Thursday, December 09, 2004

2004: Top 40 Albums

Paste magazine wrote recently that it receives 750 new CDs to review every month, and to buy them all would cost you around $10,000. And I think I’m profligate for having bought, or received, 41 discs released this year. Only The Finn Brothers’ mediocre ‘Everyone Is Here’ failed to make the list, while Tift Merritt at number 40 is the only record here I’d unreservedly hold back from recommending.

Why all the verbiage? Because every year I mindlessly compile a list, and the rankings are almost arbitrary. This year I compiled the list, listened to every disc carefully anew, wrote down why I liked it or not, and then I swapped them all about, radically in some cases. Bjork, for example, slumped from a teen position to number 36, and Lambchop slipped a good two dozen places in the course of a week’s aural rumination.

Of course this list fails to take into account the other 8,000 odd CDs that came out in 2004. But as a mental exercise it at least helped me understand what I’m looking for in music, and what I get out of it. Feel free to browse.

40. Tift Merritt – Tambourine
Rocky sound from the young country diva who wowed on her 2002 debut ‘Bramble Rose’. Opener ‘Stray Paper’ is a seller, but second track ‘Wait It Out’ heads for AOR territory without a pedal steel in sight, and that’s where the record stays pretty much for the duration until the penultimate ‘Laid A Highway’. The songs aren’t as strong, and it’s a mystery why a label as good as Lost Highway would allow one of their young hopefuls to drift this way. Unless, for some reason, that’s where she wants to go. “I’ve got to get back in the arms of the man who loves me,” she sings. Sorry luv, but you’ll need to get back on the old acoustic before I’ll allow that to happen. Until then I’m firmly holding Mindy Smith’s hand (see number 7) at the Grand Ole Opry.

39. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
A fair pop record. Successfully evoking early 80s indie-pop while writing a handful of quite storming songs is, by current chart standards, an achievement of sorts. Still, too many non-descript filler songs suggest a limited repertoire and pose the big question: where do they go from here?

38. Dave Kusworth and Tenderhooks – Like ‘Wonderland Avenue’ In A Cold Climate
Former Jacobite and Nikki Sudden collaborator is only worth still investigating if you’re A Fan (at least that’s how I came to own this one), as there’s nothing here he hasn’t done before, and only a few hints of the outstanding ballads he’s composed in the past. Lilting acoustic is what he’s always done best, but here there’s too much self-indulgent guitar licking, faceless drum patterns and lack of variation to pique the listener. ‘Are You The Girl’ and the sweet ‘Tell Me About Your Love’, especially, make an extra effort on the melody front, and ‘Street Imagery’ closes impressively, but otherwise I was just as impressed by the sleeve and disc photography of decaying urban Britain.

37. Lambchop – Awcmon/No Youcmon
If you’ve got enough Lambchop songs to last you a lifetime, there’s probably little need to look into this sprawling double release. While I admire their prodigiousness as much as I love their languid music, the crucial element of surprise has long since fled. There’s material here stamped with their trademark quality, but throw away the superficial instrumentals - which sound like aimless studio jams that could be used as TV theme music - and some childish-sounding, underdeveloped songs like ‘Shang A Dang Dang’, and you’re left with not quite a whole side of worthwhile Lambchop standards. I realised too that I’d mostly listened to the discs as background music, and that far too many of the songs didn’t bear close scrutiny.

36. Tim Booth – Bone
James were a band that seemed to be maligned by critics as much for selling records as anything else, but I couldn’t help loving Tim Booth’s voice and his songs, despite a number of apparently good reasons why this was unacceptable. ‘Bone’ is hardly a reinvention, but if Booth’s your bag then you’ll be happy enough with songs like the title tune, ‘Discover’, ‘Fall In Love’, ‘Down To The Sea’ and ‘Careful What You Say’. Still, unless he explores some radical new musical avenues, it’s hard to see anything but a diminishment into obscurity. He looks so contented with life in the covering booklet’s photos, it could be that’s what he’s after.

35. Bjork – Medulla
It’s significant that Robert Wyatt appears on this album, because a lot of the songs remind me of his wobbly, troubling and stupendously groundbreaking song ‘Born Again Cretin’. I wish the songs on this were half as good. It’s a brave move, alright, to record a batch of latter-day Icelandic madrigals, and at times there are plenty of moments where you think it’s about to pay off. But not enough, and too often the album drifts back into atonal aimlessness. You can’t deal with it in one sitting. It would have been far better as a one- or two-song idea. But at least it’s a musical landmark – the first pop album ever directly influenced by Gesualdo.

