Interviews by Paul Lester
Friday June 15, 2007
Tupac Shakur All Eyez On Me
Nominated by Mark Ronson, producer
This was Tupac's biggest record, and is seen by rap fans as the greatest latterday hip-hop album. But I've never got the cult of Tupac. Sure, he was in a lot of pain but he never said anything particularly clever - Notorious B.I.G. was far superior. People really related to the emotion in his voice, but it didn't resonate with me. No one would doubt Tupac's "realness" - he was shot nine times, for God's sake, and he began recording this album hours after being released from prison - but it doesn't compare to Biggie. Dr Dre produced it, and I didn't rate his production, either.
Problem was, Tupac was so prolific. He would write 50 songs in a weekend. Maybe he knew he was going to die, so he recorded relentlessly. I bought it at the time because it had one song on it that I'd play in clubs, but one out of 20 isn't great. In fact, there are 27 tracks on it - it started the trend of putting loads of songs on rap albums. Tupac wasn't up there with Dylan - Dylan was a brilliant poet. Eminem is probably the Dylan of rap, whereas Tupac just sounded like he was whining.
Nominated by Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips
It's better to be overrated than underrated. Besides, it's not the musicians' fault Nevermind is overrated - it's the public's, or the critics'. But you don't find yourself ever longing to listen to it, because there were - still are, in fact - so many mediocre bands that sound like it, that you're constantly experiencing it. I never get out Nevermind and think: what great production, what great songs. Nevermind had a poisonous, pernicious influence. It legitimised suffering. The sainthood of Kurt Cobain overshadows the album: Kurt's lyrics, his attitudinising and navel-gazing, were hard to separate from the band's image. You can never just hear the record. For me, Bleach and In Utero are superior. Even the album cover seems cheap: that stupid dollar bill just seems to have been airbrushed in there. If Alice in Chains had done it, we'd have thought it was a joke, but because it was Nirvana we thought it was oh-so-clever. If you think you're going to hear an utterly original, powerful and freaky record when you put on Nevermind, as a young kid might, Christ you're going to be disappointed. You're going to think, "Who is this band that sounds just like Nickelback? What are these drug addicts going on about?"
The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
Nominated by Luke Pritchard of the Kooks
Of all the albums that get written about as "classics", this one least deserves it. Having said that, it contains one of the greatest songs ever written: God Only Knows, which is melancholic yet uplifting, pure yet fucked-up. But the rest of the record is a total let-down - I felt that way from the very first listen. Pet Sounds is a million miles away from Sgt Pepper or Dark Side of the Moon. I do appreciate the lyrics, and I know it's an album about getting older, but as a concept album, it doesn't quite add up. Good tunes, yes - Wouldn't It Be Nice is a great pop song - but most of the other tracks just don't resonate for me. I apologise unreservedly to everyone who loves every word and note, every last crackle, on this album, but that's how it is. Oh, and it's got the worst sleeve of any major album, ever. Feeding time at the zoo? I don't think so.
The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
Nominated by Eddie Argos of Art Brut
They're totally overrated. Plus they covered Scarborough Fair. I don't understand why people still play their music in nightclubs - it makes me really angry. When I'm drunk in a club I usually end up arguing with the DJ who's playing them. The Stone Roses were an awful, awful band. They were uncharismatic, their lyrics are nonsensical and their music is dreary. Also, we have them to thank for Oasis, although at least Noel Gallagher is funny and Liam is a bit of a pop star. The Roses make me think of kids older than me swaggering around with bowl haircuts and affecting Manchester accents. It makes my skin crawl. And all their fans are so smug: "Oh, you don't understand it." I do understand it! It's ridiculous that it regularly gets voted in at the top of those "greatest British album ever" polls. They spawned a new thug-boy pop culture.
