T WAS QUITE GOOD: 2003
Right – bear in mind that a good deal of this was composed having just watched the last ever episode of The Office, which might not be the best thing on TV ever, but is bloody close, and which I’ve been thinking about for a solid week afterwards. As such, some of it is curtailed where it shouldn’t be, some of it makes no sense where it should, some of it is in the wrong order, some of the positions are unjustifiable, and I’ve left out several things that really ought to be in there instead of that which currently occupies #57. But… got into them too late, can’t be bothered rejigging the whole list, etc. And #57 is quite good anyway.
So here’s my favourite singles* of the year, 57 of them. It was supposed to be 40, but that just seemed harsh to the other seventeen. Anyway, being as how the descriptions are all done by me, they might not sound that enticing, but each and every song listed here is well worth a swift hunting down (soulseek thingummy99 hem-hem) and listening to.
*i.e. songs I was primarily aware of as singles released in the UK this year, as opposed to hearing them on albums and then finding out they were singles (there is the odd exception to this, though), or singles that got released elsewhere at other times and stuff. Also: There’s more than 57 singles, since I’ve included artists who have more than one single I liked as one whole entry. This might not make sense now, but as you get through the list it should hopefully unravel nice-like.
Thanks to joni for chart data, Jerry The Nipper for suggesting I start reviewing the charts again, Stylus for thinking I’m worth having on their staff, and anyone who’s been encouraging and stuff about this over the past nine or so months. K? K. In reverse order, we start with:
57) UN-CUT – Midnight
(Charted at #26 on 23rd March)
Manchester drum ‘n’ bass trio Un-Cut set off very promisingly this year, as this tune found its way onto the Radio 1 playlist and then nestled neatly in the top 30 in late March. And it was great too, driven along hard, fast and unrelenting by an ultra-sharp trumpet loop on the chorus and vocals which, though pretty insubstantial, fitted nice and snug. Hands aloft all round. Then they decided The Un-Calculated Some was a good name for an album, so that was that, then.
Find it on: The Un-Calculated Some (Warner)
56) MARTINA TOPLEY-BIRD – Need One
(Released 2nd June, did not chart)
‘Modern psychedelic opus’. Do those words perturb you like they perturb me? They should mean so much, yet what they always seem to end up meaning is ‘get a haircut’ (to all those who have seen me within the past few months – shut it). This, though, is something of an exception to that rule. Guitars by Josh Homme, vox by Topley Bird, and a general sense of giddy nausea but in a very good way. Sweltering.
Find it on: Quixotic (Independiente)
55) THE WILDHEARTS – So Into You
(Charted at #22 on 18th May)
Their other singles this year were a bit dull. This wasn’t. Low-cut verses with Ginger listing the things he likes about girl, so-so, then suddenly he yells and it’s all about “SOINTOYOU! SOINTOYOU! I’M SO INTO YOOOOOO-OU!” First single of the year that I can remember properly deciding to dance to, and a very good choice it was too.
Find it on: The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed! (Gut)
54) MOLOKO – Familiar Feeling/Forever More
(Charted at #10 on 23rd February/#17 on 29th June)
It’s tempting to describe Moloko as having plugged along gamely this year – two top twenty hits without making many headlines, and in ‘Familiar Feeling’ they may have had the most-forgotten top ten single of the year. That’d be selling them short, though, as their singles remained that bit odd enough to stand out from the crowd. Roisin Murphy’s voice was everything it’s ever been, the highlight being her lamenting “Anybody could love me” on the shape-shifting ‘Forever More’, which might have had choruses and verses, though I wouldn’t swear to it. In a year that saw people say “Eh, that electro-disco stuff, that’s quite good,” perhaps they should’ve got a bit more attention. Still, how many top tens have the Rapture had, eh?
Find it on: Statues (Echo)
53) JANE’S ADDICTION – Just Because
(Charted at #14 on 20th July)
Near the bottom because Dave Navarro used to be in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. On the list because for three and a half minutes, that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Walking the precarious line between entertaining bravado and preening cock-wank and staying just on the right side, with endless sandstorm-prog guitar riffs swooping all over the place, a fake ending that doesn’t come off as being utter shit, and, in a year full of sly winks and ‘witty asides’, for once it felt like you might be in on the joke.
Find it on: Strays (Parlophone)
52) THE RAVEONETTES – That Great Love Sound
(Charted at #34 on 24th August)
“A love tornado struck/I don’t know what to do.” Yeah, pretty much… never having seen them as anything but also-rans before, my shock at their sole top 40 entry to date being this good was chunky. The sudden and somewhat disarming drop of coolness, of actual proper emotion breaking through, and that’s not in a ballad sense – this is fun, and it feels like it. The sound of trendy people suddenly just wibbling to reveal the nerd beneath.
Find it on: Chain Gang Of Love (Columbia)
51) SUPER FURRY ANIMALS – Golden Retriever
(Charted at #13 on 20th July)
‘Personal reasons’, this. The Furries have still never had a top ten hit, but this nearly did it for them. It’s not really up with their best ever work, but it’s still a decent two and a bit minutes of stomp ‘n’ flail Furries-style in a ‘God! Show Me Magic’ kind of mould, and ensured that any future singles compilation by them would still be one of the best records ever. Unlike the second single off Phantom Power, ‘Hello Sunshine’, which, shorn of its peculiar Broadcast-esque album intro, was very boring indeed.
