Category Archives: Ten Perfect Albums

Kanye West

Kanye West – Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Perfect Album #10

Concluding my list of Ten Perfect Albums, this is where my hip-hop related cognitive dissonance comes home to roost. I love this album, but it’s easily the most problematic on my list, and I have a not insignificant love/hate relationship with Kanye West. This album is incredible, and very much deserves to be here. If you’re put off by swearing though, I suggest skipping this one, and maybe head back to the Pet Shop Boys where it’s safer.

Discovery

I first heard this album on a trip to visit my friend Charlie in the states towards the end of 2010. I went out there with a couple of other friends, and of these, Dave had this album (and an almost unreasonable amount of Drake) on his phone. We had rented a car which we took on an epic two day road trip from Charlottesville, Virginia up to New York via Washington DC and then calling at Philadelphia (for a race up the ‘Rocky’ steps) on the way back. Dave had control of the Aux lead so we listened to his phone. (I don’t drive so I did as I was told)

Standout Songs

Runaway

Pretty much became our theme song when I was living with my friend Tonia. It’s definitely time for us to have a toast.

And I don’t know how I’ma manage
If one day you just up and leave

Monster

My first exposure to Nicki Minaj, and an absolute stand out on the album (They aren’t kidding about that [Explicit] warning either). Can’t deny that Nicki’s verse completely steals the track, as much as I still enjoy the rest.

OK first things first I’ll eat your brains
Then I’mma start rocking gold teeth and fangs

Dark Fantasy

With the opening track, Kanye sets the scene for the album. That hook is still haunting. Can we get much higher?

I fantasized about this back in Chicago
Mercy, mercy me, that Murcielago

Relationship with the album

The album conveniently soundtracks a significant life change for me. As well as being the sounds of my trip to America, it was also the score for the few months that followed my separating from my ex-wife. Particularly the first 6 weeks where I was living in Tonia’s box room. Although obviously an emotionally charged time, Tonia was an amazing support and I think we must have listened to this album, with plenty of toast, every single day. Thank you Tonia. <3

Listening to the album now takes me back to that time in a positive way, for what are ultimately good memories. Things work out.

Kanye West

Urgh. He’s clearly very talented, but deeply unpleasant. One of those times where I’ve managed to separate art from artist. Have recently discovered I do have a limit for that though, as I can no longer listen to Morrissey…

Other albums and songs

Watch the Throne

As my previous Black Album post covered, I do have considerable love for Jay-Z, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed this collaboration album. It’s easier to reconcile liking it as a Jay-Z fan too.

No Church in the Wild

When we die, the money we can’t keep
But we prolly spend it all ’cause the pain ain’t cheap, preach

Diamonds From Sierra Leone

Back when I still naively thought Kanye West might be a force for good, and another great collaboration with Jay-Z for the remix.

This ain’t no tall order, this is nothin’ to me
Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week

Conclusion

While I struggle to reconcile enjoying Kanye West’s work, it doesn’t take away my enjoyment of this album. Its content isn’t going to be for everyone, but even then you can’t fault the production. It is perfect.

Beautiful South - Blue is the Colour

The Beautiful South – Blue is the Colour – Perfect Album #9

The penultimate entry in my list of “ten perfect albums” is “Blue is the Colour” from The Beautiful South. Never been sure how to classify their music, but google informs me that they’re “pop rock”. Apparently.

Discovery

I don’t really remember how I discovered the Beautiful South. My sister Audrey loves them, as did her late husband (my brother-in-law) Kev. It feels like The Beautiful South have been part of my life forever, but realistically I was probably 8 or 9. I don’t have strong memories of the first few albums though, just songs.

Standout Songs

Liar’s Bar

I think this is my favourite Beautiful South song. (Until I listen to another one, and then that’s my favourite too). I know some people who otherwise like their music that struggle with this one, given the scratchy vocals as Paul Heaton channels the style of Tom Waits, but I love it. Blue is the Colour is a darker album than most of their output, but we’re still not quite as bleak as Glasvegas.

If you took me away from this 
I’d be different you’d see 
‘Cause I didn’t choose the drink 
A drink just chose me

Rotterdam

One of the first songs ‘everyone else’ seems to think of when you mention The Beautiful South in conversation, this single was huge in the UK.

And when blondes and beautiful are multiple
They become so dull and dutiful

Don’t Marry Her

Much like “If Lovin’ You Is Wrong” on my Faithless post, Don’t Marry Her is the song that almost invalidates this album as being perfect by my own definition. Growing up in a household where “people only swear because they have nothing to say”, the album version of this often had to be skipped. I’m still amused by the sticker on the front of the CD case “Track 1 contains some Blue language” indeed. Censored for the radio edit, I think quite a few people were taken aback when they heard the album version. Pretty directly equivalent to the variations between the radio version and original of Radiohead’s “Creep”. Both versions stand up as great songs, but the original versions present strong cases for the use of profanity for emphasis.

She’s a PhD in “I told you so”
You’ve a knighthood in “I’m not listening”

The Sound of North America

Timeless, lyrics that it seems will always be appropriate.

