NICEST OF THE NOUGHTIES II
Donald Fagen, "What I do," "Security Joan" (2006)
A lesson in love from Ray Charles turns into a love-letter to a lost father figure, while the "thuggish cult that's gained control of the government" somehow manages to to get him laid. In his mind at least.
Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
In the summer of 2000, I listened to this, a Duke Ellington live album and almost nothing else, to the point where I virtually knew the lyrics off by heart (and Eminem's horror vacui at leaving something unsaid means there are a LOT of lyrics). To be honest, I haven't heard it for years - I quickly turned from devotee to apostate, and latterly to distant admirer. No doubt about it, this is one of the best albums of the decade, but there's just a bit too much of it to call it a favourite. What got everybody so worked up about it wasn't so much the violence and misogyny and homophobia themselves, as the fact that nobody knew how to take them - you can't dismiss Eminem by saying "oh, it's all in character," since Marshall Mathers and Eminem and Slim Shady (and on "Stan" the obsessed fan of Slim Shady) are all inseparable from one another. The auto-critique is constant - sometimes he gay-bashes with menace, other times with a sense of shame, but always he does it gratuitously. Simon Reynolds: "in Stan's scenario of disavowed boy-love, the woman (pregnant too, woman at her womanliest but also most potent) gets killed into the bargain. You could see why Stan has to die, for raising the spectre of homo-eroticism, but why the woman too? Could just be gratuitous melodrama/shock-horror factor, but it suggests to me that Stan's line "we was meant to be together" is Eminem projecting his own buried longings onto his "confused" fan (who appears to be closer to knowing what he really wants than Em). A longing to bypass womankind and find a true soul-mate, a male wife. That's the only way I can explain the tone of tenderness and concern that appears nowhere else in Eminem's songs."
Fleetwood Mac, Say you will (2003)
Buckingham comes across like one of those crazy old guys who fix you with a beady eye and expound at length about a conspiracy theory they heard on late-night radio; Nicks is as self-regarding and gloriously, earthily pretentious as she ever was. Where McVie would once have provided light relief, she backed out of this project and her absence does get in the way. But the fact remains, they're still a great band - the two bearded blues guys at the back never put a foot wrong (and in the case of "Thrown Down," Mick Fleetwood is as fleet of foot as he was on "Sara"), and however antagonistic he might be to her in the flesh, Buckingham drenches Nicks's songs (which generally form the better half of the album) in the gloss and gossamer that's missing from her solo stuff. Honestly, I doubt this is one of the best 50 records of the decade, but it shows that FM are still a going concern, and I listen to it more than any Mac album except Rumours and Tusk.
Giggs, Walk in da park (2008)
Marcello Carlin: "Walk In Da Park is what the real drowning of South London in the credit crunch age sounds like; messy but strict, bloody but governed by its own inaccessible precepts of anti-morality.." "You raised me," a hushed, acoustic guitar-led apology to his mum, is perfect (though no more perfect than "Bring the message back" or "More Maniacs"), intense and determined.
Go-Betweens, Oceans Apart (2005)
The Go-Betweens' last album, and their best. Forster is more human than ever, acutely analytic, aware of what he's done, but not regretting it for a minute; McLennan comes to life with the best music he ever wrote, (Christgau: "Grant couches his romanticism in instrumental subtleties that soften his detachment"), and died within a year of its release. Their nostalgia for the Australian landscape, for lost relationships, for gorgeous love songs which trickle with regret, ended here, with an unfashionable and immutable masterpiece.
Gorillaz / Shaun Ryder, "Dare" (2006)
So good, it almost makes you remember that Britpop ever happened.
Instra:mental, "Watching you" (2009)
The double-o's weren't a vintage decade for d'n'b, but this shows there's life in the old scene yet. Al Bleek and Kid Drama have clearly been listening to Joker, laying fiddly Warp Records beats over the lush vocal science of D Bridge, and their synthesis of drum and bass and dubstep is one of the singles of 2009, especially with "Tramma" on the other side (funny how dubstep seems to revive those stalwart formats from the 60s, the EP and the double A-side). See here for D Bridge's timely ruminations on the mp3 age: [my reservations are down to] "loyalty to vinyl, and…though I can only speak from my point of view…I still feel as though you’re just selling someone air, you know? I like having a tangible product, and ten years down the line are they even going to know where that mp3 is on one of their many hard drives?!)."
J Dilla + Common + D'Angelo, "So far to go" (2006)
Taking the lead from Donuts' "Bye and sampling the Isley Brothers' "Don't say goodnight," Dilla cuts his own Quiet Storm masterpiece, only like always, life festers and disintegrates and gets in the way.
Silverlink + Jammer + Badness, "The message is love" (2008)
I repeat: "A bipolar, soca-soaked headfuck, all bassline-bass, panpipes, demented scramping (mixture of screaming and rapping – copyright me), vibrato Hammond organs and lover’s rock crooning (“Hey girrrrrrrl ... hey girrrrrrl, the message is love ... come over here girl, I want to show you a real ... man ... makes ... love ... to a woman...)"
Jarvis Cocker, "Running the world" (2006)
I can't believe how few people have heard this - it's easily Jarvis's best post-Pulp song, four minutes forty-seven seconds of absolute perfection. His delivery of a delicious lyric is truly disgusted with the world, with all the jouissance that outrage brings, but it's a world away from the agitprop of Gang of Four or Redskins or whoever (notwithstanding their appeal). Lush, orchestral, a little glammy, beautifully timed - if the chorus (punch)line wasn't "cunts are still running the world," this would've been a huge hit, I'm sure. A rage against the machine so infectious, even my dad loves it.