Find it on: Phantom Power (Mercury)
50) R.E.M. – Bad Day
(Charted at #8 on 19th October)
An REM song that sounded like several other REM songs in a good way. It jangled. A lot.
Find it on: In Time: The Best Of REM 1988-2003 (WEA)
49) THE ELECTRIC SOFT PARADE – Lose Yr Frown
(Released November 3rd, did not chart)
Remember them? Cos no bugger else did. Perhaps deciding to release the singles off their new album as limited edition seven inches might have played a part in that. Indie kids are smashing like that, particularly when they’re younger and several times more talented than me and have superior facial hair. Anyway – this really didn’t deserve the neglect it got, being as it is the brothers White again looking at their influences and going “Ooh,” before making a heaving organ drone-sprawl that sounded a bit like Ooberman but far less punchable. They might yet be geniuses.
Find it on: The American Adventure (Arista)
48) THE THRILLS – One Horse Town
(Charted at #18 on 16th March)
They WERE good. This is the one that has them sounding like Belle & Sebastian, and, thinking about it, it is a bit like ‘Stars Of Track & Field’ but without the quiet bits, and rather less good. Still, the piano line is killer, the handclaps are turned up so they’re almost louder than the vocals (for The Thrills, a bonus), the guitars do sound magic, there’s a dinky wee xylophone and everything… solid quality, and as close as they ever got to making their name sound a little less inappropriate.
Find it on: So Much For The City (Virgin)
47) DMX – X Gon’ Give It To Ya
(Charted at #6 on 27th April)
The audio equivalent of a drunk stumbling through a field of infinite rakes and getting whacked in the face by all of them. A very good thing.
Find it on: Grand Champ (Def Jam)
46) KILLER MIKE – A.D.I.D.A.S.
(Charted at #22 on 4th May)
This might just be on here because I used to think the chorus went “The way you move, your sexy groove/If you were a horse you’d have sexy hooves.” It’s a good enough reason.
Find it on: Monster (Sony)
45) MILLION DAN – Dogz N Sledgez
(Charted at #66 on 21st September)
First heard when the Dreem Teem played it one Sunday morning while walking back from the launderette. Radio 1 daytime is notable for a lack of madmen yelling about how they’re “proper like pasta outta Selfridges” over the top of spring-heeled beats that sound like they should be advertising something the Daily Mail want to ban for making the children wrong. ‘Dogz N Sledgez’ took that void and filled it very, very nicely. Head-noddingly wonderful, particularly for his growling noises. Find it on: Dogz N Sledgez EP (Gut)
44) BOOMKAT – The Wreckoning
(Charted at #37 on 25th May)
Also growling – Taryn Manning, and props to Mister Edward O for reminding me of this one. What Britney Spears thought ‘Me Against The Music’ was but so, so wasn’t. Manning properly snarls up about some bloke over a collusion of weird-o-la synths and scratches that appear to be in there because someone thought their sampler CD wasn’t being used to its full potential, and it’s all so terribly wonderful…
Find it on: Boomkatalog One (Interscope)
43) YEAH YEAH YEAHS – Maps
(Charted at #26 on 28th September)
There are things on this record that aren’t Karen O’s voice, and they are great, but the singing… if she’s not heartbroken then sweet Jesus she can put it on. “Wait – they don’t love you like I love you!” It hits – this is not a song that associates with a band. This is all on its own. Your eyes can dry themselves.
Find it on: Fever To Tell (Polydor)
42) DIVINE INSPIRATION – The Way (Put Your Hand In My Hand)
(Charted at #5 on 12th January)
I was a child of the early nineties. My first exposure to music came in the bath every Sunday night when I was ickle, listening to the top ten with Bruno Brookes or David Jensen, who I did sometimes used to think were the same person on the same radio station. And almost every week, it would involve a record that sounded pretty much exactly like this, usually by N-Trance or Capella or someone else. Quiet piano-house intro, leading into the banging chorus, followed by a verse that was banging in a slightly less banging way, then chorus, then verse, repeating until the artist realises they can’t work out how to end it, so they put in a cymbal effect and pull the plug. It’s the vocal that really sets this apart though – she’s got a lovely way of elongating the vowels, making the thing sound incredibly urgent and happy and joyous. She even flattens “And you will understand” like she was a real proper Belgian! Superb.
Find it on: The Way EP (Data)
41) ELECTRIC SIX – Danger! High Voltage/Gay Bar
(Charted at #2 on 12th January/#5 on 8th June)
2003’s forgotten men, part one. D!HV got to number two from seemingly out of nowhere at the start of the year, six suit-wearing men from Detroit with pseudonyms in place of personality who seemed to have stumbled onto an inspired formula of disco and shouting – With Jack White! Media twots everywhere wet themselves. Then they disappeared. Then, a few months later, they were back – disco, shouting, but this time with the word “GAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEE!” More wetting. There was a third single but that didn’t really do anything, and now everyone’s forgotten them. Those two singles were rather good, though.
