The Not-So-Awkward Teens
IN THIS PHOTO: Björk captured in 2004/PHOTO CREDIT: Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones
A Dozen Brilliant Albums Turning Fifteen in 2019
I will do another couple of pieces that look at albums...
IN THIS PHOTO: The Libertines in 2004/PHOTO CREDIT: Dean Chalkley/NME
celebrating big anniversaries – I am keen to look at those released in 1984 and 1974 – but, for now, I will at the albums turning fifteen this year. It is that stage in life (fifteen) when you are still at school and learning so much; maybe nervous regarding the future but on the way to becoming an album. In musical terms, it is quite a long time but it is good to have a look at these twelve albums below and see how they have aged and the impact they made. I was in university (just) in 2004 and it was a great year when it came to discovering new music. I left that September but I remember a lot of the best records that year and I still have many in my collection. I think it is worth marking any album that has a big anniversary and these L.P.s are no exception. Maybe you are experiencing them for the first time or heard them when they came out – amazed that it was that long ago! I will go back and investigate great records from 1974 and 1984 but, right now, here are twelve exceptional albums that wowed the music world...
IN THIS PHOTO: Arcade Fire photoed in 2004/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
BACK in 2004.
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify
The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come for Free
Release Date: 17th May, 2004
Labels: Locked On/679
Producer: Mike Skinner
“By stressing his paranoia and doubts ("It's hard enough to remember my opinions, never mind the reasons for them," he blubbers as he loses a domestic dispute), he deftly avoids the melodrama of today's network reality TV. Instead, his approach echoes the faux reality of The Office (which shares a non-ending ending with A Grand) and the me-first neediness of its "star" David Brent (whose final-episode self-actualization echoes Skinner's). Like The Office, Skinner's anthropological humanism typically focuses on either the mundane or disappointing-- and, let's face it, life is most often one or the other--- but he does so with such endearing intimacy and bare honesty that it's easy to give yourself over to the album's narrative on first listen and, perhaps just as importantly, to want to revisit it over and over again” – Pitchfork
Standout Cut: Dry Your Eyes
Stream/Download: It Was Supposed to Be So Easy/Blinded by the Lights/Fit But You Know It
Kanye West – The College Dropout
Release Date: 10th February, 2004
Labels: Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella
“Even though those with their ears to the street knew West could excel as an MC, he has used this album as an opportunity to prove his less-known skills to a wider audience. One of the most poignant moments is on "All Falls Down," where the self-effacing West examines self-consciousness in the context of his community: "Rollies and Pashas done drive me crazy/I can't even pronounce nothing, yo pass the Versacey/Then I spent 400 bucks on this just to be like 'N*gga you ain't up on this'." If the notion that the album runs much deeper than the singles isn't enough, there's something of a surprising bonus: rather puzzlingly, a slightly adjusted mix of "Slow Jamz" -- a side-splitting ode to legends of baby-making soul that originally appeared on Twista's Kamikaze, just before that MC received his own Roc-a-Fella chain -- also appears. Prior to this album, we were more than aware that West's stature as a producer was undeniable; now we know that he's also a remarkably versatile lyricist and a valuable MC” – AllMusic
Standout Cut: All Falls Down
Stream/Download: Jesus Walks/The New Workout Plan/Slow Jamz
Devendra Banhart – Rejoicing in the Hands
Release Date: 24th April, 2004
Label: Young God
Producers: Devendra Banhart/Michael Gira
“Rejoicing in the Hands establishes Banhart as a major voice in new folk music. Not only does it improve on the promise of his earlier releases; it effortlessly removes the listener from the context of the recording. That is, it doesn't seem like an album so much as a collection of road hymns and journals, and small tributes to smaller pleasures. If some people miss the appeal of this stuff in an attempt to digest it as any other product, all the better knowing Banhart will probably keep on rejoicing until forever” – Pitchfork
Standout Cut: This is the Way
Stream/Download: The Body Breaks/Will Is My Friend/See Saw
Green Day – American Idiot
Release Date: 20th September, 2004
Producers: Rob Cavallo/Green Day
“...All of which should make anyone want to hole up with an Ramones album. But Green Day — namely, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong — make the journey entertaining enough. At various times, American Idiot evokes football-game chants, ’50s greaser rock, military marches, classic rock (hints of ”Strawberry Fields Forever” and ”All the Young Dudes”), and the band’s own past (”Wake Me Up When September Ends,” an elegiac bookend to their own ”Good Riddance [Time of Your Life]”). As often happens with concept albums, the disc tends to rely on lyrics over music, so some of the songs are forgettable. But Green Day are now slinging mud not at their audience but at America’s pumped-up militaryindustrial complex — where ”a flag [is] wrapped around a score of men” and war rages ”from Anaheim to the Middle East” — without losing their bratty humor or power chords” – Entertainment Weekly
Standout Cut: American Idiot
Stream/Download: Holiday/Boulevard of Broken Dreams; Give Me Novocaine/She’s a Rebel; Wake Me Up When September Ends
Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
Release Date: 27th April, 2004 (U.S.)