The Strokes, Is This It
Nominated by Ian Williams of Battles
The Strokes were just rich kids from uptown New York; the children of the heads of supermodel agencies who formed a rock band and thought they deserved respect because of that. Suddenly the downtown, older form of punk rock got co-opted by the system. If ever there was a point where Gucci and rebellion were married together, it was right there. The Strokes have, basically, been responsible for five or six years of a new form of hair metal, in the guise of something more tasteful. Their music is post-9/11 party music because it came out that week and everybody wanted to dance. They're seen as the rebirth of rock in the UK - but it's a very conservative, old-fashioned idea of rock for the 21st century. As for their punk credentials, I'm not going to say anyone's more authentic than anyone else ... But the Strokes are the new Duran Duran; the new decadence for the new millennium.
Television, Marquee Moon
Nominated by Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand
People expect us to love Television the way they think we love Gang of Four and were influenced by them - but we don't and we weren't! Marquee Moon is one of those records that I thought I loved, but it was only after a few years I realised I didn't love the album, just the first 10 bars of the title track, which are pretty astonishing. Those guitars that play off each other and the way the instruments go into wonderful places and the guitars are totally insane and that big cascade of drums - it's incredible. Then your attention wanders. You know when a boring guy is explaining to you the technical spec of a car, the fuel injection system and the leather seats, and his voice becomes so much background noise? Once I took the needle off this record, I realised I hadn't heard it at all. But what annoys me is the way people pontificate over the album; it's one of those staples of student halls of residence. People wax lyrical about it, but the reason it's so popular is because it's a prog rock album its okay to like. Because the words "punk" and "New York" and "1977" are associated with it, it's deemed cool. Really, though, they're a band who give guys who like 20-minute guitar solos an excuse. They were the Grateful Dead of punk, and I always hated all that jam-band stuff. They have the ethos of a jam-band but the aesthetic of a New York outfit. If anything, the Strokes took the look of Television, the aesthetic - and the Converse sneakers - and ignored the jam-band aspect. They took those first 10 bars of Marquee Moon and did something great with it! Tom Verlaine's lyrics didn't have much impact on me. I'm always uneasy when singers in bands profess to be poets - they can veer into pomposity and pretentiousness. But I've got to be careful: I once said something about Jim Morrison and the Doors, about their pseudo-poetry, and immediately all these articles on the internet appeared saying, "Kapranos slams Morrison!" I'm not slamming Television - I respect them. But Marquee Moon is an album I admire more than enjoy.
The Beatles, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Nominated by Billy Childish, prime mover of British garage rock
I was a big Beatles fan - I had a Beatles wig and Beatles guitar when I was four - so I know what I'm talking about, but Sgt Pepper signalled the death of rock'n'roll. Rock'n'roll is meant to be full of vitality and energy, and this album isn't. It sounds like it took six months to shit out. The Beatles were the victims of their success. This is middle-of-the-road rock music for plumbers. Or people who drive round in Citroens - the sort of corporate hippies who ruined rock music. I bought it the day it came out: it was ideal for a seven-year-old. These days, well, it's my contention that it represents the death of the Beatles as a rock'n'roll band and the birth of them as music hall, which is hardly a victory. The main problem with Sgt Pepper is Sir Paul's maudlin obsession with his own self-importance and Dickensian misery. (Paul McCartney is the dark one in the Beatles, not John Lennon, because he writes such depressing, scary music.) It's like a Sunday before school that goes on forever. It's too dark and twisted for anyone with any light in their life. Then again, when he tries to be upbeat, it rings false - like having a clown in the room. The best thing about the album was the cardboard insert with some medals, a badge and a moustache. But the military jackets they wore on the front made them look like a bunch of grammar-school boys dressed by their mummy. When I was in Thee Mighty Caesars we did a rip-off of the sleeve for an album called John Lennon's Corpse Revisited, featuring the Beatles' heads on stakes. This isn't the greatest album ever made; in fact, it's the worst Beatles album up to that point. Live at the Star Club trounces it with ease.