Find it on: Fire (XL)
40) SHED SEVEN – Why Can’t I Be You
(Charted at #23 on 18th May)
I didn’t feel like explaining this. Just know – classic indie disco stylings, and I’m not taking the piss.
Find it on: Where Have You Been Tonight? (Taste)
39) JAVINE – Surrender (Your Love)
(Charted at #15 on 16th November)
The one that wasn’t in Girls Aloud for controversy reasons. Her first single, which wasn’t this, got to #4 and wasn’t that good. This, a cover of a song by either The Supremes or Diana Ross or both, was. Javine and her ensemble holler it to bits in front of some of the best pretend-soul backing this year, the conviction sticking it in the head and feet. Course, it ‘only’ made #15 and as such this means she has failed or something. She’s on Richard X’s new single, though, and that’s very special. So it’ll only make about #36 or something, and everyone can go “Ahh, you are not as popular as the Kings Of Leon” or whatever the given etiquette is in these situations.
Find it on: Surrender (Your Love) EP (Innocent)
38) PHARRELL ft. JAY-Z – Frontin’
(Charted at #6 on 10th August)
I gave it the highest score on the Freaky Trigger focus group. Dunno how that happened. Perhaps this is to do with me not thinking Pharell’s falsetto is as over-exposed as everyone says it is. Anyway, this felt like it could only be described as slinky, most likely because it is. And it’s not even got Jay-Z on it very much or anything, and it’s better than anything Justin Timblewimble has ever done, because he is a mean, mean man, in a bad way. Pharell just sounds like a nice bloke, and probably isn’t very good at dancing. Well done him.
Find it on: The Neptunes Present - Clones (Star Trak)
37) RICHARD X – Being Nobody (featuring Liberty X)/Finest Dreams (featuring Kelis)
(Charted at #3 on 23rd March/#8 on 17th August)
Further improbable popstardom. Self-professed bedroom chancer from Sheffield, and the man responsible for coming up with the bootleg that led to the Sugababes’ version of ‘Freak Like Me’. Given the chance to come up with his own ‘producer’ album, he came up with the rather quality X-Factor Volume 1, a distinctly 80’s flavoured re-wiring of old pop and new, and responsible for two rather smashing singles. ‘Being Nobody’ saw him get the best out of Liberty X, tapping into their inner steeliness and producing a metronomic driller of a tune with all their usual fluff stripped away and replaced with more interesting fluff instead. ‘Finest Dreams’ involved making Kelis sound like Cher but brilliant. The fact he’s even had the chance to do it is good enough, though. Find it on: Richard X Presents His X-Factor Volume 1 (EMI/Virgin)
36) LEMAR – Dance (With U)/50-50
(Charted at #2 on 24th August/#5 on 23rd November)
Canny man with classic voice, naturally deep and warm, and his singles so far have sounded assured as anything – ‘Dance (With U)’ made Ladytron’s 80’s affiliations sound subtle by comparison, a three-minute Vandross homage pulled off perfectly, all the slightly tacky bits buffed till the plastic looked like chrome and just seemed terribly funky. ’50-50’ saw Lemar reposition himself as the Craig David that wasn’t a plonker, just a bit daft (witness his attempt at bolstering the bassline by repeatedly mumbling ‘Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce’ for the entirety of the song), and was dead smooth. Sort of. They both also went top 5, which suggests he might be around for a fair while yet.
Find it on: Dedicated (Sony)
35) THE EIGHTIES MATCHBOX B-LINE DISASTER – Psychosis Safari/Chicken
(Charted at #26 on 12th January/#30 on 18th May)
Ah, this was special. I remember back when they were small, seeing them supporting Ikara Colt the week before their first single came out. Liked them lots, with their guttural rumbling and hollering and not really being in tune or in time but just generally being very loud, very fast and strangely dance-able in an indie kind of a way. Didn’t think they’d ever bother the charts, though. But in January they did. Sat in the car on the way back from somewhere with my family, ‘Psychosis Safari’ comes on the radio during the top 40. Heartbeat doubles and my grin becomes unbearable. I sing along to all of it, which is quite impressive considering I still can’t make out most of the words in the chorus. “Who’s this, William?” “Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. They’re from Brighton.” “Hmm.” Nothing this loud, incoherent and yet still very, very catchy should be this big, but they are, and I love them dearly for it.
Find it on: Horse Of The Dog (No Death)
34) BLU CANTRELL & SEAN PAUL – Breathe
(Charted at #1 on 3rd August)
Right, that ‘featuring Sean Paul’ joke, about how he guests with everyone. I can only remember him being on his own records, this, and that thing with Beyonce. He was on at most three records in the top 40 at the same time. That leaves another 37 singles without him. Three goes into thirty-seven lots of times. Piss off and write another article about how the Stereophonics’ new record is a marked departure from their previous work. Anyway – you know this. Paul is in his charming lothario mode (because he has another), Blue reins in her squalliness a bit, the beat bounces and flounces, it is number one for a month, the BBC get pissed off, Busted get held off number one, we are all winners. Yes.