Producer: Jack White
“Each song is sung by Lynn's untarnished voice. She has somehow managed to maintain her gorgeous vocal cords through the years, sounding as youthful as ever.
The musical accompaniment here really pushes the songs to great heights. Whether it's the slight airiness around one of Jack's guitar riffs, a crisp crack of a snare, or the sudden emergence of slide guitar, the additional instruments provide a complimentary boost. Jack's production techniques sound both aged and modern; a fine balancing act that does Loretta's solid songs much justice. Without White's assistance, these immaculate tunes may have not gotten the exposure they certainly deserve. Van Lear Rose owes its greatness to timing and well-bred songwriting” – Tiny Mix Tapes
Standout Cut: Family Tree
Stream/Download: Portland, Oregon/Have Mercy/This Old House
Arcade Fire – Funeral
Release Date: 14th September, 2004
Producer: Arcade Fire
““Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” captures 24-year-old Butler’s obsession with innocence and his fantastical way of exploring it. A blizzard covers the suburbs, burying the parents, and two young lovers meet to start the world over again. Snow is a symbol for death and renewal. Blackouts play a similar role in the gentle, New Wave–tinged “Une année sans lumière.” Chassagne — who sings one of the album’s best songs, the nostalgic “Haiti,” and its worst, the precious “In the Backseat” — shares his preoccupations.
As the parentheses and French title suggest, this youth movement is more pretentious than, say, blink-182’s. But while Butler’s lyrics can feel overwrought, his desperate yelp and cracked croon add patina and grit to the purple. And the music — whether danceable, bittersweet, stately or avalanching — reveals added nuance with every listen. Which is to say, it ages gracefully” – Blender
Standout Cut: Rebellion (Lies)
Stream/Download: Neighborhood #2 (Laika)/Haiti/In the Backseat
The Libertines – The Libertines
Release Date: 30th August, 2004
Label: Rough Trade
Producer: Mick Jones
“Despite conflict being writ large over the album, the only actual fight occurred during the recording of'Music When The Lights Go Out', a beautiful acoustic strum. Elsewhere, the songs not explicitly dealing with Pete'n' Carl's relationship are even better.'Campaign Of Hate', 'The Ha Ha Wall' and 'Narcissist' are La's-inspired Libland anthems superior to anything on the debut. Meanwhile 'What Katie Did' and 'Don't Be Shy' display a new-found tenderness.
But it's 'The Man Who Would Be King' that's perhaps the album's greatest achievement. Displaying the best "la la la"s since [a][/a] first flexed his larynx for'This Charming Man', it then dissolves through a haze of trumpets into a waltz as deliciously hazy as [a][/a]''Golden Brown'.
'The Libertines' even manages a little social commentary. The 73-second punk thrash 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (translation: 'Work Liberates') takes its title from the sign above the gates of the Auschwitz camp where millions of Jews were gassed. Ladling it on thickly, its payoff comes from a British soldier who fought the Nazis but doesn't like "blacks or queers".
Finally, there's'France', a fragile lament sung by a weezing Carl to a former French girlfriend. After the fighting, it's a moment of beauty, like sunshine after a storm: a reminder of what Libertines are. And what they could still be.
Whatever happens, this an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime album, proving Libertines are both the stuff of revolution and aesthetic princelings among the (very) lumpen indie proletariat. We won't see their like again” – NME
Standout Cut: Can’t Stand Me Now
Stream/Download: Last Post on the Bugle/Music When the Lights Go Out/What Katie Did
Björk – Medúlla
Release Date: 30th August, 2004
Labels: One Little Indian/Elektra
Producers: Björk/Mark Bell
“Björk began recording the album with those darned old instruments before her au naturel epiphany, but only a couple of tracks belie their origins as conventional pop songs. Most easily digestible is the peppy, nearly hip-hop-flavored ”Triumph of a Heart” tucked away at disc’s end, as if a reward for making it through the more challenging passages. Leading up to that, you get a few sinister-sounding examinations of human behavior whose growling, gulping, or moaning will alienate some ears. ”Submarine” has guest Robert Wyatt warbling for help in queasy falsetto, sounding like Carl Wilson trapped under ice. Her strikingly beautiful Olympics song, ”Oceania,” is more rapturously aquatic, the computer-enhanced choir behind Björk suggesting a cosmic harem of pleased dolphins. Here she imagines herself as the sea itself, proud of all the belegged creatures she’s spit out onto land over the last hundred million years. It’s the nearest evolutionists have come to having their own gospel tune.
Björk has said a guiding rule for the album was ”not to sound like the Manhattan Transfer or Bobby McFerrin.” Well, duh — but if that was hardly a danger, there was every likelihood that the album’s synths-for-larynxes quid pro quo would be remembered as a stunt, at best, instead of one of her best efforts. To anyone approaching Medúlla with that apprehension, we offer these four words: Don’t worry, be happy” – Entertainment Weekly
Standout Cut: Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)
Stream/Download: Pleasure Is All Mine/Oceania/Triumph of a Heart
Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
Release Date: 9th February, 2004
Producers: Franz Ferdinand/Tore Johansson
“On the rare occasions that an alt-rock artist dabbles with sexual ambiguity in their lyrics, they either start carrying on as if they personally invented the concept of homosexuality and deserve some sort of medal - see electro-rapper Peaches - or else, like Suede, they overdo the mincing and end up sounding ridiculous, like John Inman visiting an indie disco. Michael does neither, settling for an intriguing combination of sly humour and bug-eyed lust, as if the song's central character started camping it up for a laugh and ended up in rather deeper water than he had anticipated.