34. Jon Langford – All The Fame Of Lofty Deeds
Political neo-cowboypunkabilly fun.

33. Greg Brown – Honey In The Lion’s Head
The deepest growl in North American music belongs to Greg Brown, and whether he’s covering traditional folk ballads, children’s songs (check out the sinister but addictive take on ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’) or his odd self-penned compositions you can’t help but feel warmed, at the same time as watching your back for the bad guy’s bullet. The slack delivery of “Railroad Bill, Railroad Bill/Never worked, never will,” is my favourite song about unemployment ever.

32. Tom Russell – Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs
If the mercurial Lila Downes and the cracking Calexico have created a category for US-Mexican border music, Tom Russell’s joining the club. His only problem is that opening track ‘Tonight We Ride’ is so rodeo-rumbustious that the rest of the album has trouble living up to the standard he’s set. There are a couple of passionately delivered Dylan covers, likewise Woody Guthrie’s ‘East Texas Red’, a jaunty version of ‘El Paso’, and a handful of fine self-penned songs, the best of which are the closing, low-key numbers ‘The Ballad of Edward Abbey’ and ‘Little Blue Horse’. Keynote desert folk music.

31. Leonard Cohen – Dear Heather
As laid back as you might expect from a wise old septuagenarian, maybe just too laid back when you think it’s only a handful of years since he was still writing revelly rousers like ‘Closing Time’ and ‘The Future’. Stick it on late with the lights low and a very special lady (or lad) to dinner…bloody hell, Leonard’s become the New Age Jewish retiree’s answer to Barry White. There are songs in there somewhere, but you may not have the patience to wait for them. You know, just like when you’re behind the pensioner who can’t find her bus pass and you have to resist the urge to push past and go sit with your mate Franz Ferdinand who’s already larking about on the top deck. Just relax. There’s no hurry, says Zenard. Go with the (very slow) flow.

30. Joropo Music – Si soy llanero
Fast and fearless music from the Orinoco plains of Colombia, with mesmerising musicianship from weathered travelling plainsmen I’d the fortune to catch doing two completely different sets at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The vocals, both male and female, are as strong as horses, with some astonishing harp playing, (yes, they carry that thing across the plains) lightningly intricate bandola, and a rhythm section of bass, cuatro guitar and maracas. The best thing to come out of Colombia since Carlos Valderrama.

29. Grant-Lee Phillips – Virginia Creeper
Opens with violin, musette, acoustic guitars and breathy vocals on ‘Mona Lisa’, setting the tone for a strong but low-key outing that grows with every listen. Sometimes it seems a little too smooth, and with these kinds of instruments and folk-country pop songs you wish there could be a few rougher edges, a few more ambitious reaches both vocally and violinically. The several moments of loveliness on songs like ‘Waking Memory’ need a clatter, a scratch and a screech to complement the annoyingly flawless production. Or maybe that’s criticism for criticism’s sake, because it’s still a fine collection.

28. Elvis Costello and the Impostors – The Delivery Man
Lifetime Achievement In Songwriting Award No. 3. Costello’s voice wore me out years ago, and I half wish I didn’t have to listen to his new albums any more. I more than half wish that he would let Lucinda Williams, who accompanies him here on ‘There’s A Story In Your Voice’, sing the whole record. ‘The Judgment’ he wrote for Solomon Burke, in whose repertoire it perhaps should have stayed. The problem’s compounded by the fact that several of the songs on here are as good as anything he’s ever written. ‘Country Darkness’, ‘The Delivery Man’ and ‘Nothing Clings Like Ivy’ would stand out even more if the other songs weren’t competing. More guest singers, please.

27. Nikki Sudden – Treasure Island
One of Sudden’s best solo efforts for many a year, despite the embarrassing fancy dress pirate gear, though you’ve got to admire a man who must be nearly 50 who’s not self-conscious enough to give a shit. The unashamedly derivative (ah, that explains the pirate gear) ex-Swell Map starts with a rocker (‘Looking For A Friend’), a country roller (‘Break Up’) and a romantic heart-tugger on growing old but keeping your (doubtless inner) beauty (‘Stay Bruised’). ‘Russian River’ is a classic Sudden troubadour‘s lament, but even more outstanding is the double track ‘When The Lord’/’Never Let Me Go’, both basically the same song that half way through shifts its melody without a flinch, and which will have you swaying to its gospel-soul singalong. Nice one.

