Thursday, 24 October 2013

NME 500 Greatest Albums: Five Surprise Positions & Five Albums They Missed


NME released another list, this time it's the greatest 500 albums of all time. Like all lists, they're subjective, and we must respect opinions and such. But by looking at some of their writers choices, it seems like an absolute mockery how this list has been put together. So like most things NME related, we look at it, disagree with some, agree with others, and write about it. The following five albums are in surprise positions, then the latter five are albums NME shockingly missed by poor taste, poor positioning, and pure subjectivity. 



Surprised? #15 - PJ Harvey - Let England Shake


Key lyrics: "The West's asleep. Let England shake,"

There's no disputing the quality and class on PJ Harvey's eight studio album, but to be considered a top 15 contender - nonsense. Let England Shake is a great album, with fantastic lyrics and even better compositions by PJ Harvey's trusted band. She won our song-writer of the year for 2011, and had Let England Shake nominated for an MRD award. Our Best Albums of 2011 list had Let England Shake placed in second behind M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. Placing this album in the top 20, is baffling to me. It's only two years old, probably wont age well, and sits above some very strong albums in the 300s and 400s. Putting Let England Shake in the top 15 is a bold move by NME, they're assessment on female released albums is completely flawed. The top four = Patti Smith > PJ Harvey > Amy Winehouse > Blondie.



Surprised? #63 - Joni Mitchell - Blue


Key lyrics: "Acid, booze, and ass, needles, guns, and grass; Lots of laughs, lots of laughs." 

I'm always shocked to see Joni Mitchell so low down in these lists. Blue is a pinnacle album, not just for the female singer-songwriter, but for folk and folk rock in general. Her use of alternate tunings gave her music an unusual sound, which has never been reciprocated. It also included some of the bravest and bulkiest lyrics heard on a 60s folk album. Now this period is gold, but Mitchell owned it with Blue. Tracks like "California" and "Carey" were delightful songs, uplifting on the ear mixing perfectly with the slower, sadder tracks like "Blue" and "River". Truly an inspirational album that deserves more than being positioned lower than Pulp's Different Class.



Surprised? #21 - Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


Key lyrics: "One hand in the air if you don’t really care, two hands in the air if you don’t really care, it’s like that sometimes I mean ridiculous, it’s like that sometimes the shit’s ridiculous." 

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of the most overrated albums of all time. Even listing this album in the top 500 is wrong, for many reasons. Kanye West isn't a genius, he's not a top song-writer, and the production quality is no way near the quality and impact of underground rappers. It's an average album, at best. Using samples, successfully, maybe a little over the top in places with these samples and guests; but still, using them to good effect. "Power" is a great single, that's the one true comment critics can say about Kanye's fifth album. It's not the work, of a legend, nor a 'greatest' of anything. The hype took this album way over the accepted level of 'good'. The back album tracks are atrocious at times, with some bright sparks. I gave this album a 6.9 when it was initially reviewed, and my opinions that may be disagreed with by a majority of people, still stand.



Surprised? #28 - Amy Winehouse - Back To Black


Key lyrics: "All I can ever be to you, is a darkness that we knew, and this regret I've got accustomed to."

Amy Winehouse's Back To Black, is also a good album. It's doesn’t have the content to be considered a top 100 album, but from a British perspective, could well be within the top 500 albums of all time - could. Her singles touched on versions of old soul classics, and topics British female artists just weren’t inclined to cover at the time. There was a female takeover of the music scene when Winehouse released Back To Black in 2006, but this popularity and constant replaying of "Rehab" brought forward an album with a lacklustre second half. It has little filler as such, but it lacks in originality and direction at times. An album with some poor tracks, should in no way be considered a top 100 album, let alone a top 30. 



Surprised? #1 - The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead


Key lyrics: "Now I know how Joan of Arc felt, as the flames rose to her roman nose, and her Walkman started to melt."

The Smiths, a top band in a period of cheesy pop and bad dance music. Surprised to see it top NME's list? I'm not. NME have idolised Morrissey since the 80s and have been his personal PR since this album was released in 1986. It's not just arse licking though, NME have a point. The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead is a very good album. Every track tells a story, and a good one of that. Perhaps it's shallow in places, but still stands strong enough to be considered one of the greatest albums ever made. This is an album good enough to make the top 50, but not good enough to be in the top 20. There's so much quality and influence in other albums that just knock The Smiths down to where they deserve to be, somewhere between 40 and 50. As usual, NME are placing The Smiths above and beyond the American greats, and as usual, it's eccentric British bullshit perspectives of 'hey we have The Beatles' and you have - The Strokes (#4 on NME's list).



Missed: Nick Drake - Pink Moon


Key lyrics: "I saw it written and I saw it say, pink moon is on its way. And none of you stand so tall, pink moon gonna get you all."