Sometimes you feel expensive 
Sometimes you feels so cheap

Relationship with the album

While this is one of their more melancholy albums, listening to it is still often a source of happiness for me. (Although it is great to listen to if you do want to listen to something melancholy and Morrissey’s insistence on being an awful human makes it impossible to enjoy The Smiths.)

Whenever I hear The Beautiful South I feel close to my family, and Blue is the Colour continues to be my first choice for putting an album on and hearing it straight through “as is”.

The Beautiful South

Remember hearing Jo Whiley describe them as everyone’s second favourite band. Obvious hyperbole aside, that does resonate well with me. Although I mentioned this to Aud once and she was happy to assert that they were her favourite, so there’s that.

This year I got tickets for a “The South” gig for Aud, and we went along with my nephew. The South featuring former members of The Beautiful South and still singing a lot of their songs, it was a great gig. Would still be great to see Paul Heaton live at some point though.

Other albums and songs

Carry on up the charts

This is one of my favourite albums, and would have been in this top 10 if it wasn’t a greatest hits album. You obviously can’t count those for risk of coming across a bit Alan Partridge “the best of The Beatles”.

Sail This Ship Alone

Yes, also my favourite Beautiful South song. I might not remember when I discovered the Beautiful South, but one of my fondest memories of them is listening to this song on a car journey. Aud and Kev took me on holiday with them, and we sang this all the way there (I assume there were other songs, but I mostly just remember this and “Night Boat to Cairo” by Madness. I’ll Sail This Ship Alone is best sung at top volume, pronouncing all 27 syllables in “sail”.

Well they said if I wrote the perfect letter 
That I would have a chance 
Well I wrote it, and you burnt it 
And now do I have a chance anyway

Song for Whoever

Also known as that one song I made my friend Sam sing over and over with me 20 times when I was very drunk, and my other friends like to remind me about it. (I think Sam would like to forget, to be honest.)

In my defense:
1. It’s a great song
2. This was on the Xbox 360 Game “Lips” and there was a limited amount of songs available
3. Did I mention I was very, very, drunk?

Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane
I wrote so many songs about you
I forget your name, I forget your name

Perfect 10

Don’t think this needs any further introduction, my favourite Beautiful South song. Ahem.

‘Cause we love our love,
in different sizes
I love her body, especially the lies

Conclusion

Perhaps more so than other artists I’ve picked, there are multiple contenders for perfect albums from the Beautiful South. Quench came pretty close, but I’m happy I’ve chosen the right one in Blue is the Colour. It is perfect.

Faithless - Reverence

Faithless – Reverence – Perfect Album #8

Number 8 on my list of perfect albums is a trip into Dance music (I’m assured the cool kids refer to it as EDM, but what do I know), with the debut album from Faithless, Reverence. This blog series started with my original post setting out the “ten perfect albums” premise, so start there if you’re new.

Discovery

I discovered Faithless in 1996 with the re-release of Insomnia being everywhere. At the time the only other person I knew who liked them was my high school best friend. I’m not sure how long after that it took me to get the album, but it must have been one of the first CDs I purchased for myself. I do remember being very pleased that it also came with the remix album “Irreverence” in the package, everyone likes a bit of value for money.

Standout Songs

Insomnia

Obviously.

Insomnia please release me and let me dream
About making mad love on the heath
Tearing off tights with my teeth

Reverence

The title track of the album, and it’s also up first. I still remember getting the album home and putting this on. Masterpiece. The main draw for me in wanting Reverence was for the lyrics and flow from Maxi Jazz, the album starts strong for this.

It’s a fact you’ll attract all the things that you lack
So just chill

Don’t Leave

Took me a while to appreciate this one at the time, certainly wasn’t what I was expecting when I bought the album, and those Maxi Jazz vocals are no where in sight. Don’t Leave went on to become a favourite track though, and as we’ve established, the album is perfect.

Hanging with friends like we used to do
I didn’t know anything was wrong

Baseball Cap

This was my favourite song on the album for ages. Certainly the first one I knew all the words to. Maybe because I was also 14…

Sometimes you have to let the world know you’re not bluffing
But enough is enough, don’t lose your life over nothing

If Lovin’ You is Wrong

If Lovin’ You is Wrong almost breaks my perfect album rule of “not skipping any tracks”, however I’m letting it slide since I only skip this when listening would be inappropriate, like when it comes on in the office.

The lyrics are tamer in the video. Pick some out yourself. 🙂

Relationship with the album

Listening to Reverence at once takes me back to high school. It’s that rare album that is just as perfect to throw on when you’re feeling a bit melancholy and just want to relax for a while, as it is to crank up loud and and sing along.

Faithless

It’s funny, when I bought Reverence, I didn’t think I was buying “dance music”. Even when I picked up the album Sunday 8pm, that still didn’t feel like what it was about to me. The later albums all feel much more ‘EDM’ to me though, and I pretty much fell off. Years later I got a bit into Trance (specifically Above & Beyond) and found I appreciated the later Faithless stuff much more. The remix album Faithless 2.0 even features an Above & Beyond version of Salva Mea, along with other EDM acts remixing classic Faithless tunes.

