Here it is, finally: the last five titles in the unintentionally protracted ‘Albums of the Noughties’ countdown. It can only be anti-climactic after this wait, right? You can see #20 – 15 here, #14 – 11 here, and #10 – 6 here.
5. Brendan Benson – ‘Lapalco’
When I wrote about why this record should be deemed an ‘Album of the Decade’ for The Ticket, I compared it to a dog sticking its head out of a car window on a hot summer day. Well, it’s true that there are songs on Brendan Benson’s second album that are just bursting with big, sunshine-imbued sentiments (Tiny Spark, Good to Me), but there’s also an undercurrent of self-deprecation and sadness (Metarie, Just Like Me) – so imagine someone threw an ice cream at the dog. Benson, in my eyes, is a hugely underrated songwriter. He has an innate comprehension of melodies, and how to piece them together in ways that just work effortlessly like few other modern musicians do, and this album showcases that skill superbly. Oh, and his last one (My Old, Familiar Friend) was my favourite album of 2009 – but that’s a whole different post.
4. Arcade Fire – ‘Funeral’
Predictable – yes, perhaps. Deserving of its place on any ‘Best Albums of the Noughties’? You’d be a churlish idiot to disagree. Yet I have a confession to make: I am not an Arcade Fire fangirl. I don’t really understand the blind evangelism that this band inspires in some people. I mean, ‘Neon Bible’ and ‘The Suburbs‘ are both fine albums, but let’s face it: Win Butler and co. will never make an album like ‘Funeral’ again. How can an album so informed by death (several of the band members had family members die before and during its recording) be so utterly joyous in places? It gleams, it soothes, it electrifies, but what’s so impressive about ‘Funeral’ is that it sounds like an ‘old fashioned’ record in the sense that it’s so well-crafted; like a carpenter painstakingly designing, then carving, then sanding a sturdy piece of furniture. After writing a song like Power Out, maybe they should have just given up there and then.
3. Interpol – ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’
Interpol are a band that you remember. I remember hearing them for the first time, I remember seeing them for the first time, and I still remembering buying this album. Their 2003 debut had something of a profound effect on me; for someone who had become a massive fan of ’80s indie over the preceding two or three years, they were a modern band that filtered all the best bits of The Smiths, The Cure, Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen, and gave them a ‘New York cool’ twist. And boy, did they look slick, too. Sure, image has always been an important factor in Interpol’s make-up – but with albums as stark, bleak, but somehow concurrently beautiful as Turn On the Bright Lights under their designer belts, it was merely a footnote to their might. Obstacle 1, PDA, NYC, Stella Was a Diver… it’s not just that there isn’t a bad song on this album, it’s that every song is brilliant.
2. Belle & Sebastian – ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’
I didn’t really ‘get’ Belle & Sebastian until the first time I heard Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Oh, I’d always liked them, sure – The Boy With the Arab Strap got the occasional spin, I admired their fey, twee approach to music-making during an era that was all about Oasis-style laddishness, and I thought that Stuart Murdoch was a very clever songwriter. But bringing in Trevor Horn on production for their fifth album was a stroke of genius on the Glaswegian troupe’s part. It was like cracking open a vault of sound; like everything that they’d done beforehand was muted and monochrome. Here, songs like ‘Step Into My Office, Baby’ and were stuffed to the brim with colour and vigour and life; can you possibly get a more perfect indie pop song than ‘I’m a Cuckoo’, a more bittersweet one than ‘Lord Anthony‘, or a sweeter one than ‘If You Find Yourself Caught in Love’? In my eyes, Belle & Sebastian probably can’t, and probably won’t better this album.
1. Rufus Wainwright – ‘Want One’
I really can’t describe how much I love this album. It don’t even know if it’s my favourite of Rufus Wainwright’s – it’s a toss-up between this and his eponymous debut – but it’s one that I come back to a few times a year, listen to obsessively for a couple of weeks, and fall in love with all over again, every single time. Written at a shaky time in Wainwright’s life (he was coming out of a crystal meth addiction and a fairly hedonistic phase of his life, and had become semi-estranged from his father, Loudon), its lyrical themes are wide-ranging and not particularly consistent, but supremely beautiful and personal in parts, nonetheless. ‘Dinner at Eight’, a song that addresses his troubled relationship with Loudon, and his parents’ separation, never fails to put a lump in my throat. If you’ve never heard it, I urge you to look it up on YouTube right now, and read the lyrics as you go. ‘Harvester of Hearts’ is a perfectly formed little love song. Even the whimiscal ‘Vibrate‘ has its place.
The two ‘Want’ albums were originally intended to be released as a double album. I’ve heard the argument that together, parts of Want One and parts of Want Two would have made for an altogether more cohesive, stronger album. It’s a valid argument, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is just a remarkable record in its own right.
From Wainwright’s trademark languid vocals, to the sheer majesty of the arrangements (sampling ‘Boléro’ on opening track ‘Oh What a World’, to the glitzy showtune vibe of ‘14th Street’, to the slow, epic build of ‘Go or Go Ahead’), everything about this album just works. The lyrics, the vocals (he pushed himself to new heights with some of those challenging songs), the musicianship, the backing vocals (including contributions from Martha Wainwright, Joan Wasser and Teddy Thompson), the harmonies, the arrangements, the production. It’s glazed with a sort of majesty that you don’t really hear that often in albums. Plus, there are some bloody great pop songs on there, too.
For me, it’s got all the ingredients of a classic. It may not go down in the annals of music history as his finest work, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m fairly sure that ‘Want One’ is the best album of the noughties.