26. The Magnetic Fields – i
Deep-throated synth-songs include one of the pure pop moments of the year in the danceable ‘I Thought You Were My Boyfriend’, and it’s almost matched by ‘I Don’t Believe You’. The black comedy of ‘I Wish I Had An Evil Twin’ is another highlight (“My evil twin would lie and steal/And he would stink of sex appeal/All men would writhe/Beneath his scythe/He’d send the pretty ones to me”), ‘In An Operetta’ is delightful low camp, and ‘It’s Only Time’ is a sad last dance, but despite the cellos and flutes to supplement the electronics, too many of these songs are sketches that need a melodic push to take them to the next level. Enjoyable blueprint for a future cabaret, but overall not essential.

25. Ben Kweller – On My Way
Nerd rock. Its rawness reminds me at times of a young Billy Bragg, except Kweller sings, plays and writes better than English William. The geeky cover photo shows the boy in a tanktop, posing with wolves on a mountainside, and it makes you think, “Ass-kicking dork!” When he sings about how much he likes to hide from the world in his apartment you think, “Aw God bless him and his ham-fisted but catchy punkish sensibilities.” ‘On My Way’ is early Dylanesque from the strumming to the lyrics, yet he carries it off wonderfully. One of those discs where the low cost production sounds in perfect place. He should get better.

24. Air - Talkie Walkie
Lightweight, effortless music, like slow ELO. As your Mum might once have said about a boiled egg, “There’s nothing not to like about it.” ‘Cherry Blossom Girl’ is like a bowl of Angel Delight. It doesn’t knock you off your chair, and you don’t freak out about it, but you wouldn’t object to a little more. ‘Run’ is like a summer evening’s breeze – close your eyes and let it gently tingle your skin. ‘Another Day’ is pure chocolate warmth. ‘Mike Mills’ says “We can compose lush and beautiful film music,” and maybe that’s what they should do from now on – their soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides is my second favourite film score ever. Quit whistling, just make sounds.

23. Camper van Beethoven – New Roman Times
In the year’s most unfashionable move, reformed 1980s college-circuit underdogs make an anti-war concept album covering their customary range of genres from country, eastern European hootenanny instrumental folk and indie-pop through heavy metal and even disco. More or less, it works very well. And although the odd contrived track, such as the awful ‘Hippie Chix’, could have ended up on the studio floor without too many tears, there’s a sequence of fine tunes through the middle of the album that stand out as good old-fashioned political singalong. If you’ve never heard them, check out ‘Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart’ and ‘Key Lime Pie’ from the late 80s first. If you like those, get this.

22. Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Love Bad News
An unexpected grower, this one. An intelligent pop record that’s noisy in all the right places, but quiet when it needs to be, if that makes sense. At first I thought they sounded like a novelty act, and the vocalist irritated me (a bit shouty at times), but then the hooks, the variations and the all-round inventiveness overrode all dislikes. ‘Bury Me With It’ is an ageing man’s cynical tribute to lost idealism: ‘We were aiming for the moon/We were shooting at the stars/But the kids were just shooting at the buses and the cars.” In ‘Bukowksi’, God’s a control freak, and who’d want to be like that? “You were so true to yourself/You were true to no one else,” they sing tartly on ‘Black Cadillacs’. An album packed with dark humour, quirky riffs, anarchic brass and great melodies.

21. The Old Crow Medicine Show – O.C.M.S.
So not all good American country-folk music these days is made by the talented but miserable. This is a wild and bumpy yee-haa Appalachian hayride, even though the songs are about snorting cocaine and wacked-out ‘Nam vets. Five trad songs, five originals, and a fine take on Dylan’s ‘Wagon Wheel’ round off a rollicking racket of a record. You can imagine them smashing their banjos onstage at the end of the night.