Nominated by Siobhan Donaghy, former Sugababe turned solo artist
I love the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach, all those great pop melody-writers, but there's something about Abba that I hate. Maybe it's going to parties with shit DJs for most of my childhood that has made me hate them. Abba were forced on people from my generation, so there's a natural resentment towards them. Through my mum I discovered Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, and if I'd done that with Abba maybe I'd have appreciated their brilliant pop songs. On Arrival, the particularly annoying songs are Dancing Queen, Knowing, Me Knowing You and Money, Money, Money. And if we're talking about the reissue, you can add Fernando. Nick Hornby may well say they're part of the canon now, but I still don't have to listen to them. Yes, they wrote some of the catchiest melodies of all time. But then, The Birdie Song is catchy, too.
Arcade Fire The Neon Bible
Nominated by Green Gartside of Scritti Politti
People who enjoy this album may think I'm cloth-eared and unperceptive, and I accept it's the result of my personal shortcomings, but what I hear in Arcade Fire is an agglomeration of mannerisms, cliches and devices. I find it solidly unattractive, texturally nasty, a bit harmonically and melodically dull, bombastic and melodramatic, and the rhythms are pedestrian. It's monotonous in its textures and in the old-fashioned, nasty, clunky 80s rhythms and eighth-note basslines. It isn't, as people are suggesting, richly rewarding and inventive. The melodies stick too closely to the chord changes. Win Butler's voice uses certain stylistic devices - it goes wobbly and shouty, then whispery - and I guess people like wobbly and shouty going to whispery, they think it signifies real feeling. It's some people's idea of unmediated emotion. I can imagine Jeremy Clarkson liking it; it's for people in cars. It's rather flat and unlovely. The album and the response to it represent a bunch of beliefs about expression and truth that I don't share. The battle against unreconstructed rock music continues.
Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon
Nominated by Tjinder Singh of Cornershop
This album is a sort of lab experiment, put together by scarf-wearing university types. There's a certain irony in a song like Money that takes pot-shots at greedy corporations, when this album made so much money. There's also irony in these super-wealthy elite prog musicians positing themselves against The Man, having a go at the machine. The light shows, all the technology and white-coated technicians at their disposal, make them very much part of the machine. I appreciated the early stuff Pink Floyd did with Joe Boyd, but this is a bloated concept album that made punk necessary. It says, "What a crazy world it is!" and "Everyone's demented!" It's meant to be imbued with the spirit of Syd Barrett, God rest his soul. I'm amazed that it's up there in the pantheon, because I can't see any virtue in it whatsoever. Lyrically, it's banal and doesn't say anything beyond "greed is bad". Radiohead are the 21st-century Floyd, which says it all really.
The Doors LA Woman
Nominated by Craig Finn of the Hold Steady
In America when you're growing up, you're subjected to the Doors as soon as you start going to parties and smoking weed. People think of Jim Morrison as a brilliant rock'n'roll poet, but to me it's unlistenable. The music meanders, and Morrison was more like a drunk asshole than an intelligent poet. The worst of the worst is the last song, Riders on the Storm: "There's a killer on the road/ His brain is squirming like a toad" - that's surely the worst line in rock'n'roll history. He gave the green light to generations of pseuds. A lot of people told him he was a genius, so he started to believe it. The Velvets did nihilism and darkness so much better - they were so much more understated; what they did had subtlety, whereas the Doors had little or none: they were a caricature of "the dark side". I actually like Los Angeles, but the Doors represent the city at its most fat, bloated and excessive. Morrison's death does give rock some mythic kudos, but that doesn't make me want to listen to the music. In fact, if it comes on the radio, I change the station.