In retrospect, I wonder if Maxi Jazz did more to set up my later love for rap music than Faithless did for me with dance.

Other albums and songs

Bring My Family Back

Depressing? Sure, but still a great song. Hearing this performed live on Jo Whiley’s TV show (I’m 80% sure it was that, otherwise it was Jools Holland) was how I found out their second album “Sunday 8pm” was available. I grabbed it soon after.

There was a time when my walls were decorated.
And under my roof children were educated.

Postcards

There are loads of Faithless tunes that just set a scene perfectly, and take you to a place. Postcards is one of those.

Anyway, all my love, God bless, I’m yawning
I really miss watching you get dressed in the morning

Tweak Your Nipple (Tiësto Remix)

The original version is great, but I do love this remix from Tiësto.

I see genius in everybody
To perceive it in yourself is the difficulty

Conclusion

If I was just picking my favourite Faithless album, there is a strong chance I’d lean more towards Sunday 8PM, I think that’s probably them at their best. Reverence though has both a sentimental edge for me, and also feels like the more complete piece. Sunday 8PM has a couple of tracks I’m not so keen on, that I might find myself skipping. Not so with Reverence, it is perfect.

Feeling Strangely Fine - Semisonic

Semisonic – Feeling Strangely Fine – Perfect Album #7

With “Feeling Strangely Fine”, we are up to number seven, and approaching the last stretch. If you’re new to this series, please do check out my original “ten perfect albums” post first, then hopefully read all the others too.

Discovery

I think I discovered Semisonic at the same time as a lot of other people in the UK, around the time they released “Secret Smile”. It was their biggest hit here, and I’m still surprised it didn’t break the top 10.

The song was all over the radio during summer 1999 and clearly stuck with me as I found myself asking for the album for Christmas that year. I think one of my sisters, either Heather or Helen, bought it for me. Probably Helen as I’m pretty sure she likes them too.

Standout Songs

Closing Time

This was a much bigger hit elsewhere in the world than it was in the UK. Although it was released first, I don’t think I heard it till after I was already familiar with Secret Smile.

Closing Time sets the tone for the album, and the opening riff feels like a comfortable old shirt.

So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits 
I hope you have found a friend

Secret Smile

While the implied double-entendre of the lyrics is ever present, it is subtle enough that you could happily interpret “Secret Smile” as a simple love song. You present a version of yourself to the world, but there is that someone where you can be the real ‘you’.

Once you hear Semisonic’s single “Get a Grip” from their third album however, you kind of have to assume the more lewd interpretations are what they were intending.

Secret Smile is still a great song though, and if like me you mostly ignore the third album, it can retain that original innocence.

Nobody knows it but you’ve got a secret smile 
And you use it only for me

Singing In My Sleep

And all the stars 
Play for me 
Say the promise you long to keep

DND

How like you to make me want to stay forever 
Here behind your door

Relationship with the album

This was the original “perfect album”, and to myself and the same buddy for whom The Streets is #TheArtist, Feeling Strangely Fine is simply #TheAlbum. Unlike with other albums in this list, I find it hard to recommend ‘if you weren’t there’. It’s also the best example of how “perfect album” differs from “favourite album”. While I do love this album, I doubt it would make a Top Ten album list of simply my favourites.

Listening to Feeling Strangely Fine takes me to the few years after finishing high school, but before I moved “down South”. Funny though, when I listen, in my memories it is always sunny. Given that those years were in Stoke-on-Trent, England, that seems very unlikely.

Semisonic

As with Glasvegas, I’m the worst kind of Semisonic fan. I was convinced for years that this was their first album, and never got round to picking up the first one “Great Divide” even after I found out about it. I did pick up the third album “All About Chemistry”, but never took to that either.

I don’t think I’m really a Semisonic fan at all, merely a fan of this excellent album.

Other albums and songs

Chemistry

This is decent enough, but to be honest I just wanted to add something here, without resorting to “Get a Grip”.

Conclusion

Though I can’t really say I’m a Semisonic fan, this remains a beloved album. I will continue to listen to Feeling Strangely Fine several times a year, and be grateful to them for its creation. It is perfect.

The Streets - Original Pirate Material

The Streets – Original Pirate Material – Perfect Album #6

Over halfway through the list now, and I’m only slightly slipping in post frequency. Original Pirate Material from The Streets is the sixth of my Ten Perfect Albums.

Discovery

I can remember the first time I heard Original Pirate Material, mostly because it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen any more. It was after I’d moved “down South” and I was working in a nearby town in another indie PC shop (not a patch on the one in Stoke mind). The manager from our other store in Brighton was visiting, he insisted we go out to his car to listen to “this incredible new tape”. We left one of the other lads in charge, and went and sat in his car out the front of the shop, listening to the album straight through in its entirety, rewinding “The Irony of it All” twice for repeated listens. Yes, it was on tape.

It’s almost a cliche to say, but it didn’t sound like anything else I’d heard before. This was around the time I was just getting into Hip Hop (as referred to in my discovery of Jay-Z). Unlike the American rappers I was listening to, Mike Skinner’s lyrics were immediately more relevant to 20 year old me.