Find it on: Bittersweet (Arista)
33) EMMA BUNTON – Maybe
(Charted at #6 on 19th October)
As commented on by most other music journalists everywhere, this was a massive shock, as they found themselves enjoying a single by an ex-Spice Girl and possibly being forced to review their position on them all being past-it hags ha ha ha we have Liberty X now THUS WE WIN. ‘Maybe’ swung and hit, putting most every sixties cliché it could think of into the mixer and coming up with something that could only have been made by people who really like Austin Powers. Except not ironic and shit but bearing groove, swish and pizzazz all of its own. She’s still got nothing on Sophie Ellis-Bextor, though.
Find it on: Free Me (Polydor)
32) RILO KILEY – The Execution Of All Things
(Released 22nd September, did not chart)
Sounds like the Delgados. And is very good at it.
Find it on: The Execution Of All Things (Saddle Creek)
31) THE DELAYS – Nearer Than Heaven
(Released 21st April, did not chart)
Sounded like Lush, and were very good at it. Their next single sounded like The Cosmic Rough Riders, was horrid, and got in the top 40. Oh dear.
Find it on: Nearer Than Heaven EP (Rough Trade)
30) GIRLS ALOUD – No Good Advice/Jump
(Charted at #2 on 18th May/#2 on 23rd November)
I have this really long and dull theory about how Girls Aloud have the potential to be something utterly magic. Mainly due to Nicola Roberts, the least likely popstar of our times. As has been commented upon quite a lot of times by people, she’s not the most attractive young woman, and it’s tricky to tell what her voice sounds like since GA’s songs usually afford her very few solo lines. In interviews, she hardly ever gets asked anything. And yet, there is something about her. Something… strange. In the album liner notes, her list of thank-yous and cusses goes on much longer than all the other band members. She’s determined to be there and yet at the same time seemingly quite petrified. Girls Aloud are strangely compelling in the group dynamic – the solid all-rounder (Kimberley Walsh), the tabloid darling (Cheryl Tweedy), the one who is blatantly being positioned for a solo career (Nadine Coyle), the giggly blonde (Sarah Harding), and… Nicola Roberts. Weird. Wonderful. (note: Life Got Cold is not included because it isn’t very good)
Find it on: Sound Of The Underground (Polydor)
29) GOLDFRAPP – Train/Strict Machine/Twist
(Charted at #23 on 20th of April/#25 on 27th July/#31 on 9th November)
Weird things about this year pt. 72: it could well turn out that Goldfrapp become the band that have most influence on mainstream pop. Certainly the whole electro-disco-pop-revival thing started back when everyone reckoned they were dull chillout types, but in the continued failure of Ladytron to get non-trendy-types to care the Bristolians came in and, via a combination of perving and misappropriating animal masks, stole the thunder (Lesson: dress like your middle name is SERVOTRON 7000, people will not care. Dress like a Gothic air hostess and they will love you), and now Kylie and Sophie Ellis-Bextor and some other people probably are professing immense love for them. The fact they had three killer-ish singles in a row hardly hurt either. ‘Train’ was just very odd, probably using trains and public transport as sexual metaphor in some way – whatever, it worked. ‘Strict Machine’ was far less complex to figure out – it sounded like ‘I Feel Love’, not in a rip-off way, but in a hereditary way, like it was carrying on the work with its big bleeping noises, choruses of “wonderful electric” and “I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love”, and that bit near the end where the vocals ascend like the old theme music for the Tour de France. ‘Twist’ had a really good bit where she went “Twist it row-ow-ow-ow-ound, again and again.” Other than that I can’t remember much about it. Very great though.
Find it on: Black Cherry (Mute)
28) SCOOTER vs. ACARDIPANE & RULES– Maria (I Like It Loud)
(Charted at #16 on 12th October)
The best remix of the year, shut up about Jay-Z, you are wrong, sod off. The original is yer typical Scooter track, superimposed crowd chanting, thumping beat bit, ‘rapping man’ and one hook that gets repeated throughout. What Acardipane decides to do is make the thumping beat louder and more fire alarm sounding. He then gets his mate Rules in to shout the chorus and “Do duh duh duh-duh-duh duh duh” lines louder, possibly whilst drunk, thus doing the seemingly impossible and making Scooter seem even simpler than they usually are. It might be possible to listen to this without a massive smile on your face. Assuming that you are a wanker.
Find it on: The Stadium Techno Experience (Edel)
27) BASEMENT JAXX ft. DIZZEE RASCAL – Lucky Star
(Charted at #23 on 16th November)
Arabic samples sped up so they don’t sound even vaguely tacked on, faded female vocals sped up too much, Dizzee Rascal eats the alphabet up front, and the pace doesn’t drop for four and a half minutes. To these ears, Basement Jaxx’s finest ever hour, and still the rugby nobs yell “Where’s Your Head At?!?!” Sigh.
Find it on: Kish Kash (XL)
26) BLACK BOX RECORDER – These Are The Things/The School Song
(Released 24th February, did not chart/30th June, did not chart)
Records featuring the voice of Sarah Nixey. Not really the best songs off the album, but they most likely wouldn’t have been hits either. Fuck it, BBR rule, and if you don’t already know that then you really ought to find it out.
Find it on: Passionoia (One Little Indian)
25) THE FUTUREHEADS – First Day
(Charted at #58 on 3rd August)
Wonderfully bouncy post-punk-pop stuff in the Sunderland accent about the delights of temping. Followed by a slightly faster one called ‘Balsch’ which I haven’t worked out the gist of, and a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Piece Of Crap’ which basically appears to be an excuse for them to yell “PIECE OF CRAP!” repeatedly, and thus is obviously fantastic. Will be big next year, maybe. Hopefully.
