Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 8

No. 8: Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985)


“Experimental” is an interesting word when it comes to describing music. For most, it implies some sort of new technology or new technique for creating music. Either that or the influence of some weird, left-field electronica artist who’d sold about fifteen records. David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy was experimental, so the readers of the music press in the late seventies were told, as was Paul’s Boutique-era Beastie Boys, as well as the most experimental record of the lifetime of my early-thirties generation, Radiohead’s Kid A. All of these records were recorded with ground-breaking studio routines, pushing music into a new sphere. None of them experimented by finding two chunks of debris in a junkyard, banging them together and, if it sounded good, recording it and calling it percussion.

Rain Dogs is the musical equivalent of a jumble sale. It is a bizarre smorgasbord of words and music in which nothing fits together and yet everything works. It is a phantasmagorical circus of a record that features manic polkas, deranged rumbas, heartbreaking ballads and Keith Richards. Your host is a man whose voice sounds like he has swallowed a cheese grater, barking and grizzling away as his guitarist tunes his strings to the tightest they can be without snapping.

Let’s start with the start. Singapore. A rattling sea-shanty that features some of the greatest twisting of the English language ever, a pre-cursor for the rest of the album. When the boys are told to heave away, you don’t even realise what instruments are playing, it’s just relentless pounding, and the line “making feet for children’s shoes” seems either Disney-esque, or profoundly disturbing. Clap Hands evokes the feeling of being engulfed by dense fog, and Cemetery Polka, with it’s hilarious/ludicrous couplets, is, apparently a song about families. “Uncle Bill will never leave a will, and the tumour is as big as an egg. He has a mistress, she’s Puerto Rican, and I heard she has a wooden leg.” Nice.

There are others here, on this, the most varied album ever. Jockey Full Of Bourbon is the best song on the album for me, it’s Latino shuffle and twang conjuring up detective movies, nursery rhymes and a guy who is “full of bourbon and can’t stand up.” It all seems so mysterious and dangerous, purple knives, broken cups and flamingos drinking from cocktail glasses sounds like nothing written down, but Waits whispers it to you in a way that seems both terrifying and completely intoxicating, like all the femme fatales in all the film noirs.

There are the jackhammer blues thumpers, Union Square is basically just a heavy smoker shouting in time to a groove so massive you could put your foot in it, and Big Black Mariah features Keith Richards on wrist-action guitar. Apparently Waits, a relatively unknown artist in 1985, had been asked in an interview who he’d most like to work with, and gave the name of the indestructible Rolling Stones guitarist. He received a communique shortly afterwards that said simply “The time has come. Let’s dance.” Waits and Richards would become regular collaborators from that point on.

There are the ballads, Blind Love, Hang Down Your Head, and the song that Waits would become best-known for: Downtown Train. Not for his own version, obviously, because his voice isn’t an instrument that the common herd find palatable. It was in fact Rod Stewart that made it a hit in 1989, and frankly he murdered it.

The centrepiece of the album is Time, an unbearably sad piece for acoustic guitar and accordion that is simply the most knackered sounding song ever written. Tom Waits is, I’ve always thought, an actor who accidentally became a musician, adopting different characters to perform certain songs. On Time, we actually get the man himself, sighing his enchanting lines over this most delicate of backdrops, and when he groans “Ah, she said she’d stick around till the bandages came off.” You know that she didn’t. And it is a testament to the eclecticism of this record that this most sensitive of confessionals is followed directly by the deranged Bavarian stomp of the title track. He is leading a circus parade in top-hat and cane for the benefit of us, the listeners.

All human life is here. It really is.

Best Tracks: Jockey Full Of Bourbon, Time, Downtown Train

Best Moment: 1:48 into Time, when he lies through his teeth “Close your eyes son, this won’t hurt a bit.” He’s an actor, not a singer.

Like this? Try: If I Should From Grace With God by The Pogues, 1988

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here.


Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 10

Number 10: Suede – Dog Man Star (1994)

Britpop is looked back on with a great deal of distain these days, and in on some levels that stance is fully justified. Atrocities like Shed Seven, Northern Uproar and Menswear are genuine contenders for the title of Worst Band Of All Time, appalling acts that blatantly rode in the slipstream of Oasis’s success and had absolutely no interest in making original music. So in many ways it is ironic that the two bands who are credited with starting the movement would be the ones who moved furthest away from it.

