In case you missed it, I’m challenging myself to listen to 50 albums in ten genres of alternative music that I don’t know enough about, in an attempt to make myself some kind of alt-music Voltron. Next up is British Indie music, and I’m working through the list I posted last time. Given that I’ve made no bones about how much I hate jingly-jangly indie, this is sure to go swimmingly. Let’s find out.
1. The Delgados – The Great Eastern: Any apprehension I might have about this challenge is immediately washed away in this great big hug of an album. Spacey, gentle, warm; I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.
2. James – Stutter: It’s somewhat hypocritical for me to judge something as being po-faced, humourless, and self-important (I listen to heavy metal, after all) but by christ this is full of its own sense of self. It’s essentially a slightly jauntier version of U2. I remember when Sit Down came on at the old indie disco and all the kids with stupid haircuts would sit on the dance floor and I used to hate them for it. I still do, and I hate this.
3. Camera Obscura – Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi: This is wonderfully lo-fi and quite lovely, with half-sung, half-whispered lyrics and a general sense of whimsy. So, yes, it’s basically Belle and Sebastien, albeit with entirely lady-vocals. This is a GOOD THING.
4. Half Man Half Biscuit – Back in the D.H.S.S/The Trumpton Riots E.P: I ran the full gamut while listening to this. I started off hating the terrible production, the childish ‘clever’ lyrics, and the half-arsed vocal delivery. I moved to quite enjoying it, getting into the wit of the lyrics, enjoying some of the better written songs. By the end I just couldn’t wait for it to be over. A mixed bag, then.
5. The Pooh Sticks – Optimistic Fool: This is somewhat Beatles-y, albeit with none of the song writing nous and a predilection towards sunshine and rainbows. The front cover even has those dancing flower pot things that used to be a decent indicator as to whether the owner was a sociopath. It’s all fine and dandy but it’s hardly interesting enough to get excited about.
6. Ride – Nowhere: A band I recall everyone getting all hot and bothered about, I never bothered to investigate, because I was too cool for all that. It’s pretty good, and screams ‘90’s indie’ at you, albeit in a wistful, foppishly haircutted kind of way. I rather enjoyed it.
7. Saint Etienne – So Tough: An unexpected delight, I expected this to be a bland mix of cheesy house music and wistful lady-indie, because that’s what I dimply recall from the time. Turns out it’s much more than that, with inventive, almost trip-hoppy beats, and lovely chilled out vocals layered on top. There’s a couple of duff tracks where the dance production sounds a bit like someone hit auto-play on a Casio keyboard, but I rather enjoyed this.
8. The Sea Urchins – Stardust: This is fine, I suppose, but I’m not sure I entirely see the point. Standard Beatles worship with jingle-jangle guitars, and a bit of a rubbish singer. A bit yawn-worthy, all told.
9. Elastica – Elastica: Now this is a proper pop album. It’s also the first album we’ve come to on the list that I actually owned. I can’t remember if it’s because I heard them on the Evening Session and loved them, or if I just saw Justine in the NME and somewhat fell in love with her, but I played the crap out of this album for a few years, and have barely touched it since. Thankfully, it’s held up remarkably well.
10. The Wedding Present – George Best: this is very jolly, a post-Smiths mix of, guitars, pop and bristling wit, not at all what I was expecting. There’s some great tunes on here, and the vocals are excellent. Hey, I’m not hating this challenge at all so far!
11. New Order – Movement: I wrote that last line fully expecting to be able to have a witty one-two with myself about how much this sucked, but I’m completely bowled over by this. Nowhere near the later, more polished pop sound, this is harrowing gloomy indie that feels like the logical next step to Joy Division. In these somewhat tumultuous times, this feels like a perfect album to listen to.
12. The Libertines – The Libertines: I tried to go into this without my preconceptions of this shitshow of hipster dross, but it looks like I failed, because after just a few songs of Pete ‘I love heroin’ Doherty’s mumbled atonal bullshit I just mentally checked out, and spent the rest of the album staring at my screen, waiting for it to end.
13. Stereolab – Peng!: Over the intervening years, my increasingly befuddled brain has equated all British indie to its worst moments, its Ian Browns and its Scouting for Girls, conveniently forgetting all the varied delights that actually fall under that umbrella. This is one such delight, a mix of lo-fi, slightly chintzy pop and out there musical freak-outery. Really enjoyed this, I will have to dig in deeper.
14. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand: ‘Be nice about that one, I love that album,’ says my good lady wife. Of course, I’m a ‘journalist’, with ‘integrity’, so I would never stoop so low as to give something a false review in this most meaningless of challenges. I am, however, fucking relieved to say that this completely confounded my expectations. I never gave Franz the time of day, back in the day, believing them to be part of the whole ‘second wave of britpop’ nonsense that ended up with The Fucking Kooks being an actual, real life thing that happened. This is, of course, nothing like that at all, full of angular post-punk with brilliant lyrics, swaggering and self-deprecating at the same time. Really rather good. Phew!
15. Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain: Somewhere between 80’s indie and 80’s grandiose pop, this is in fact the product of a seventeen year old musical prodigy called Roddy Frame, and it’s pretty damn good. For some reason, my brain was expecting some kind of reggae, or world music, or something. It’s definitely not that.
16. Happy Mondays – Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches: Here we come to one of the main reasons I absolutely hated indie in the early 90’s. Bands like ‘The Mondays’ were all over Top of the Pops and The Chart Show (remember that?) with their atonal, disinterested halfway-pop songs, which made no sense to my ears. I wanted angst, I wanted melodies, and I wanted Eddie Vedder going ‘huuurrr de hurrr burrr’. That everyone was lauding these bands as some kinds of geniuses just confirmed how utterly wrong the whole rotten business was to me. How could they be geniuses, and sound that awful? Anyway, thirty years later and it still sounds like a steaming turd to me, sorry.
17. The Pastels – Up For A Bit With The Pastels: Less obnoxiously awful than Shaun Ryder’s lot, this still suffers from an extreme case of ‘singer not being able to sing’. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Dylan. I love me some Tom Waits. But from Ash to the Stone Roses, and now to The Pastels, I could never fathom this style of singing. It’s deliberately out of tune, but also completely devoid of personality, like a child forced to sing Christmas carols against their will.
18. Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque: This is more like it. Melodies right out of the Lennon/McCartney/Wilson playbooks, drowning in guitars, this was really rather splendid. I used to have a housemate who loved them, but I never really gave them the time of day, mainly because he used to go nuts whenever the electricity ran out, and he once chucked a teaspoon through our back window because there was only soy milk in the fridge, but now I realise that disliking a band because of him was an awful burden to put on a band who had no idea of his existence.
19. Echo & the Bunnymen – Porcupine: I’m not sure if it’s true, and I certainly can’t be arsed to check, but it feels like every leg of this challenge has Echo and his Bunnymen somewhere along the way. Post punk? Check. Brit indie? Check. Alternative hip-hop? Okay, not so much. This is good, more goth than indie to these tired ears, but a change is as good as a rest, so I’ll take it.
20. The House Of Love – The German Album: Another album that sounds less like the indie I grew up with, and more like 80’s goth-tinged guitar pop, but then I guess that’s what indie was back then. Clearly you’re not reading this because I’m a worldwide authority on the subject. To be honest, I didn’t like it or hate it enough to look it up in any great detail. Sorry.
21. Primal Scream – Screamadelica: I always dismissed this as being too ‘dancey’ for my tastes, and in places it really is, but there are flashes of brilliance elsewhere, when it can be arsed to sit itself down and write an actual song. The second half of the album in particular, when it slows things down and introduces some dub-style chillout stuff, is surprisingly excellent.
22. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses: Well, this is embarrassing. This album has forever been my nemesis, a kind of warning flag as to the nadir of musical achievement. There’s something so utterly dreadful about that guitar tone, the singing, the way they dance, the singing, the swagger, and, oh yes, let’s not forget the singing. And yet… And yet… I’m almost embarrassed to say that I might, just might, have been a bit harsh on The Roses. Because while Brown’s voice isn’t great, and I’m never going to induct it into my top-anything albums of all time, I’ll rather begrudgingly admit that I quite enjoyed listening to this. It’s jolly, and summery, and facing into the bleakness of the nazi-infested nuclear winter of 2016, that’s actually not too bad a thing.
Wait, wait… I am the Resurrection is on. I chuffing hate that song. All is right with the world again.
23. The La’s – The La’s: I went into this with nothing more than the knowledge that if I hear There She Goes on a soundtrack one more time I’ll … I’ll … I’ll jolly well write a letter to my MP. Take that, Hollywood! Anyway, colour me once more utterly bewildered to find a truly exceptional album, halfway between the Kinks and the Beatles, with every single song an absolute delight. Proper northern working class guitar pop. Brilliant.
24. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: Speaking of working class guitar pop, this almost feels like a spiritual successor to The Las’s; albeit a drunker, louder, funnier spirit, backed by a thunderous drummer. I remember when this came out, how it felt a million miles away from all the saccharine major-label indie-lite like The Pigeon Detectives, or The Fucking Kooks. I still didn’t like it all that much, but that’s because I am (as I believe I’ve noted before) a fucking idiot. This is great.
25. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures: Harrowing, dark, bleak, brilliant. I’ve now listened to this album a few times, since I encountered it on the Rolling Stone Challenge. I really like it, and can see why so many people would wear the t-shirt, even if I would never do so myself, because there’s no pentagrams or swear words on it.
Hey look, I’m halfway through, and despite there being some shaky moments, I’m still standing. Yeah yeah yeah! Oh for Pete’s sake, now I have bad Elton in my head.
Oh god, if you do too, I can only apologise. Seriously. Please still come back next time, yeah?
Welcome to Discovery Park – the chronicle of my increasingly frustrated attempt to listen to every album on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of all-time list, is available now on Amazon Uk, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and many more.