Standout Songs

The Irony of It All

The track that stuck with me most from that initial listen, still sounds great today and remains pretty relevant.

My names Terry and I’m a law abider

Let’s Push Things Forward

UK Garage seemed to be a thing for 6 months or so, but as much as I enjoyed some of the tracks at the time, the genre didn’t seem to be going anywhere. (UK Garage compilations over the last 20 years seem to agree with me, featuring the same tracks by DJ Luck, Craig David & The Artful Dodger etc, in slightly different orders.) The Streets emerged from that sound, and essentially added poetry. Let’s Push Things Forward is something of a manifesto.

So it’s just another show flick from your local city poet
In case you geezers don’t know it, let’s push things forward

Too Much Brandy

Bit of light relief for an album that at times is pretty melancholy. Too Much Brandy takes us along for a night out, which is all very familiar. Why yes I will dance the fandango and sing all my favourite jingles.

Far gone on one, call me Baron Von Marlon
One has a monocle and cigar, dickie-bow and long johns

Relationship with the album

Original Pirate Material is the sound of an era for me. The soundtrack to the time of my life where I’d just left home, and moved 200 miles away to start my own story.

I found a great review of the album below, well worth a read as it really touches on why it’s great, and I’d echo much of the sentiments.

Kind of wish I’d written this review, it expresses much about the album that I agree with.

The Streets

For a while it seemed that Mike Skinner was going to capture every element of life in music. His knack for producing a relatable song for every emotion led to myself and a good mate simply referring to him in conversation as #TheArtist.

I remember The Streets being dismissed by some friends and family at the time with “he’s just talking”. I don’t think that’s really a criticism. There is a poetry to The Streets that is bridging the gap between Spoken Word and Hip Hop.

I’m delighted The Streets is a thing again, and hope the recent new music leads to more albums.

Other albums and songs

Never Went to Church

Devastatingly haunting, but lyrically real; Never Went to Church did for loss what “Dry Your Eyes” did for breakups. Always guaranteed a listen on my late brother-in-law’s birthday. Miss you Kev.

I guess than you did leave me something to remind me of you,
Every time I interrupt someone like you used to,
When I do something like you you’ll be on my mind or through,
‘Cause I forgot you left me behind to remind me of you.

The Sherry End

Another more lighthearted track, The Sherry End captures the easy friendship of close mates, and the comfort found in shared experiences.

The secret handshake of three mad mates
It makes me pleased to share traits

Love You More

Mike Skinner does relationship insecurity.

I drew a drawing of you after last time I saw you
I never felt to draw a picture like that before
I learnt a lot about myself drawing all morning
It was absolutely shit, I’m awful at drawing

On the edge of a cliff

There were easily another eight or so tracks that could have made this section, but thought I’d round it out with some existential reflection.

For billions of years since the outset of time, Every single one of your ancestors’ survived
Every single person on your mum and dad’s side, Successfully looked after and passed onto you life

Conclusion

A compelling case can be made that “A Grand Don’t Come For Free” is the better album, and as a concept album it rewards a straight play through with a coherent story. If I did fifteen perfect albums, it would make an appearance. The Streets narrowly missed out on having two albums in this list.

For me however, Original Pirate Material is the one I go back to most often. It is perfect.

Pet Shop Boys - Actually

Pet Shop Boys – Actually – Perfect Album #5

Album number 5 is from the Pet Shop Boys, and we go back to the 80s for the oldest entry on my list of ten perfect albums.

Discovery

As well as introducing me to Bros, my brother-in-law Ray is also responsible for a number of my other tastes. Amongst those we can count the Rocky movies, a selection of martial arts films, the music and movies of Elvis Presley, and most importantly, the Pet Shop Boys.

My initial experience came from borrowing Ray’s “Showbusiness” VHS tape, featuring music videos that still stay with me now. Of the six songs featured on this video, four of them are taken from “Actually”, with the other two being from the Pet Shop Boys’ third album, “Introspective”.

From the header image above, you’ll see I have two copies of “Actually”. You won’t have to look too closely to see that the copy on the left has a poorly printed cover. This is my original album, purchased for £3 back in the early nineties on a shopping trip with Julia, my eldest sister. Julia was keen to show me a new shop that had opened up in Hanley, selling “allegedly” ex-jukebox cds without covers (to this day I’m not sure if that was the case, or if they were just selling off the stolen contents of some poor record shop’s back room – answers on a postcard). I bought “Actually” there and then, delighted to finally own my own copy (on CD no less, one of the very first I bought myself). I went back a couple of weeks later with my mum and picked up “Introspective”. I produced the terrible covers on the family inkjet printer a few years later.

Much more recently I picked up the copy on the right in the cover photo and shown in full below. This is the “Further Listening” re-release, and is a much more complete package. I’m still sentimentally attached to my original album though, and won’t be parting with it.

Pet Shop Boys Actually Further Listening
Pet Shop Boys – Actually – Further Listening

Standout Songs

We’re going all hits here, do sing along.

It’s a Sin

Probably the first Pet Shop Boys song I heard, being the first one on the above mentioned VHS tape. I was captivated by the fairly ‘spooky’ video as a child.