Blur, after gaining front page headlines for their singles duel with the Gallagher brothers, and the nauseating video for Country House, would stop pretending they went to greyhound races and ate jellied eels, as it was clearly a lie. Instead they bought a load of Pavement records and made the self-titled Blur album to no sales but huge critical acclaim. Meanwhile, in the midst of the afore-mentioned Britpop wars, in a gothic town house in the Highgate area of London, Suede front man Brett Anderson listened to some Syd Barrett and Kate Bush, consumed a mountain of acid and fell out with his guitarist. The result was the weirdest album ever made by a mainstream British band.

Suede’s first run of singles was practically flawless, and the B-Sides (remember those?) were, for the most part, as good as if not better than the A-Sides. It was on the flip of the So Young 45 that the first hints of Anderson and Butler’s wild ambition would be heard, on a song called High Rising. Starting off as a sparse ballad featuring the standard Suede themes of being strung out in a tower block yearning for a disreputable woman, about two thirds of the way through it explodes into an enormous swirling cavalcade of swooping guitars and enormous, multi-layered operatic backing vocals. It is one of the most ludicrous songs ever written, but Suede, like their primary influences David Bowie, Kate Bush and The Smiths, were always at their best when at their most over the top.

The first lyric on this album is as follows: “Dog Man Star took a suck on a pill, and stabbed a cerebellum with a curious quill.” So from the first line we’ve already gathered that appalling amounts of narcotics are involved here. Introducing The Band is actually a perfect pace-setter for this album; dark, warped and subversive, with a great segue into the lead-off single We Are The Pigs. This track is glam-Suede at their absolute peak. Stomping, arse-swinging and fierce; snarling guitar parts and squalling brass sections. Heroine continues the thread with its deliberate “Is he singing about girls or drugs” sleaziness, and The Wild Ones, nearly twenty years later arguably still Suede’s greatest song, has the kind of hopeless romanticism that you’d associate with Renaissance-era poetry rather than a pop song. It also features some of the best singing by anyone, ever.

Daddy’s Speeding collapses under its own weight and The Power features some wonderful spiralling lines from Butler whilst New Generation would provide the most accessible moment on the record. It is, however, the closing four-song suite that makes this album so far beyond any over music recorded in its era. The 2 Of Us is one of the stillest songs ever recorded, a snowy, echo-laden torch song that is completely without any sort of swing or groove, a massive departure for an indie band. Brett’s singing on this song is phenomenal, soaring and yearning, reminiscent of Scott Walker’s early Phillips albums, which he claimed he had never heard (that is surely a lie.) Black Or Blue is the druggiest song on the album, and one which has no place on a pop record, instead sounding like it should be part of a particularly creepy West End musical, Anderson’s disgusted shriek of “She understood the law” hilariously camp.

The penultimate track was reportedly what prompted Butler to leave the band. A nine-minute epic, The Asphalt World had apparently been edited down from anything from seventeen to twenty-five minutes, depending on which account you hear, an act which prompted Butler to record the remainder of his parts in isolation from the rest of the band. Allegedly the tapes which he sent in also contained whispered threats and insults, but as we already know, there were narcotics involved. The song itself is probably Butler’s finest recorded moment, his needling and pulsing guitar providing a claustrophobic canvas for Brett’s howled vocal about giving drugs to women and “time-honoured fur.” No, I don’t know either.

Still Life closes the set, basically because nothing else could possibly follow it. It starts off with an acoustic guitar and a discreet string section which gradually builds and builds until, at the two and a half minute mark, the song explodes and all at once we’re hit by an amazing operatic vocal and an orchestra the size of Wales. It is at this point that you realise they have left Britpop light years behind, and we are now in the realms of classical music.

Dog Man Star is the great unheralded musical leap of faith of its era. It is certainly a bigger artistic transition than Blur was after The Great Escape, and arguably even more so than Kid A was after OK Computer, and its tantalizing to imagine what Brett and Bernard could have go onto if they had stayed together. At the same time though, maybe its best that they finished it here. Dog Man Star walks a tightrope between genius and pretentiousness, and talk of twenty-five minutes demos with forty guitar parts would suggest that they very nearly fell off. It is no co-incidence that Suede’s next album, released after a two year break, would be a collection of brisk, bright, three minute pop songs, as if realising that this era was most definitely over, but it produced an intoxicating document of what can happen when two little drama queens take a mountain of hallucinogenics and have Brian Gascoigne on speed dial. It’s a hell of a record.

Best Tracks: The Wild Ones, The 2 Of Us, Still Life

Best Moment: The majestic coda which closes Still Life, and the album.