Pink Moon is one of my favourite albums, and by that alone - needs to be in NME's list. They actually included the other two Nick Drake albums Bryter Layter and Five Leaves Left, respectively. Neither album comes close to the emotional, and creativity Pink Moon contains. It's an insult not to include this classic album in their list, an absolute disgrace. The pure simplicity of Drake's guitar puts a severe pressure on the listener to hold back and feel for the unheard song-writer who only received his gratification post-death. And even now, in 2013, Britain’s second biggest music publication are omitting his best work from their top 500 list; to include Arctic Monkeys' mediocre AM instead.



Missed: Belle & Sebastian - Tigermilk


Key lyrics: "The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called The State That I'm In. And so I gave myself to God, there was a pregnant pause before he said okay. Now I spend my days turning tables around in Mark's and Spencer’s, they don't seem to mind"

NME rightfully included Belle & Sebastian's second album If You're Feeling Sinister, however not in the top 100 where it belongs. Belle & Sebastian's debut album Tigermilk also deserves to be in the top 100. It's not as good as the follow-up, but for a debut album recorded on a minimal budget, it's amazing. Truly one of the greatest Scottish albums and the second best Belle & Sebastian album behind If You're Feeling Sinister. NME also included The Boy With The Arab Strap, which is a good album, but in no way better than Tigermilk. It's opening track "The State I Am In" is better than Arab Strap in itself. Song-writing at its best, with tracks like "Expectations" being twee youthful anthems for kids just out of school.



Missed: Led Zeppelin - II


Key lyrics: "Well, it's been 10 years and maybe more since I first set eyes on you. The best years of my life gone by, here I am alone and blue."

Led Zeppelin's sophomore album II really should be included in everyone’s top 500 list. It's a little disrespectful to one of our greatest bands by not including one of their strongest works. Granted, III and IV made the list, but that doesn't mean other Led Zeppelin albums don't deserve to be there. Both II and Physical Graffiti should be within the top 500, regardless of how many Zeppelin albums you should have on a list. The number doesn’t matter because these are great albums - II in particular for "Heartbreaker", "Thank You", and "Moby Dick".



Missed: Red House Painters - Rollercoaster


Key lyrics: "A rare and blistering sun shines down on grace cathedral park. There with you I fear the time when air gets dark, you know I don't spend days like this, caught up in lost times of youth that I miss."

Red House Painters are one of the best artists to emerge from the 80s / 90s sadcore / slowcore movement which never really existed (but it really did!). Their fabulous self-titled sophomore album  is titled Rollercoaster due to its cover. Mark Kozelek may not have the strongest of vocals, but his song-writing both with lyrics and instrumentation are a step above anyone else in the early 90s. The magnificent eight minutes of "Katy Song", and the grizzly distorted "Mistress" pave forward an album of emotionally binding material. "New Jersey" is a great track, with absolutely stunning lyrics: "You're an American girl, red headed, eyes blank, living in a freckle on the face of the world." Rollercoaster would definitely be in the top 100 albums if MRD made a similar list.



Missed: Tim Buckley - Goodbye and Hello


Key lyrics: "The sunshine reminds you of concreted skies, you thought you were flying but you opened your eyes. And you found yourself falling back to yesterday's lies, hello, pleasant street, you know she's back again." 

It’s no secret that I adore Tim Buckley. His latter albums may have slid down the slide a little too fast, but his early work and experimental period deserves all the credit. NME actually included Buckley's Happy Sad in their list, which surprises me to be honest. It's a jazz-folk classic that combines the three great artists of the period, Buckley, Mitchell, and Morrison. Buckley's folk rock period is one fans remember the most. It's where he picked up fans, and women, especially with Hello and Goodbye. His second album features some of his most famous and cherished songs. There's a completely unnatural psychedelic folk track in "I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain", and a ballad with "Once I Was". Buckley then goes on to sing one of his most radio-friendly tracks, "Phantasmagoria In Two". The nine minute self-titled track points towards Buckley's experimental future with albums Lorca and Starsailor. There's an evident lack of production quality in these 10 tracks, but ultimately, the emotion, atmosphere and strength of these combines tracks make for a ground-breaking album and one of my favourites.
~Eddie Gibson


10 More Missed Albums

Frank Zappa - Uncle Meat / Pere Ubu - Modern Dance / Burning Spear - Marcus Garvey / Tim Buckley - Lorca / Red House Painters - Down Colorful Hill / The Magnetic Field - The Charm Of The Highway Strip / Tim Buckley - Starsailor / Spacemen 3 - The Perfect Prescription / Galaxie 500 - On Fire / Sly and the Family Stone - Stand!

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