At school they taught me how to be
So pure in thought and word and deed
They didn’t quite succeed

“What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

The Pet Shop Boys have gone on to record many excellent collaborations, but I don’t think any will ever top this incredible song with the iconic Dusty Springfield.

At night, the people come and go
They talk too fast, and walk too slow

Rent

Another great single from the album, and I’m going to stop here with these, because I could just link the whole album, and that’s not the point.

I never want anything, it’s easy 
You buy whatever I need

Relationship with the album

From that very early age, I’ve remained a fan of the Pet Shop Boys up to the present day. This album though, connects me to my youth, and to my relationship with Ray, more so than any other. Later albums still resonate, and I really enjoy 2016’s “Super”. However, listening to “Actually” takes me back to my childhood and weekends spent with Ray, renting action movies and playing Sega Master System.

When I try to pick a favourite Pet Shop Boys song, I frequently change my mind because there are so many that I love, but at least four of the top contenders come from “Actually”.

Pet Shop Boys

I find people’s perception of the Pet Shop Boys to be interesting, since many seem to dismiss them as just ‘pop’ even if they begrudgingly accept their staying power over the last 30+ years in the industry. Widely recognised as one of the most successful pop acts of all time, there is no way I could do real justice to them here.

As with Placebo & Glasvegas, I finally managed to see the Pet Shop Boys live last year, when they played the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. It was an incredible show at a great venue, and because we’re “cool”, my friend Nicky & I made a day of it, with front row seats at the matinee performance of the “Bat Out of Hell” musical. Best day ever.

I’m pleased to also report that Ray is still a huge Pet Shop Boys fan, and last year we managed to take our awful SingStar duet out to the people, and perform karaoke in a local pub. It was magic, bonding time with my brother. I’m sure everyone else hated it. Would do it again tomorrow.

Other albums and songs

I’m in the process of re-buying all the albums in their “Further Listening” editions, and very much enjoying listening to the bonus discs of material I haven’t heard before. Staying with singles here though, because there are just so many tracks to choose from and I’m supposed to be writing a blog not making a playlist.

Can You Forgive Her?

Another favourite, and the first track from “Very”. The change in sound for that album meant that 11 year old me didn’t get into it straight away, as it wasn’t what I was used to. I appreciate the whole album a lot more now than I did at the time.

She’s made you some kind of laughing stock
Because you dance to disco, and you don’t like rock

Always On My Mind

One of my favourite covers of all time, a masterpiece. Also love that the video is cut from scenes from the movie “It Couldn’t Happen Here”, mentioned below.

Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time

West End Girls

Yeah okay, so it’s pretty much the law I have to include this one. Fair play, it still sounds great.

The East end boys and West end girls

Inner Sanctum

This Bluray / DVD / CD boxset is the live recording from the gig I went to last year in Covent Garden, mentioned above. At the time of writing it’s not out yet, but I have a pre-order in, and I’m putting it here because I’m excited. Also because it’s pretty.

Pet Shop Boys - Inner Sanctum
Look at it!

It couldn’t happen here (Movie)

Last up, is the feature-length film “It Couldn’t Happen Here”. An incredibly surreal journey, but essential viewing for fans. Once you’ve watched it, you can also enjoy drunkenly explaining the context of the “Always On My Mind” video to your friends at parties, like I do. (No promises that your friends will enjoy this though)

Quality is terrible, as the person uploading it had to rip it from VHS, as it hasn’t had a more updated release.
Give us at least a DVD!

Conclusion

I think every Pet Shop Boys album is worth listening to, and has something to recommend. However, “Actually” stands out as the one album I always come back to. It is perfect.

The Black Album - Jay-Z

Jay-Z – The Black Album – Perfect Album #4

Now my journey through ten perfect albums continues with something completely different…

Discovery

I came to Hip Hop pretty late really, despite the first record I ever bought being Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby. Actually, maybe that was why…

I had a few friends in high school who were into Snoop, Dre and the like, but I didn’t hear enough of it to get into it. I did like the Beastie Boys but I was only really exposed to them via MTV2. I guess they were just ‘alternative’ enough for that playlist.

After I left school and started a part time job building computers in a local indie PC shop, the majority of the staff there listened predominately to hip hop. I think I tried to resist it for a while, but eventually it started to stick.

Initially I only really enjoyed ‘club hip hop’, finding the way in was via artists like Ice Cube, DMX, and ODB. I enjoyed some of the singles from Jay-Z’s Blueprint album, but it was The Black Album that I fell in love with, and solidified Jay-Z as my favourite rapper.

Standout songs

Encore

Very much a favourite, Encore carries the implied weight of the album. The Black Album was presented as Jay-Z’s retirement from hip-hop. I remember at the time being mildly disappointed that I’d discovered Jay-Z just in time for him to retire. Repeated listens to the album though made it clear retirement wasn’t going to stick though. “When I come back like Jordan” indeed.

What the hell are you waiting for?

99 Problems

Probably the most distinctive single from the album, 99 Problems is almost the definition of catchy hip hop. This song was everywhere when it came out.