Like this? Try: Hounds Of Love by Kate Bush, 1985

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 16

Number 16. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)


Madonna once came out with a great soundbite about pop music, which I can’t remember word for word, but it went something like “There is no better way to get into people’s hearts than writing a great melody.” If this is true, then it is one of the great mysteries of the world that The Stone Roses didn’t become the biggest band in the history of the universe. Beatles aside, who obviously did become the biggest band in the history of the universe, there has never been a band to record has many purely tuneful songs as The Stone Roses did on this album.

For a debut, it is incredibly confident, almost to the point of naivety, but there are moments on this album that, like certain songs in the repertoires of Oasis, The Flaming Lips and Michael Jackson, just defy any kind of negativity. They drew the confidence from the positivity, swagger and optimism of their own songs. The three big British indie bands of the eighties before the Roses hit were The Smiths, The Fall and The Jesus and Mary Chain, all bands who would revel in the bleaker side of music, and in the case of the latter two, aggressively so; and the relentless colour and vibrancy of this album, along with the fact that everyone had started taking ecstasy, is the reason that it is thought of as such a ground-breaking set.

I Wanna Be Adored, the first track on here, features possibly the greatest intro of all time. A minute or so of Eraserhead soundtrack-type chugging, then an intricate arpeggio based on a Celtic scale, then the best snare drum thwack since Like A Rolling Stone. As a statement of intent, it has no rival. Then they up the ante with She Bangs The Drums, a deceptively simple song based on a classic sixties E D A chord sequence, made unique by its fantastic Motown-derived bassline, and fittingly the lyrical proclamation “The past was yours but the future’s mine.” Everything just fits perfectly. Ian Brown, later derided for the weakness of his voice, is absolutely right for this album. His sonorous murmur adds to the ambience of the songs and brings a sense of unity rather than the pretension that a Morrissey or Tim Booth would bring.

For me personally, this is an album drenched in nostalgia. I first heard of The Stone Roses after hearing John Squire on the Oasis Knebworth show and asking my musical guru mate Mikey Jarrell who he was, and I twagged off school for the first and only time to go and buy this album the next day. From the age of sixteen to about twenty-four, Waterfall, Made Of Stone and I Am The Resurrection would be on constant rotation, whether on a knackered ghetto blaster at a house party, blaring out at an indie disco as we held our bottles of Reef aloft on the dancefloor, or being hummed by some bloke I met at work who calls himself Xavier Dwyer these days.

They blew it, obviously. Manchester bands all blow it. Joy Division, The Smiths, The Happy Mondays, Oasis… they all blew it. Dunno why. You don’t need to buy Second Coming, it’s not very good (response, Mr Taylor.) You should maybe track down the Fools Gold EP, Ten Storey Love Song and Sally Cinnamon on single, but primarily you just need this album. You’ll find some of the best melodies ever written, and songs that promise a future of endless dancing, bright colours and fresh fruit for everyone. And all those promises are here on one gloriously shiny little disc.


Best Tracks: I Wanna Be Adored, Bye Bye Badman, This Is The One

Best Moment: 1:29 into I Wanna Be Adored. The incendiary snare drum. The aural equivalent of a boot up the arse.

Like this? Try: A Northern Soul by The Verve, 1995

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 19

19. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call (1997)


boatmans call

In 1982, with his genuinely intimidating new-wave band The Birthday Party, Cave wrote and screeched the following lyric; he was probably on stage in nothing more than a pair of jeans, just about to belabour a paying punter with his mic stand as he did so:

Sex horror sex bat sex sex horror sex vampire
Sex bat horror vampire sex
Cool machine
Horror bat. bite!
Cool machine. bite!
Sex vampire. bite!

In 1997, on The Boatman’s Call, he is, in a parallel universe, recognized as the finest lounge singer to have ever lived and plays 200 nights a year in Las Vegas. He drinks expensive whisky with the ghosts of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, and wears a suit that cost five thousand pounds. He sits at his piano with a cigarette smouldering in the ashtray and opens the show, and this album, with the following lines, which he croons with a voice as deep and dark as mahogany:

I don’t believe in an interventionist God,
But I know darling that you do,
But if I did I would kneel down and ask him
Not to intervene when it came to you.