You simply don't get songs like Michael very often in current rock music. It's symptomatic of the originality that makes Franz Ferdinand so intriguing. Their debut album pulls off a fine balancing act: clever without sounding pretentious, idiosyncratic but easy to get along with, a shift away from post-Britpop traditionalism that still recognises the importance of writing great pop songs. You can only hope their success continues long after the madness of the January charts has subsided. Listening to their debut album, that seems a fairly safe bet” – The Guardian
Standout Cut: Take Me Out
Stream/Download: Tell Her Tonight/The Dark of the Matinée/Michael
Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill
Release Date: 18th October, 2004
Labels: ANTI-/Domino (U.K. and Europe)
Producers: Elliott Smith/Rob Schnapf/Joanna Bolme
“Perhaps it's not "the next White Album," which is what McConnell claims it could have been, but it has a similarly freewheeling spirit, bouncing from sweet pop to fingerpicked acoustic guitars to fuzzy neo-psychedelic washes of sound. It's not far removed from Smith's previous work, but it feels like a step forward from the fussy Figure 8 and more intimate than XO. The most surprising twist is that despite the occasional lyrics that seem to telegraph his death (particularly on "A Fond Farewell"), it's not a crushingly heavy album. Like the best of his music, From a Basement on the Hill is comforting in its sadness; it's empathetic, not alienating. Given Smith's tragic fate, it also sadly seems like a summation of his work. All of his trademarks are here -- his soft, sad voice, a fixation on '60s pop, a warm sense of melancholy -- delivered in a strong set of songs that stands among his best. It may or may not be exactly what Elliott Smith intended these recording sessions to be, but as it stands, From a Basement on the Hill is a fond farewell to a singer/songwriter who many indie rockers of the '90s considered a friend” – AllMusic
Standout Cut: Pretty (Ugly Before)
Stream/Download: Don’t Go Down/Twilight/Shooting Star
Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson Presents Smile
Release Date: 28th September, 2004
Producer: Brian Wilson
“Here, then, is a faithfully remade version of that celestial undertaking, minus the Beach Boys, of course, and no longer clothed in the warm glow of analogue recording technology, but mind-blowing all the same. From the opening a capella harmonies of 'Our Prayer/Gee' to the closing chords of 'Good Vibrations', it unfolds in its original, and never before complete, sequence as a thing of rare beauty and cumulative power.
Like 'Surf's Up', the song that ends the album's second movement, the seldom heard 'Roll Plymouth Rock' is another of Parks's elliptical lyrics, though more instantly recognisable as a signature Beach Boys song than almost anything else here. 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow', originally titled 'Mrs O'Leary's Fire', may well be the 'scary orchestra piece' that Wilson alluded to, still looking disturbed by the memory, when I interviewed him a few years back. It is uneasy listening in every sense, and the only segment that suggests the fragility of his mind back then, and the abyss he fell into thereafter.
The rest is as wondrous and as complex as the claims made on its behalf for all those years, though strangely disconcerting in a kind of Brian Wilson heritage industry way. (Imagine, by way of comparison, McCartney re-recording 'Sgt. Pepper' with George Martin and the best Beatles' tribute band in the world.)
For all that, it raises one of pop's great unanswerable questions: had Brian kept it together back then, where would he have gone from here? God only knows” – The Observer
Standout Cut: Heroes and Villains
Stream/Download: Roll Plymouth Rock/Wonderful/Surf’s Up
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
Release Date: 20th September, 2004
Producer: Nick Launay
“Cave also has a sense of humour (he once penned an open letter insisting that he would not "harness my muse to this tumbrel, this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes", certainly an original way to decline an MTV award), a fact that emerged in No More Shall We Part and becomes even more evident here. Repeatedly, the lyrics make you laugh out loud. His retelling of the myth of Orpheus ends with everyone concerned profoundly unmoved by his lamentations: God ("a major player in Heaven") throws a hammer at him, while Eurydice emerges from the underworld and threatens to shove his lyre up his arse.
There She Goes My Beautiful World picks at the subject of writer's block, snapping disconsolately at other artists' means of finding inspiration: "Gauguin, he buggered off man, and went all tropical." Abattoir Blues is packed with standard apocalyptic Cave imagery, but he sounds most horrified about a visit to Starbucks: "The sky is on fire, the dead are heaped across the land," he moans. "I woke up this morning with a Frappucino in my hand."
You can't really imagine anyone else in rock writing lyrics like that, but then, you really can't imagine anyone else making an album like this. Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus is an entirely unique return to form” – The Guardian
Standout Cut: Nature Boy
Stream/Download: Get Ready for Love/Messiah Ward/Breathless