Find it on: First Day EP (Fantastic Plastic)
24) STACIE ORRICO – Stuck
(Charted at #9 on 24th August)
Came from sort-of left-field, owing to the 16-year-old Orrico’s background as primarily a gospel artist, and thus found itself without most of the pretensions of modern pop as something that Mark Lawson can talk about. Instead, what you got was a sweet-as-a-nut synth-accordion line undulating and pulsating under her trilling about the boy she loves and hates and hates and loves and so on and so forth. Unheralded genius, then her next single sounded like that bloody Hilary Duff song (American readers may have borne witness to several bloody Hilary Duff songs, but this writer presumes they can’t be much different from each other) and was terrible. This was smashing, though.
Find it on: Stacie Orrico (Virgin)
23) FATMAN SCOOP ft. CROOKLYN CLAN – Be Faithful
(Charted at #1 on 26th October)
“FATMAN SCOOP! CROOKLYN CLAAAN!” Nobody yells it better.
Find it on: Be Faithful EP (Def Jam)
22) BROADCAST – Pendulum
(Released 12th May, not chart eligible due to excessive number of tracks)
Bit of rule-bending as this was a 6-track EP, but that’s more or less a single and it was on the album anyway. So… yeah. Broadcast give full rein to their pop sensibilities whilst still being healthily grim about it. Endless pumping drums, bass, and organs, with Trish Keenan sounding like she’s singing in a deeply apathetic corridor, and the chorus – oh! “I’m in orrrr-bit, held by mag-net, under force fields, so much closer than love…” Not disco or dance or anything like that, but impossible not to move to.
Find it on: Ha-Ha Sound (Warp)
21) SEAN PAUL – Get Busy/Like Glue
(Charted at #4 on 18th May/#3 on 31st August)
Despite what I said earlier, he has been a bit successful this year, hasn’t he? Two singles of amazing quality, the persistent warp and weft of the beat of ‘Get Busy’ with Paul riding the rhythm with his ceaseless flow over the top of that organ line, the slapping drums and that peculiar sound like a car failing to start that takes a while to notice but then doesn’t go away. ‘Like Glue’ operated on similar principles, but this time the backing was far odder and more jittery, a creaking and whirring synth line yawning as Sean-eh tried to think of as many woodwork-related innuendos as he could inside of three minutes. Many wore Puffa jackets this year, but none wore them quite like he did.
Find it on: Dutty Rock (Atlantic)
INTO THE TOP 20!!!
(don’t laugh, this has taken bloody ages…)
20) THE GO! TEAM – Junior Kickstart
(Released 26th May, did not chart)
Return of big beat? Well, was big beat ever this good? I’ve always thought Bentley Rhythm Ace were underrated… sorry, irrelevant. This is a ripper, the intro humming guitars ticking nervously, waiting for the off. Then it comes, TRUMPET – dooo de-doo-de doo de-doo-de-doo-de-doo-deh… bahhh, bahdup bahda bahhh, bahdup bahda bah, bhadup bahda baddabaddabaddabadda, or something like that. Takes hold of you completely for the duration and never ever looks even close to losing grip, drums drive on, guitars jangle tight and furious, trumpets play like they have mere seconds to live, and the whole thing is just utter magic.
Find it on: Junior Kickstart EP (Memphis Industries)
19) MOWER – After Dark
(Released 5th May, did not chart)
Maybe I just like the way he sings “pants.” More likely it’s the way the chorus builds up such a head of steam that you really cannot work out quite what’s going on, except that there’s several people singing “I wanna sleep with you (After darrrrk)” and that once you’ve heard that it doesn’t go away, ever. Most likely – every indie band you’ve fleetingly liked when you heard them on the radio doing their one half-decent song and getting quite excited and thinking they’d be something and do something… except they didn’t. Well, ‘After Dark’ is all those songs rolled into one, all the little sparks of genius people have that make them think they can hack this, and it didn’t do anything either. No justice in that, none at all.
Find it on: People Are Cruel (Transcopic)
18) SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR – Mixed-Up World
(Charted at #7 on 19th October)
There’s something in her eyes, something that just says “I know exactly what I’m doing, but there’s no way I’m telling you.” The way in which she never dances, just sort of stands and sways – you’re tempted to say awkwardly, but she never seems flustered, just chuckles at the absurdity and carries right on. The way she talks and talks about how she’s credible pop, and yet puts out an album that’s a good half filler, while the other half is some of the best stuff this year has seen. The way she seems to be caught between trying to push the envelope and at the same time trying to have hits, resulting sometimes in just being very unsatisfying. There is something about Sophie, something utterly fascinating. As for the song itself, it took a while before I realised I loved it. The fact I played it about fifty times in a row to come to that realisation must count for something.