Even over the course of fifteen years, that is one hell of a transition. It was a gradual thing; on the early Bad Seeds albums, amongst the hell fire and brimstone there would always be one or two songs where you would properly pick the lyric out and realise how head-spinningly brilliant it was. The title track of Your Funeral, My Trial, The Mercy Seat off Tender Prey, which reads more like a Shakespearean monologue than a song, and Sorrow’s Child off The Good Son, the album of orchestral piano ballads which is the prototype for The Boatman’s Call.

It is effectively a Nick Cave solo album about the break-up of two relationships, featuring the best collection of lyrics ever committed to tape. As with three of the godfathers of the doomed romantic ballad, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash, the songs are dominated by themes of Love, Death and God. The imagery is unbelievably vivid; in Brompton Oratory for example, he sings of how his taking of Holy Communion is tarnished by the smell of his lover on his hands as he drinks the wine. In the impossibly sombre Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere, the following verse:

The kitten that padded and purred on my lap,
Now swipes at my face with the paw of a bear
I turn the other cheek and you lay into that,
O where do we go now but nowhere

Words that are the equal of anything in the very best literature, let alone pop music.
The album’s best track and centrepiece is Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For, a song of uncertainty and anticipation set to a minor chord piano sequence that features an incredible moment where the end of verse refrain blooms into a truly beautiful middle eight. When he sings the line “The stars will explode in the sky, but they don’t do they?” It is the only time his voice struggles on the entire record, yet all the more bewitching for it. The Bad Seeds are unintrusive throughout, just there to add soft rhythms and atmosphere to the staunchly black and white palette. The only true band performance is on West Country Girl, where low bass rumbles and gypsy violins decorate the story of his romance with Polly Harvey.

This album would have flown in to my top ten but for the disastrous final track, Green Eyes, which in my opinion is the worst Cave song of all-time. It seems to be aiming for a self-parody schtick in order to lighten the atmosphere, something like The Piano Has Been Drinking by Tom Waits. Cave however, is not a natural raconteur like Waits, and it is a colossal error of judgement for this song to be included. It’s not a major problem, though, as CD/MP3 technology can be used to edit it out, and we are left with a wonderful set of wine-sodden, tear-sodden lullabies, that tell us through all these beautiful words, that love may ruin lives, may rip your heart to shreds and fuck you up to the point of no return. But at the end of the day, we all need it.

Best Tracks: Into My Arms, Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For, Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere.

Best Moment: The afore-mentioned middle eight in Are You The One… a truly beautiful passage of music.

Like This? Try: In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning by Frank Sinatra (1954)


profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 23

No. 23. Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers (2009)


The Manics were on dangerous ground in 2009. After hitting a seemingly irreparable artistic low with the turgid and faceless Lifeblood in 2004, they stumbled upon a career-saving single in Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, and salvaged their reputation with the up-tempo and up-beat Send Away The Tigers album. Given the wildly varying quality of the band’s recorded output, the obvious option would have been to play it safe and churn out another set of crowd-pleasing anthems. Of course, being the most contrary band of all time, The Manics instead elected to hire one of the most avowedly uncommercial record producers ever and craft an album based on the unused lyrics of their missing, presumed dead rhythm guitar player; a de facto sequel to The Holy Bible, their coruscatingly dark masterpiece of fifteen years earlier. Without doing any promotion, and without releasing a single.

The fact is, based on music alone, there are several contenders for singles here. The second track has huge chiming riff and a lovely swelling chorus which you could easily imagine on the radio. It has been used in its instrumental form on Match Of The Day. The problem is it’s titled Jackie Collins Existential Question Time and features the opening verse “Tonight we beg the question: If a married man fucks a Catholic and his wife dies without knowing does it make him unfaithful, people?” Viking FM decided not to take up the option.

Richey’s blood is all over this album, but where horror and death and misery were branded onto the twisted grooves of The Holy Bible, here is to be found warmth and occasionally even levity (“We missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical.”) It is far from a happy record, She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach describes a woman so controlled by her lover she will burn her skin to please him; Virginia State Epileptic Colony details a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest-style mental asylum; and the album as a whole is filled with astonishing imagery (Bruises on my hands from digging my nails out.) but where The Holy Bible was bleak, Journal For Plague Lovers is blank, tired and sad.