I heard “Son, do you know why I’m stopping you for?”
Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low
Or do I look like a mind reader, sir? I don’t know

December 4th

I love this, so much of rap is biographical, but December 4th is a very literal telling of Jay-Z’s life story. Including memories delivered, by his mother.

And it’s nobody’s fault, I made the decisions I made
This is the life I chose, or rather, the life that chose me

Relationship with the album

When this album came out in November 2003, I think I pretty much grabbed it on day one. In December I was given my first solid state portable mp3 player as a Christmas gift from work. It only had a meagre 64 mb of storage, and The Black Album was the first and only album I put on it. I basically listened to this one album every day for the next 4 months.

It still sounds fresh to me now, and remains my favourite Jay-Z album.

Jay-Z

My relationship with hip hop involves some pretty heavy cognitive dissonance. Jay-Z is my favourite rapper, but I also unashamedly love 50 Cent. I think Jay-Z is probably the ‘best’ rapper, while 50 is much more of a ‘performer’. Both artists, along with many, many, others are problematic. However, their upbringing and background is so dramatically different from my own that it feels impossible to judge.

I do like to see areas where hip hop takes positive strides though, and while it’s easy to find examples of misogyny etc in Jay-Z’s lyrics, he has also used his platform to champion areas of Social Justice.

Other albums and songs

There are far too many great albums from Jay-Z to cover here, I’ll just touch on a few, but there are many more I could easily have included.

Collision Course

While Linkin Park’s – Hybrid Theory was a strong contender for my list, it didn’t quite make the cut. However this EP collaboration from Linkin Park & Jay-Z deserves a shout out here. Numb/Encore was the single, but all 6 tracks are great fun.

The Blueprint 3

Another favourite album, the Blueprint 3 is one of those albums that just “sounds like summer”. A real go to whenever the sun is shining.

Unplugged

Already acknowledged in my Mighty Mighty Bosstones post, Jay-Z – Unplugged is an outstanding live album, with Jay-Z collaborating with The Roots.

Conclusion

I’m sure people who have been listening for hip hop much longer than me, with arguably much better taste, would point to any number of Jay-Z’s albums as being better than The Black Album. Not me though, I adore this whole album and it’ll forever be a favourite. It is perfect.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Live from the Middle East

Mighty Mighty BossTones – Live from the Middle East – Perfect Album #3

Now for something a bit more cheerful, and the only live album that made my top ten. As always, if you missed my original post, please check out “ten perfect albums” first.

Discovery

Finding my way to the Mighty Mighty BossTones was quite the journey. In 97 / 98 I would occasionally hear “The Impression That I Get” on the radio, sometimes when waking up, or perhaps in the car with my parents. We were sometime away from services like “Shazam” however, and although I had the internet, I never quite managed to find out what the song was. It didn’t help that when I was asking other people, 15 year old me was referring to it as ‘Knock on Wood’.

No one else ever seemed to know what it was though, and it may have been a whole year later, when I’d all but given up on finding out what the song was called or even who it was by. When watching the film “Clueless”, I saw, and more importantly heard, the scene where the Mighty Mighty BossTones perform “Where’d you go?”, I recognised Dicky Barrett’s distinctive vocals as being from that song I already loved. While I obviously didn’t have the foresight to just wait for the credits, a week or so later I was in HMV in Hanley and it occurred to me to look for the Clueless soundtrack. I didn’t buy it, but a glance at the back of the box told me that “Where’d you go?” was performed by the Mighty Mighty BossTones. HMV didn’t have any of their albums in, but I wandered down to Mike Lloyd Music to try my luck.

Mike Lloyd Music storefront, Hanley, Stoke-on-trent.
Sadly no longer with us, the iconic Mike Lloyd Music

Mike Lloyd Music had three Mighty Mighty BossTones CDs, result! Given my financial status (pretty sure I was still at school, or just left) I could only afford one CD. They had an EP “Ska-Core, The Devil and More”, a studio album “Question the Answers” and the subject of this post, the live album “Live From the Middle East”.

I used a schoolboy’s approach to value for money shopping, and went for the live album, as it had 22 songs on. Also from the track listing it had “Where’d You Go?”, so even if the other song I was looking for wasn’t on there, I at least know I liked that. Took that CD home and fell in love.

I think there was a good chance I was the only Mighty Mighty BossTones fan in Stoke, over the next couple of months I saved my money and bought those other two CDs from Mike Lloyd, no sign of anyone else buying any.

Standout songs

Where’d You Go?

Going to start with “Where’d You Go?”, it’s a great single and received its own EP. As above, this should be recognisable to fans of the movie Clueless, and I still have it to thank for helping me connect with the band.

Any minute you will show and I’m wondering where did ya go?

The Impression That I Get

While it’s very uncool to say you like a band’s most successful single, I don’t care. The Impression That I Get remains my favourite song of all time. I adore everything about it. Introduced on the album with the less than subtle “I think we know this f*cking song…”, damn straight it’s a highlight.

I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested.
I’d like to think that if I was I would pass.

Hell of a Hat

As a live album, it’s by default also something of a ‘best of’. I’m going to resist linking them all though, and just point to one more. “Hell of a Hat” is another great track, a song about being nervous around someone carrying a gun. I can only imagine the extra poignancy the lyrics have in America.