20. The National – Cherry Tree
More deep American voices and acoustic guitars writing holy songs on this mini-LP continuation of last year’s enticing ‘Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers’. Five fine new tracks here. ‘All Dolled-Up In Straps’ sees the coffee-dark vocals jump a scale, and the result is a piano-backed, downbeat pop song of pathos and longing. The title track nags you till you start nodding your head like a crazed woodpecker, before it brings you down to the stirring hypnosis of ‘About Today’. After this there’s a live take of the thunderousing ‘Murder Me Rachael’, then a sole guest track from Padma Newsome, who has a deep voice and an acoustic guitar…

19. Tom Waits – Real Gone
Lifetime Achievement In Songwriting Award No. 2. ‘Sins Of The Father’ cites a world that “turns on nothing but money and dread” and “it’s much too late to throw the dice again”. Waits sounds more tired than ever, his music half-wasted, and it’s little surprise to find this disc is not a set of slickly produced bubblegum pop hits aimed at the early teenage market. “You know I feel like a preacher waving a gun around,” could be his headstone’s epitaph. If you’re not prepared by two decades of Waits devotion, it’s a challenging listen (my wife won’t tolerate him for more than five seconds), but it’s a rare gift to sound like an out-of-luck bum and a musical genius simultaneously. And just when you feel like your head can’t get shaken any more, along come songs like the spooky ‘How’s It Gonna End’ (probably with several bangs on a dustbin lid), the dead lovely ‘Dead And Lovely’, and the wistfully morbid ‘Green Grass’.

18. Nancy Sinatra – Nancy Sinatra
I’ve always hated U2 with a passion, so it’s been something of a long process to admit that the best song on this album is ‘Two Shots of Happy, One Shot Of Sad’, written by Bono and The Edge. It works because they’ve written it with an eye for Sinatra’s vocal style (actually it was originally written for Frank, but he was too old and ill to record it), a classic late night jazz-lounger. Jarvis Cocker also plays to Nancy’s strengths on ‘Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time’ and ‘Baby’s Coming Back To Me’ (they could have been recorded in 1967), whereas Morrissey’s ‘Let Me Kiss You’, while a superb song, is clearly a Morrissey song being sung by Nancy Sinatra. Still, from the opening country rocker ‘Burnin’ Down The Spark’ onwards it’s a mostly compelling collection. Who couldn’t love the voice, as sultry and coquettish as ever?

17. Pale Horse and Rider – The Moody Pike
To start with, this is the best band name ever. To give you an idea, it was recorded in Kentucky. It couldn’t really have been recorded anywhere but Kentucky. I’ve never been to Kentucky, but this album is how I think Kentucky is, or how Kentucky ought to be. There are no cars, just pale horses, with riders. There are no synthesisers, but lots of pedal steel, banjo, even the odd glockenspiel. No artifice, just sorrow, expressed in ‘Bruises Like Badges’ and the crashabout ‘Weight Of My Soul’. Cheer yourself up and leave it on the shelf. But then you’ll never get to experience the beauty of ‘Annabelle’.

16. Giant Sand – Is All Over The Map
Apposite title. Like Camper van Beethoven, Giant Sand is a stylistic palette, masters of whatever they take on. Here, there’s even more adventure and experimentation than on CVB’s, taking you from mind-losing headbang through fuzzy melancholy without ever quite losing a sense of thrill. The closing duet of ‘Anarchistic Bolshevistic Cowboy Bundle’/’Ploy’ sums up the overall mood, veering from Sex Pistols pastiche, through honky-tonk warbling to hotel lounge piano. ‘Cracklin Water’, ‘Hood’, ‘Napoli’ and ‘A Classico Reprise’ are all quietly brilliant. A band that is funny, idiosyncratic and exhilarating with gobsmacking consistency.

15. Tanya Donnelly – Whiskey Tango Ghosts
Poetically titled, poetically executed. Lovely, whispery songs for relaxation, meditation and melancholy moments of musing on the unattainable. There’s not a bad note, let alone a bad song, on this lilting, lenitive cut.

14. Iron And Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days
Combine iron with wine and you produce, in the material world, something unusable and indigestible. In the musical world it results in warm, but hard-edged American folk, exquisitely played out on string and backed by a deceptively saccharine vocal singing of death and war. Lyrically, ‘Free Until They Cut Me Down’ is a new take on ‘Strange Fruit’, while in musical terms it’s a startling homage to the idea of hanging for something that was worthwhile (“She’s the one who begged me/’Take me home’ “). The miracle is that all these songs will soothe you and stab you at the same time.