It is clear from the first track that James Dean Bradfield is playing out of his skin, elevating the staccato prose with riffs both muscular (Peeled Apples) and tuneful (Me and Steven Hawking) but, perhaps fittingly for such a sombre album, it is the acoustic tracks which provide the stand-outs. The stately This Joke Sport Severed is the closest the Manics have ever got to Achtung Baby-era U2, and Facing Page: Top Left is a gorgeous wistful Nick Drake-style lament for a world obsessed by appearance and flippancy. Then we have Doors Closing Slowly. When they previewed the album on MTV, rather than play the song, they simply had Bradfield read the words to camera, as if the audience wouldn’t be able to cope with the sheer gravitas of the music. A thudding march and the incredibly sensitive vocal deliver one of the greatest lyrics of modern times. The final battered snare drum coda and sampled outro fade into the sound of a ticking clock. It is one of the most utterly hopeless songs ever written.

Tucked away at the end of the album is William’s Last Words, and the question will forever remain, “Is it a suicide note?” It could be taken as such, but it is apparently a song based on the Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer, about a music hall performer who refuses to accept that no-one wants to see his show anymore. Nicky Wire sings it, his first vocal performance since the disastrous Wattsville Blues, and on this occasion it fits perfectly. He is clearly absolutely terrified at being in the vocal booth, as his voice shakes and tries desperately to lose its accent, but that gives this most human of songs its human touch. It is an unbelievably direct song and for all the Manics desire to shock and wind people up, if nothing else this album proves that they are at their best when conveying emotion, no matter how difficult to handle it may be.

One final aside that exemplifies why this album is so important; if you scroll back up to the top you will see the album’s sleeve. A Jenny Saville oil painting of a boy with a blood splattered face. When I wandered down to my local branch of Morrisons to buy the album, this image had been censored to the supermarket shoppers and the CD was encased in a plain blue sleeve with minimalist type on it. Next to it festered an album by something called The Pussycat Dolls. The sleeve to this record featured four or five surgically sculpted women with a post-watershed amount of flesh on show posing with fingers suggestively in mouths/on thighs having been painted orange by a computer programme. This was apparently acceptable. But that little boy, cover star of an album that explained so eloquently why the world doesn’t work anymore, had to be covered up.

Deary deary me.

Best Tracks: This Joke Sport Severed, Doors Closing Slowly, Marlon J.D.

Best Moment: From William’s Last Words: I’m really tired/ I’d love to go to sleep/And wake up happy/Wake up happy.
If you don’t get a lump in your throat, then you are probably Kim Jong-un.

Like this? Try: Candy Apple Grey by Husker Du, 1986

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 24

24. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (1974)



Diamond Dogs isn’t my most played David Bowie album, that honour would go to Low. Nor is it, in terms of song-writing, his best; Hunky Dory takes that title. The reason it is my favourite Bowie record is because it is spectacular, ridiculous, weird and challenging. It is his most interesting album.

Diamond Dogs was recorded around the time of the Cracked Actor documentary, when Bowie was a hollowed out stick figure who was addicted to cocaine and almost completely sleepless. This psychosis and paranoia bled into his music, and Diamond Dogs was originally an attempt to write a musical version of George Orwell’s 1984, one of the most paranoid books ever written. The following year, when he starred in The Man Who Fell To Earth, in which he played an alien who was horrifically uncomfortable with everything around him, he was basically playing himself.

The fact that he was able to play two hundred shows a year and still record some of the greatest music ever made is a testament to either his doggedness or the quality of the shit his drug dealer could get his hands on. Diamond Dogs is admittedly patchy, but it is a phenomenal artistic achievement, an amalgam of Glam, Krautrock, Rock n’ Roll and cabaret, hung together on a loose narrative about a post-apocalyptic city where “Fleas the size of rats suck on rats the size of cats.” It is bookended by a distorted beatless spoken-word  scene-setter called Future Legend and chugging bass-heavy mantra The Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family; two non-songs, an incredibly brave step for the most famous rock star in the world. Having said that, it also contains two of his best rockers (it is a little-known fact that Bowie himself played lead guitar on this album) in the title track and Rebel Rebel and the string-laden whip-smart funk epic 1984, so there was commercial appeal in there somewhere.

It is the three song suite of Sweet Thing, Candidate and Sweet Thing (Reprise) that shoots this to the top of the Bowie chart for me, though. I simply do not know how you sit down and conceive of writing a song like this. There is no conventional structure anywhere here, but it is home to the best vocal performance in all of rock, a soaring and spiralling tune that would not be repeated until Mr Anderson hit the acid twenty years later. It still sounds so fresh and original, and while the work of his early seventies peers such as Deep Purple and The Sweet now sound like terribly dated novelty records, this sounds like it was recorded yesterday.