The gear you wear seems complete
Why you gotta pack the heat

Relationship with the album

Live albums are funny things. Some of the MTV Unplugged albums are really good, and those offerings from Placebo, Nirvana and Jay-Z are personal favourites. They could have conceivably made this list. Broadly though, I usually prefer a studio recording.

Live from the Middle East managed to convey the energy and personality of the Mighty Mighty BossTones, to a teenage me in the UK. It was still a long time before YouTube was established, so it wasn’t easy to see much of the band here, despite their evident popularity in the USA. While I have picked up the rest of their albums in the years since, this remains my favourite. It is timeless.

Mighty Mighty BossTones

If you were paying attention during the Placebo post, Mighty Mighty BossTones are the answer to the question raised there; “Who is your other favourite band?” Every other band or artist in this list I can point to a person who either influenced my discovery, or at least discovered them at the same time as me. The Mighty Mighty BossTones is the only one where not only did I get into them off my own back, but no one else has ever really shown much interest at all.

Generally (not always) if I mention the Mighty Mighty BossTones being my favourite band to people, I usually have to include a short explanation of who they are. The one major exception to this was on a visit to Charlottesville, Virginia to see a friend. Discussing music with some of his local friends in the bar, I mentioned my love for the BossTones, and they were also passionate fans. I think at least one of them was from Boston though, which goes someway towards explanation.

Unlike the last two artists, I’ve never seen the Mighty Mighty BossTones live. That is due to change this year though, as I have tickets for their gig in London in June. Hurrah!

Other albums and songs

The Magic of Youth – “Like a Shotgun”

The Magic of Youth is the only album I’ve ever been gifted via iTunes.

After chatting about music with a date who had also never heard of the BossTones, they went away and looked them up. This album had been released only a short time before, and I hadn’t even noticed. She gifted it to me, taking a chance I hadn’t got it already. Like a Shotgun was the single released from this album, and classic BossTones.

You were us and I was only me
And you were only waiting patiently

Enter Sandman

As an unashamed fan of Glee,I’m no stranger to an ill-advised cover. I’m no Metallica super-fan, but I recognise the classic status of some of their output. Enter Sandman is one of the biggest of those, and not the sort of song you’d want to cover lightly.

I think the BossTones do a great job though, and Dicky Barrett’s voice is one of few that I think could really do it justice. One of my favourite covers.

Conclusion

As per my initial post, all these albums are ones I return to often. I regularly just ‘throw on some BossTones’. Generally that means either hitting shuffle on the full discography, or it’s replaying Live From The Middle East in its entirety. If you’ll excuse me I’m just off to do the latter. It is perfect.

Glasvegas

Glasvegas – Perfect Album #2

Onto the second album in my list, and it’s Glasvegas’s self-titled debut album. As always, if you missed my original post, please check out “ten perfect albums” first.

Discovery

I’m not entirely sure quite when I discovered Glasvegas. It’s possible it started just with hearing their first chart single, “Geraldine” on the radio. However it really took hold when I found I shared a love for the band with my boss at the time, a man who otherwise has dubious taste in both music and football.

I think for ages I only had a downloaded copy of the album, but later picked up a second hand CD to make me feel better. Glasvegas are more ‘indie’ than I usually get into, but something about their sound stood out to me.

Standout songs

Predictable as you like, but Geraldine remains a firm favourite. I’d never heard anything like it before, and pretty much haven’t since. Hands down the best song I know about a social worker.

When you say that I’m no good and you feel like walking
I need to make sure you know that’s just the Prescription talking

Headline for the album is probably the heart-wrenching “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry”. The song climbs as the vocals spiral in despair, sure it’s depressing as hell, but it’s impossible not to sing along.

The end was always coming and now it’s here

As the first track on the album, Flowers & Football Tops sets the scene for the whole thing. The euphoric sound, the distinctive Scottish vocals, it quickly establishes tone. The song is also brutally sad once the lyrics sink in.

It’s perhaps more subtle than The Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma” but I can’t help but draw a parallel. I remember being pretty young when my sister Heather would describe parties in the 80s where everyone would sit around listening to the Smiths, feeling awful. Yet would likely all describe what a great time they’d had when discussing it later. I think I get it.

Flowers and football tops
Don’t mean a thing.

Relationship with the album

This album was instrumental in my finally getting round to putting this list together. As I mentioned in my Placebo post, I’ve been keeping an eye out for gigs from my favourite artists. Last year Glasvegas toured a 10th anniversary of this album, and came to Brighton. I got tickets and dragged my friend Sam along. (He’s not a huge fan, but has sung Daddy’s Gone with me on SingStar numerous times…)

They played the album live in its entirety. It was an amazing set, incredible to hear the whole piece live. Before the gig I outlined my idea for this list to Sam, and we continued the discussion into the night afterwards. I committed then to putting my list down and blogging about it. I’m still interested to also hear his list, although his first draft was Slayer’s “Reign in Blood”, ten times. So we’ll see.

Glasvegas also re-released the album on vinyl to celebrate its tenth anniversary. I couldn’t resist picking it up at the gig.