Find it on: Shoot From The Hip (Polydor)
17) SINEAD QUINN – What You Need Is
(Charted at #19 on 6th July)
Poor old Sinead. Second on the first series of Fame Academy, she’s seen Sneddon get to number one then slowly become a laughing stock, then seen Lemar come out of the shadows after a year and find himself hailed as the great new soul man. In the meantime, her first single got to number two, this got to number nineteen, her album missed the top forty and she ended up getting dropped. That meant that most people missed out on this giddy, misguided slice of glory, as Sinead tried to do ‘rock chick’. The intro is fantastic, a lone, neurotic guitar twangs away like ‘Turning Japanese’, then the ‘rock’ switch is flipped, only the wires get a bit crossed which leads to interesting things happening, a ‘phwoooh’ noise that might have been nicked off Bon Jovi being foremost amongst these.
Then Sinead opens by declaring “You’re a jun-kee” in the manner of a librarian admonishing someone for returning a Hardy Boys novel a week late, and the message is clear. We’re all going to hell, and she’s leading the charge. There is never any shame, though, and it turns out she can sing rather well too, delivering some pretty banal lyrics without batting an eyelid, smirking all the way through and unleashing a pretty wonderful “Rowr!” at one point. Plus, the chorus has had a jaunty wobbling organ line put in for no reason other than that it sounds fantastic, which it does. The rest of her album is pretty rubbish, but this suggested that perhaps there was something there that is worth mourning the probable loss of.
Find it on: Ready To Run (Mercury)
16) JAMELIA – Superstar
(Charted at #3 on 12th October)
The domestic goddess. One tune turns it round, like I’ve said before. Zero to hero, like I’ve said before. Basically, eats ‘Crazy In Love’ for any meal you care to suggest, and doesn’t feature Jay-Z. Better still, her next single appears to feature the line “Get your coat, you’ve pulled tonight.” Finding ways not to love her is becoming increasingly difficult.
Find it on: Thank You (Parlophone)
15) PANJABI MC – Mundian To Bach Ke/Jogi
(Charted at #5 on 19th January/#25 on 29th June)
So everyone has written about ‘Mundian’ and its cultural significance, and how the version with Jay-Z is a majorly significant anti-war thing, which tends to ignore that it kind of negates the best thing about the song in the first place, namely where the singer goes “Ahhh!” at the end of each verse. And as such they tend to ignore ‘Jogi’, which is bad because it’s fantastic. The way in which the opening of the song does actually sound like he’s tuning up at some festival, possibly as warm-up act for Scooter, or maybe N-Trance. The way in which the male and female vocals intersect and call-and-response each other perfectly. Probably best of all, the way in which P-MC yells “C’MON!” when it gets to the bit with the really heavy bass in. Should have been massive, yet somehow… wasn’t.
Find it on: The Album (Instant Karma)
14) OUTKAST – Hey Ya
(Charted at #6 on 16th November)
Cos sometimes the consensus has a point. Most of the time it doesn’t, but in the face of “Lend me some sugar – I am yo’ neighbour!” stubbornness would just seem churlish.
Find it on: Speakerboxx/The Love Below (Arista)
13) PET SHOP BOYS – Miracles
(Charted at #10 on 23rd November)
‘Miracles’ stood out because it was a love song that was actually about love, as opposed to sex. If someone like, let’s say, Kelly Jones were to come out with a line like “The scent of the jasmine is stronger,” they’d then sit back, think “Aha, see what I’ve done there?” and proceed to run the line into the ground by repeating it at every available opportunity until you wanted to slap them. The genius of the Pet Shop Boys is that they don’t think like that, and just follow it on with more lines of the same quality. ‘Miracles’ isn’t clever metaphors, it’s the sense of greater appreciation for the world and all that is in it that being in love brings. The kind of song it’s difficult to see anyone else even thinking about writing, never mind getting into the top 10.
Find it on: PopArt (Parlophone)
12) TATU – All The Things She Said/Not Gonna Get Us
(Charted at #1 on 2nd February/#7 on 25th May)
It’s difficult to tell if Tatu were refusing to play ‘the game’ or were just very bad at playing it. Cancelling their only UK gig (at Wembley Arena) after selling something in the region of bugger-all tickets. Declaring that they didn’t care about the Eurovision Song Contest when they entered it, then claiming that they would “blow everything away with our sexy act.” Snogging like they’d been magnetised to each other. Blanking the whole of the Japanese media. Also, what was the storyline for the video for ‘All The Things She Said’? Girls stand behind fence. In rain. Snog. Find side street and walk down that. Hmm. Yes. Tatu were odd, and because of the whole Russian lesbian schoolgirls thing were easy targets for the fuckwits that constitute the British popular cultural media, who were all over them and are now presumably convinced they are finished, so we can get back to listening to wholesome, non-threatening popular music instead, as opposed to these tales of FORBIDDEN LOVE and DISOBEYING YOUR PARENTS. Boring sods.
Find it on: 200 KMH In The Wrong Lane (Polydor)
11) BELLE & SEBASTIAN – Step Into My Office, Baby
(Charted at #32 on 23rd November)
It clicked just how special this was when I saw them live a couple of weeks ago. The bit towards the end where it goes silent for a second, then there’s a guitar twang, and the bass come back, and then they start picking up speed, then going faster and faster until the vocals and everything else comes back, as Murdoch and Jackson proclaim “I’ve-got-to-change-my-ways! Dress for business every day!” There were handclaps from the entire auditorium throughout. They maybe played three or four tracks off their latest album. The whole feel was like some kind of old-time variety revue or whatever they were called, classic songs that the whole family could enjoy, delivered with a smile, most of the time. Belle & Sebastian are supposedly trying to become a more conventional band, doing tours and PR and interviews and all that kind of thing. They don’t appear to be very good at it, thankfully.