The Smiths Meat Is Murder
Nominated by Jackie McKeown of 1990s
I'm a Smiths fan and I like most of their records, but this is the weakest link in the canon. With the debut and The Queen Is Dead, you could cut up Morrissey's lyrics and they could be pages from the same book. For Meat Is Murder, he seemed to make a list of topics to write about. It was a protest album, which defeats the idea of Morrissey as romantic. The cool-guy cover with Meat Is Murder written on his helmet rams it down your throat. The title track is offensive, not least because of the loud, gated drums and 80s production that you get on Huey Lewis and the News records. Morrissey was obviously suffering from a loss of nerve or lack of faith when he wrote these songs. It took him years to write the first album in his bedroom. By the second album, he started panicking and pointing fingers at teachers at school and thinking up things like, "Oh, meat is murder and, oh, we're going to get attacked by thugs in Rusholme." Barbarism Begins at Home is where the Smiths betray their jazz-funk session-guy roots; it's absolutely treacherous to listen to, even if it was brilliant fun to record. You can just see the rolled-up jacket sleeves. It's everything Morrissey hated. Meat Is Murder is Red Wedge music for sexless students. It's like being stuck in a lift with a Manchester University Socialist Workers' Party convention.
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band Trout Mask Replica
Nominated by Peter Hook, ex-New Order and Joy Division
Steve Morris, New Order's drummer, was a great fan of his, but Beefheart was one of those things I found unlistenably boring. I desperately wanted to like it because Steve loved it so much, but I had to admit defeat. Ian Curtis found it easier to convert us to the Doors, put it that way. Trout Mask wasn't a work of untutored genius, it was untutored crap. When you're beginning as a musician, people try to educate you with music like this, but I never understood the allure of Captain Beefheart. I certainly didn't last all four sides. There are very few records I gave up on, apart from Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music and Trout Mask Replica. It sounded like somebody taking the piss. But then, I've never been a great fan of jazz, and this erred on the selfish side of jazz. It sounds like you feel when you've taken the wrong drugs, like going to your mate's dope party on speed. I'd listen to it with my head in my hands. Trout Mask was highly regarded by post-punk bands because of its idiosyncratic approach to rhythm and song construction - but those bands were full of shit, weren't they? I wouldn't have put it at the front of my record pile to impress people; it would have been at the back with my Alvin Stardust and Bay City Rollers records that they sent me from the record club I belonged to at the time. These days, I would rather listen to the Bay City Rollers than Beefheart.
What kind of heathen dislikes the Velvet Underground and Nico?
Novelist and music lover Ian Rankin gives his reasons
This is a sacred cow but that doesn't mean it can't be turned into hamburger. You can start before you even listen to the music. The front of the album bears the name Andy Warhol and a yellow banana - there's no mention of the band whatsoever. The back of the album says it was produced by Andy Warhol alongside the Velvets, so straight away I'm annoyed. It's one of the worst-produced albums of all time - put it on a modern hi-fi and you'll think: this sounds like shit. It's muddy, the volume comes and goes, the guitars are all out of tune, as is the viola. John Cale is one of the great Welshmen, but the viola on Venus In Furs sounds like a Tom and Jerry sound effect. And Nico's voice is flat throughout - she sings English the way I sing German. Talk about looks being everything: she was a supermodel trying to sing in a rock band, but she couldn't sing - she gave good dirge.
It all flags up that the Velvet Underground were just part of Warhol's circus, his Factory; just another product. Once you start thinking about the Velvets being part of that, the notion of them waiting around for the man is ludicrous. As far as introducing the idea of nihilism to rock, the first Doors album, which came out the same year, was far better produced, far darker, and more nihilistic. Ditto the first Mothers of Invention album. Those two were from the west coast; the Velvets were from New York. And this was New York trying too hard. There's a line in Venus in Furs about "ermine furs adorn imperious". Those are four words that should never appear in a rock song and here they are put together. And the last two tracks are completely unlistenable: The Black Angel's Death Song and European Son, which constitute 11 minutes and one fifth of the album.
Nevertheless, as Brian Eno said, almost no one bought this album but the ones who did put a band together, so it was important - as the beginning of the black raincoat brigade.