Glasvegas vinyl
Yes, apparently I now buy vinyl

Glasvegas

In many ways I’m the worst kind of Glasvegas fan. The follow-up albums passed me by, as they sadly did with most people. I do enjoy tracks from “EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\” but listening to it mostly just sends me back here. They did however release the incredible EP “A Snowflake Fell (And it Felt Like a Kiss) shortly after the album debut. I discovered that late too, but it has become essential festive listening.

As snow fell from heavens above
Directionless no more, Emptiness no more

Those of you who have followed me on Twitter for a while will also recognise the photo below. Although I changed it recently, it was my avatar on there for years. Pretty sure I’m still using it in some places, despite the photo being almost 10 years old. I was very pleased to discover the T-Shirt still fit when I dug it out for the gig.

Glasvegas, it me
It me

Conclusion

This isn’t the only indie album to make the top ten, but it is the only one that I’d describe as actively bleak. (Potential spoiler that there won’t be any Radiohead coming up…) Glasvegas are not alone in struggling to follow up an incredibly successful first album. I’m sure many would describe them as a ‘one album wonder’. For me, it wouldn’t matter if they had never released anything else. I consider this album, “Glasvegas”, perfect.

Ten Perfect Albums #1

Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing – Perfect Album #1

First off, the order I’m publishing the posts in does not represent any sort of ranking. Mostly I’ve just organised my list to try and avoid grouping similar artists or sounds together. Thought I’d use photos of my own copy of each album as I go too, so some may be a bit worse for wear. Also, if you missed my original post setting out the context for this list, please read “Ten Perfect Albums“.

Discovery

I imagine a few people discovered Placebo around 1999, thanks to the success of Dangerous Liaison’s remake, Cruel Intentions. Personally, while I was certainly aware of them before that, it was their presence on the Cruel Intentions soundtrack that really got to me.

I had the soundtrack on a dubious CDR of MP3 albums, and it was on the strength of this that I ordered Placebo’s “Without You I’m Nothing” released the previous year. Amusingly, I also bought it in the most 90s way possible, via the Britannia Music Club. Placebo have gone on to become my joint favourite band, and while I love all their music, this is the album I consider (by my own definition) perfect.

Standout Songs

Pure Morning and Every You Every Me are obvious choices as they were such iconic singles and are rightly deserving of praise. However the song that I’d point to as a personal highlight is Allergic (To Thoughts of Mother Earth). The energy to the track is something of a turning point for the album, following the haunting title track, Without You I’m Nothing.

“The light divining, the light defining, the light divining, the light dividing.”

The song, Without You I’m Nothing, is excellent, and I do adore it as part of the album. However, if you’re going to just listen to it in isolation, you’ve got to choose the single release featuring the late, great, David Bowie.

“You’ve never seen the lonely me at all.”

Relationship with the album

The majority of my musical preferences formed before the mid-nineties, can be traced back to/blamed on my older sisters and my brother-in-laws. Some of those influences will crop up in this list, but by 1999 I was finding my own way more and more.

Growing up, I used to fight quite a bit with Helen, the youngest of my sisters. I think because we were closest in age, and my being 4 years younger I was probably just annoying and uncool to have around. These days I aspire to be less annoying, but suspect that I am no cooler. However by the time I finished high school, we did start to become much closer. This was when we discovered we did have some overlap in our musical tastes, and Placebo was one of those we had in common.

“Without You I’m Nothing” not only takes me back to my college years, and the music I was just starting to get into then, but just as much it takes me home. Takes me to a time when our other sisters had moved out and Helen and I had discovered such shared interests as ‘walking to the pub on a Sunday evening’.

Placebo

There are some vocalists that are instantly recognisable, and while Placebo certainly have a distinctive overall sound, it’s Brian Molko’s incredible voice that really sets them apart.

As I mentioned above, Placebo are my joint favourite band, along with another that’ll crop up on a later post in this series. While I’ve historically been terrible at seeing any of the bands or artists that I love live, I managed to finally change that in 2016 when Placebo came to Brighton on their 20 years of Placebo tour. They were superb, and it was everything I’d hoped for.

Before that I’d been to plenty of gigs, but always those suggested by other people. This has involved much more drum & bass and dub-step than is probably good for me. I have now turned this round, and ever since seeing Placebo have been gradually ticking other bands off my bucket list.

Other albums and songs

I know a number of people who regard Placebo’s self-titled first album as their best. I wouldn’t really contest this, as it is excellent. For the purposes of my own criteria though, it doesn’t quite hit ‘perfect’. Without You I’m Nothing is the album I come back to again and again. One of my lecturers in college was a strong advocate for their first album, and she was keen to lend me her CD so I could be convinced. I think this is the copy I still have at home. Sorry Jo.

I have found something to love on every Placebo album since, with 2013’s Loud Like Love being another favourite. I adore “Too Many Friends” from this album, and hearing it played live was very much a highlight of the gig in Brighton.

“My computer thinks I’m gay.”

Conclusion

From what I’ve read, even the band don’t rate this album as highly as I do. When I decided to make this list, Without You I’m Nothing was one of the first to claim a place. It is perfect.