Find it on: Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade)
AND NOW IT’S THE TOP 10!!!
10) SCISSOR SISTERS – Laura
(Charted at #54 on 2nd November)
The piano bit does sound a touch like ‘Honey’ by Moby, yes. The rest doesn’t, as even-more-Campo-than-Ivan New Yorkers Scissor Sisters introduce themselves to the world with The Funk, by way of the aforementioned piano, an ultra-squelchy organ, the occasional blob of guitar, and melodramatic vocals, howling “Where is your love?! Won’t you give me your love? Why don’t you give me your love?” For all those who understand that music rarely gets better than the intro to ‘Sometimes’ by Erasure, your new heroes would appear to have arrived. SING!
Find it on: Laura EP (Polydor)
9) KEVIN LYTTLE – Turn Me On
(Charted at #2 on 19th October)
The mystery man… he looked a bit like Alfonso Ribeiro, he had a really squeaky voice, a backing track like a secondhand Casio and a guest rapper he continually sang over. Perhaps it’s because none of these elements would seem to have that much going for them that when they came together they all worked so well. Everytime I hear the intro, my backside involuntarily twitches. I sing along to the bits where he goes “ooh yay yay”. It’s so very moreish, you listen to it once, then you have to keep listening. It’s the kind of tune you can happily dig out when you really have no idea what to do. It’s three minutes that don’t really mean anything, but just feel really, really nice.
Find it on: Turn Me On EP (Atlantic)
8) SIOBHAN DONAGHY – Overrated/Twist Of Fate
(Charted at #19 on 29th June/#52 on 21st September)
Ah, the ‘mature direction’. Should’ve been an indicator saying “Hiya, I’m Melanie C!” Except Siobhan Donaghy is a bit more inventive than that. ‘Overrated’ sounded like Massive Attack, a bit, a swirl of paranoia, darkness and light, clouds and hail, eerie acoustic guitars, permanent echo, odd little string effects, and at the centre of it all Donaghy’s bedraggled, battered, cracking voice, weighed down with pain and confusion, looking for some kind of way out and, seeing none, just trying to stay afloat amid its own sea of loathing. ‘Twist Of Fate’ was sort of the same, except it pulled the trick of doing indie paranoia better than almost all paranoid indie bands, especially bloody Muse. “Can you find the words to say/That I hate you/it’s not an easy thing to say” may well rhyme ‘say’ with ‘say’, but in her hands it becomes a motto, a code word, a call to arms for the nervous and reticent. The qualities aren’t admirable, but human, and that’s the thing about her. A heart beats, and strongly.
Find it on: Revolution In Me (London)
7) JUNIOR SENIOR – Move Your Feet/Rhythm Bandits
(Charted at #3 on 9th March/#22 on 3rd August)
Disco as rediscovered and reinvented and redeemed (a bit) by a big Danish bloke and a little Danish bloke. After the Russian lesbians, nothing could faze us. Initially it seemed horrendous, as ‘Move Your Feet’ became the backing music for any vaguely happy event going and felt like the tackiest piece of tack ever tacked. However, after a few weeks of listening to the chart, it became clear that this record was genuine love and enjoyment and wanting to share that with everyone else – three and a bit minutes of pure H-A-P-P-Y. And it felt euphoric, and hung around forever. The album was full of those moments as well, but got a bit overshadowed by how massive ‘Move Your Feet’ had become, like Junior Senior had been set up as one-hit wonders and nothing more- “You remember? With the sun visor! Big feller! Little feller! Yeah?” Not fair. Get the album, it is tremendous.
Find it on: D-D-Don’t Stop The Beat (Crunchy Frog)
6) FALLACY ft. TUBBY T – Big N Bashy
(Charted at #45 on 18th May)
Much wailing and gnashing of my arse here. A lot of the newspaper music sections are talking about Big Falz with hindsight, saying, “Ooh, if it hadn’t been for Dizzee, would it have been his year, hmm?” Question – WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU BACK HIM, THEN? You only allowed to support one rapper a year? Cos you seemed to have no trouble getting behind The Thrills and The Kings Of Leon at the same fucking time…
Oh yeah, of course, 50 Cent, how terribly silly of me.
Fuck that though. ‘Big N Bashy’ should’ve been huge. It wasn’t as good as ‘The Groundbreaker’ was, probably, but still monstrous. Bass loud, booming and arse-kicking. Tubby T’s vocals stretched and sinuous, as he croons (sort of) about how him and Falz are gonna smash things up. Then Falz, rapping about himself, obviously. Bigging up his prowess at football, secondhand car dealing, and just generally being A Great Man… let him be your working class hero. Or one of them.
Find it on: Blackmarket Boy (Virgin)
5) BRITISH SEA POWER – Carrion/Remember Me
(Charted at #36 on 6th July/#30 on 26th October)
I remember when their first single came in at uni radio and people said it was rubbish and I loved it, then proceeded to judiciously pilfer each of their records that we received henceforth. Particular favourite was the original version of ‘Remember Me’ that came out last year, the sounds of the sea going into the plucked bass, into power chords, into ever faster and louder three minutes of full-on jumpers-for-practical-purposes I-N-D-I-E-R-O-C-K. I loved them. Pretty, wistful, weird, excitable, and above all themselves.
