens though, its aching loveliness started to creep out and now I really like it. Like a more heartfelt Einaudi, in a way. Best Song: Soldade. New Age. 4/5

  • DAVID BYRNE - American Utopia (2018). Anybody who'd been waiting 14 years for Byrne's next solo album was probably disappointed by this as it has some bewilderingly weak tracks on it. But it sort of chimes with the eclectic, experimental nature of his more recent collaborative albums, when it works it really works, and "Everybody's Coming To My House" is one of the best songs of his career. It's flawed, but it's good. Best Song: Everybody's Coming To My House. Art Rock. 3/5

  • FIRST AID KIT - Ruins (2018). The Soderberg sisters don't really mess with their successful formula enough here for there to be a huge amount to say about it, other than that it's sort of more of the same and it's still gorgeous. Still not quite reaching the heights of The Lion's Roar, but it feels a more authentic, consistent offering than Stay Gold. It's lovely. Best Song: Fireworks. Indie. 4/5

  • FLORENCE + THE MACHINE - High As Hope (2018). A bit of a change of pace for Florence, with only a couple of bombastic pop tunes here, and more of a focus on slower, more introspective, soul-baring songs. Might take a bit of getting used to for people very familiar with her usual aesthetic, but it's probably her most touching and personal album, and maybe the most rewarding for that. Best Song: Hunger. Baroque Pop. 4/5

  • JOAN BAEZ - Whistle Down The Wind (2018). Baez claims this will be her last album, and it's a lovely one to bow out on. Her voice is a little huskier but no less beautiful, and she's able to cover songs by the likes of Tom Waits and Antony and the Johnsons in such a way that they fit seamlessly into her own aesthetic and world view and sound like she could have written them. Best Song: Another World. Folk. 3.5/5

  • JOE BONAMASSA - Redemption (2018). Another consistent, swaggering, fun album from JB. The wilderness years of him making quite flat, dull, directionless music are definitely over and he's back on form, though I also think the days of his making solid classic blues-rock albums may be behind him too. This feels less exciting than Blues Of Desperation, and the last truly exciting album was in 2011. But he's still pretty much got it. Best Song: King Bee Shakedown. Blues Rock. 3.5/5

  • LOUIS BRENNAN - Dead Capital (2018). This is the debut album by a friend of mine and I think it's brilliant. The most obvious take-homes from it are that his voice is brilliant and his lyrics are wonderful, but there's a couple of really catchy choruses and beautiful string arrangements in here too. Really like this one. Best Song: Airport Hotel. Folk. 4/5

  • NILS FRAHM - All Melody (2018). This is a really labyrinthine, complicated, vast, overwhelming album, but one that also somehow sort of feels like it possesses ambient qualities. There are really intense, polyrhythmic pipe organ bits, then beautifully quiet piano moments, then the odd burst of trumpet. It always keeps you on your toes as you listen to it and as the pieces bleed into each other, but it's always immensely beautiful. Best Song: My Friend The Forest. Ambient. 4.5/5. ALBUM 1001 OF 1004!

  • PARLIAMENT - Medicaid Fraud Dogg (2018). I suppose it's only natural that Parliament's first album in 38 years would end up being too long, as George Clinton has presumably stored up a huge bunch of ideas over the intervening years. But really, this could do with being half the length as a lot of it isn't great. But when the ideas work, it's great and easily the most fun Parliament album since 1978's Motor Booty Affair. Best Song: I'm Gon' Make U Sick O' Me.