13. Devendra Banhart – Rejoicing In The Hands
A dream: there’s a party in a big house and everyone’s out of it. In a corner a man plays a guitar, singing weirdly, tortuously. At first you hate him and kind of want to punch him, because there are several girls paying him way too much attention. Only when you talk to him as he’s taking a break do you realise how bleedingly sincere he and his powerful, poetic songs are. He starts to play again and this time you’re more in love with him than the girls are. At the same time a part of you is lamenting that he’s a hundred times more talented than you’ll ever be. And that this is only one album of two he brought out this year, and this one alone includes 16 gripping compositions. Folk album of the decade, except for possibly its sister work, recorded at the same sessions, and which I haven’t yet heard.

12. Morrissey – You Are The Quarry
An English gentleman abroad makes a canny comeback album. Still the same supercilious lyrics that raise themselves to the funny and pertinent (“I have forgiven Jesus/For all of the love/He placed in me”) sufficiently often to stop him becoming an insufferable, posturing prick (although some may say it’s way too late for that). Oh, and there are some smashing songs too, making for one of his more consistent solo albums, perhaps second best only to the excellent ‘Vauxhall And I’. “She told me she loved me/Which means/She must be insane”, he croons on ‘How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel’. How can anybody possibly care after all these years? ‘First Of The Gang To Die’ and ‘Let Me Kiss You’ are both up there or thereabouts for the Year’s Best Song Award.

11. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
Yeah right, Jack White meets Loretta Lynn. But who would have bet against the talented bastard making it completely work? As producer and arranger, White doesn’t take it over, but he’s definitely co-running this country show, and the backing to Lynn’s ad-libbed ‘Little Red Shoes’ sounds like the sort of wondrous hook a man at his creative peak can effortlessly dash off in five minutes. Goes from honky-tonk to trad country sad to White Stripes-sounding guitar intros without batting an ornery eye-lid. Freshest record of the year.

10. Kings of Convenience – Riot On An Empty Street
To say this band is Norway’s answer to Belle and Sebastian is a pithy but simplistic assessment that ignores the depth within this bottomless toy box of outstanding playthings. It’s Take 2 of the irresistible debut LP, ‘Quiet Is The New Loud’, but no complaints on that front. It’s stark, bare-bones songwriting, and the place where you’d listen to it is needlessly depicted on the CD booklet’s centre spread – rain-sopped windows with a bleak urban landscape on the other side. They’re Norwegian, they’re depressed, and they write songs so gorgeous they make you want to kiss the nearest human being (tip – don’t listen to this CD in public).

9. Wilco – A Ghost Is Born
Maybe it was because of all the feedback and the guitar solos, or maybe it was because I was given a bootleg copy with a low recording level and I didn’t have the track listing and liner notes, but it took me a long time to love this record, and usually with Wilco it only takes me a few seconds. Eventually all the runaway licks and the actually quite soothing amp shrieks started to fit in, and the songs themselves emerged from the mist as individual compositions. Without a track listing I can’t pick out any favourites, except that really long track 3, and the really nice track with piano on near the end. I should just buy it, really.

8. The Hidden Cameras – Mississauga Goddam
Are The Hidden Cameras the last band on earth still making quality, creative indie-pop? Not just that, but they make gay sex sound harmony-sweet. “I drank from the wine that came from inside the heart of his meat” (‘That’s When The Ceremony Starts’), and “I believe in the good of life as I kneel for the taste of man” (‘I Believe In The Good Of Life’) are choral-sounding hymns to homosexuality (albeit ironic in the latter’s case) built around magnificent tunes. “I want another enema/Good waste is an oxymoron/My body is an exit wound…” is scarily brilliant, while the title-track closer is a five-minute pop masterpiece on the delights of living in the small town closet. Five huge shiny stars.

7. Mindy Smith – One Moment More
Staggering debut from the latest sylph-like country überbabe, who sings and writes in such a way that on the opening track she can have you hollering passionately about what a comfort it is to let Jesus hold you in his arms. Lyrics like “Keep on believing God is/Soaring above a world that’s/Running out of love/Pouring hope out over us/His angel doves” (‘Angel Doves’) may not appeal on a cold computer screen, but put through Smith’s keening vocal talents they’re enough to make a hardened atheist experience a second coming. ‘Raggedy Ann’ will push you to attempt notes much higher than you could ever hope to reach, because you want to be up there with her. One critic called her cover of ‘Jolene’ (with Dolly Parton) “overwrought”, but if this is true she can wrought all over me, any time. Mindy Smith can write the songs to match the seven-scale wonders of her voice on numbers like the heart-hitting ‘Hurricane’ and the love-to-love ‘It’s Amazing’. It truly is.