So when ‘Carrion’, the first proper single off their debut album, crept into the chart without warning at #36 one summer afternoon, I think I might well have wept tears of joy. It’s a ballad, a dream of a thing, looking out at the world and being awed and in wonder of it all, and is so pretty it hurts. Then, a few months later, it came back. The old intro had gone, and Yan’s voice had a certain nonchalance that didn’t fit quite as well as it had used to, but at heart it was still the same thing, the same old ‘Remember Me’ I fell in love with all those many months ago. And it had hit the charts. Cos it can happen.
Find it on: The Decline Of British Sea Power (Rough Trade)
4) R KELLY – Ignition (Remix)/Snake/Thoia Thoing
(Charted at #1 on 11th May/#10 on 17th August/#14 on 9th November)
Bob and his ‘fro have, against the odds, had a very good year. There have probably been books written by now on the glory of ‘Ignition (Remix)’, and the amazingness of its run at the top of the singles chart over here, managing to stave off Big Brovaz, Girls Aloud, Justin Timberlake and S Club during its four weeks on the top. Less has been written about the delights of ‘Snake’, where R tells his woman he wants to see her move her body like a snake. He then gets Big Tigger in to just say he’d quite like to have sex with a woman. And, for no apparent reason – “LIKE TWO GORILLAS IN THE JUNGLE – MAKING LUHHHHV!” Less still has been written about ‘Thoia Thoing’, about which I can’t remember much other than Wes not being able to pronounce it right ever. In between, he managed to do records for B2K and Michael Jackson that were bloody awful. A strange man for strange times. Bounce bounce, bounce bounce, bounce bounce bounce…
Find it on: The Chocolate Factory (Jive)
3) JOHNNY CASH – Hurt
(Charted at #39 on 9th November)
“I will let you down/I will make you hurt.” Time stands still and the skies grow black. Cash stares death in the face and says “Fuck it.” It keeps threatening to build to a crescendo, then pulls right away at the crucial moment. “I hurt myself today to see if I could feel.” The video and song are both acutely aware of how aged and weak Cash is now. June Carter Cash stood crying in the corner. The two-second flashbacks of his career, his past and his life. It’s all left unresolved. It sees the hard questions and doesn’t back down, just stands there. Almost unbearable, almost. Beautiful? Tragic? Depressing? Pianos cause such strange feelings in people. ‘Hurt’… I don’t know what to say.
Find it on: American IV: The Man Comes Around (Universal)
2) THE DELGADOS – All You Need Is Hate
(Charted at #72 on 23rd February)
The Delgados are my people. It’s magical realism is how I like to think of it. The kind of music that everyone swoons about The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev and all them making, but not so obvious, not so blatantly “Hey, look! Crazy!” Stargaze, you could call it, except it might not be looking at the stars so much… not shoegaze, no, too brave and bold for all that. Four people who you could never really imagine leaving each other, the Big Unit, made to make music together. The Delgados have something special about them, something truly great, something that just sets them apart from everyone else. The sense there’s an amenable person beneath not some cuntridden artiste type – and yet at the same time, they feel impulsively the need to create, to do, to make their art, paint their pictures and make their songs… they are probably dearer and nearer to my heart than any other band will ever be. ‘All You Need Is Hate’ should’ve been their entry into the big time, but people only notice magic nowadays if it comes clearly signposted with costumes and furry things. People suck.
Find it on: Hate (Mantra)
1) EVANESCENCE – Bring Me To Life
(Charted at #1 on 8th June)
Number one because it had to be. There have been more important records. There have been more meaningful records. There have been records that will endure far longer. Damn it, there have most likely been better records. But I’ve never been much cop at liking things because I should. This single held my heart like no other. Every time I hear the opening piano tinkle my heart rises. And I sing along. Amy Lee’s voice is obviously a facsimile of several other people’s. She is rubbish at punching the air, and her poetry isn’t much cop. Also, on the album cover it does look like her face has been moulded with a spade. Doesn’t matter. The drama, melodrama, melodrama upon melodrama hurtles through, courses, makes it shine like nothing else. It isn’t nu-metal because it isn’t loud enough, it isn’t rock because it isn’t heavy enough, it isn’t goth because it isn’t gloomy enough… it’s pop. Pop. Pop ballad with lots of guitars and shouting on it, done beautifully. The hateration it gets only strengthens my resolve, my belief in it. Yes, it got big off the back of a movie, but it’s not like it was a good movie or anything. “U2 crossed with The Corrs, fnarr, here’s Starsailor” – twunt. ‘Bring Me To Life’ is crystal, amber, perfect for all the imperfections, all the failings, because target it hits it hits in the centre, every string sounds like it is actually meant to be there – the lack of real interplay between the two vocalists as they seem to be daring each other to get faster and louder and sillier. No irony. No insincerity. No surrender. “SAYYY-VE MEH!” ? Maybe not. But it was fantastic all the same.
Find it on: Fallen (Wind-Up)