6. Hem – Eveningland
Hem has massively expanded its sound since debut ‘Rabbit Songs’, a recording that was so slight that you sometimes doubted there was anything there at all. To start with, this sounds like a drawn out, orchestral Joni Mitchell tribute LP, until on the third and fourth listens the songs start to creep in and melt your reluctance. Get over it, this is what we listen to now we are parents. So you give in and, ceasing to care, you have to love it. Standout tracks – all of them.

5. Jim White – Drill A Hole In That Substrata And Tell Me What You See
First, ‘Static On The Radio’ is single of the year, a total ear-catching country soul song that unravels so smoothly you could skate on it. ‘Bluebird’ is better than McCartney’s song of the same name because McCartney couldn’t write a line like ”Hey Santa Claus I see your junkie eyes,” nor could he craft a heartrending poetic masterpiece of misery that’s somehow still uplifting too. Cheap girls, cheap motels, cheap Jesus driving a motor home in a song that fantasises “if we all drove motor homes, well maybe in the end, with no country to die for, we could just be friends”. It’s trailer park rap from the vocally deep South with a wit as dry as Texas, and arrangements as lush as a Bourbon-soaked feather pillow.

4. Ben Weaver – Stories Under Nails
Growl the word ‘Americana’ while slugging moonshine, belting an old tin can with a piece of scrap metal, and playing whatever old-fashioned string instrument comes to hand. Not Tom Waits, but something even better (and Waits could learn how to narrate a song properly from the track ‘John Martin’). It’s so rootsy you can smell the damp earth, which was probably dug up from an overgrown cemetery. And hidden in the undergrowth are these astounding songs, rambling melodies, bone-naked emotions. ‘Old Mission’ is the most evocatively melancholic song of the year: “Now my life is pitch black and I’m just counting down the days”. Weaver makes you think of abandoned garage forecourts, scowling, bearded men in crappy pick-up trucks, dishes unwashed for days. ‘Like A Wound’ is like a wound. ’40 Watt Bulb’ is beauty enchansoned as something dark and roughly delicious. Genius, truly.

3. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter – Oh, My Girl
Reverb country – lazy strumming, acoustic and electric hooks come from all angles, topped by sensuous, wispish vocals and the most ravishing set of songs you could ever wish to hear by an open fire, or an open grave. There’s a cult cowboy film waiting to be written somewhere to go with this music, and the day I strike out west from DC along Route 66 I’ll have this playing on loop. “Don’t say it’s over/Your black eyes remind me/Of the dreaming dead,” sings Sykes, who happens to be as drop-dead loveable as her songs. ‘House By The Lake’ is the nearest you’ll get to a party atmosphere – it’s an upbeat, brass-pocked number about…death.

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
Lifetime Achievement In Songwriting Award No.1. I doubt Cave could release a bad LP if he tried, but just to prove any lagging doubters wrong, he shanks out a double disc covering all his corners, from belted-out bluesy goth to cool, dark ballads, with plenty of gospelly backing singers to add to the quasi-religious imagery that as ever pervades his lyrics. Seventeen stellar tracks, with so many standouts it seems unfair to focus on a few, but ‘Breathless’, ‘Supernaturally’, ‘O Children’, ‘Get Ready For Love’, ‘Messiah Ward’ and ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’ could comfortably walk on to a future six-disc greatest hits boxed set. You could buy this record alone and claim that 2004 had been a great year for music.

1. Mark Lanegan Band – Bubblegum
Come on a trip, and let the Mark Lanegan Band provide the drugs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen, let alone taken, a hard drug, but this disc provides a vicarious, reflective look-in, from dirty needle guitar riffs, through blissed-out, grainy lullabies, to rough cold turkey and back again. Tracking through ‘Methamphetamine Blues’/’One Hundred Days’/’Bombed’/’Strange Religion’ is as good a four-song sequence as you’ll find on any album in any year, although the closing ‘Head’/’Driving Death Valley Blues’/’Out Of Nowhere’ make it a close run thing. I’m hooked.