Whenever Bowie’s catalogue is appraised, Diamond Dogs often slips off the radar as it is entirely self-contained and has neither the impact of Ziggy Stardust or the diversity of the fabled Berlin Trilogy, yet it could be argued that it out-scopes them all. And in terms of the influence it cast, you can bet that Depeche Mode, Muse and Marilyn Manson all have well thumbed copies of this record. Bowie is at his best when he is overblown and ridiculous, and here those qualities are to the fore. To finish, if you want an indication of how oblivious and monged out he was when he made this album, have a look at this picture:



Best Tracks: Sweet Thing, Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me, 1984

Best Moment: 1:05 into Sweet Thing. I can’t do that. Neither can you.

Like this? Try: For Your Pleasure by Roxy Music (1973)


profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 25



25. The Cure – Disintegration (1989)


There are certain albums that can only be fully appreciated at certain times of the year. Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison, for example, should ideally be listened to on a warm summers evening when it’s still light at nine o’clock while you’re sat in a garden taking it easy; Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter is the perfect autumn album, and Radiator by the Super Furry Animals is best heard on the “Sunny days in January” that they sing about on Demons. Going on this premise, Disintegration by The Cure must never be played any other time than in the cold, dark depths of winter.

The opener, Plainsong, is so slow and monolithic it would be perfectly suited to accompany footage of a huge iceberg moving across an arctic seascape. It takes two and a half minutes of enormous, crystalline synths and drums that sound like they’ve been recorded in an aircraft hangar before Robert Smith starts singing, and by then you’ve already been swallowed up. The sound of this whole album is one of a glacial, submerging darkness. In contrast to the earlier Cure albums, such as Seventeen Seconds and Pornography, where the darkness was expressed through aggressive, pounding ugliness, here the introspection is  transcendent and in places even beautiful.

In many ways it is an album that is enhanced by its narrative; the first three tracks are relatively optimistic, the afore-mentioned Plainsong is, in my opinion, The Cure’s best ever song, then comes the shimmering embrace of Pictures Of You, followed by the snowy rhythms of Closedown. It is as good an opening trinity as you’ll ever hear; Smith has arrived as an expressive and emotive guitarist, and Simon Gallup proves himself as Peter Hook’s only serious rival in the age of post-punk bassists.

The singles are the ones that everyone is familiar with, obviously, and they come next. Not here the kohl-eyed pop of The Love Cats or Boys Don’t Cry, but the bare wires of Love Song, the song that Smith allegedly wrote as a present to his wife. Then the most familiar song on this album, Lullaby; a genuinely creepy piece of music about Smith’s childhood arachnophobia, made forever famous by its cartoon-goth video in which Smith, in his classic massive back-comb and lipstick phase, gets eaten by his own bed.

Eventually, after more distortion and chugging bass, we arrive at the album’s nine-minute centrepiece, The Same Deep Water As You, which could well be the most bleakly intoxicating song ever written. It evokes the experience of having an irresolvable argument with one’s lover, in a freezing rain storm, when your eyes are turning pink from lack of sleep, and by now in the narrative all hope is truly lost.

Disintegration’s sleeve depicts Robert Smith drowning in a swirl of blue, green and black. That’s what this album is like.

Best Tracks: Plainsong, Closedown, Same Deep Water As You


Best Moment: 0:23 into the first track, a tinkle of wind chimes, a ride cymbal rustle, and then you get consumed by a song.


Like this? Try: Without You I’m Nothing by Placebo (1998)

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 26

26. The Kinks – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)



1968 was one of rock music’s great leaps forward.  In Britain alone the Beatles would prove themselves as the most forward thinking and experimental band ever with The White Album, the Small Faces would turn out a bonafide psychedelic masterpiece with Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, and Pete Townshend was starting to discuss rock as a real cultural force, capable of providing narrative, as he tried to prove with that year’s Tommy. So while all this future-shocking was going on, The Kinks provided this gentle, nostalgic masterpiece, looking back on a mythical cricket, tea and scones past, a life which may have never existed. It is the most emphatically English album of all time.

It’s music that evokes the feelings of a man who doesn’t quite understand the way the world is going, and he wants to be a child again. Almost every single lyric on the album is written in the past tense, each one like a little play about some eccentric character or beautiful landscape Ray Davies knew in his youth. Not here the violent riffs of You Really Got Me or All Day And All Of The Night, rather the dreamlike proto-Roald Dahl of Phenomenal Cat and the beautiful plinky-plonk of Sitting By The Riverside. So many songs here mention taking photographs, “to prove that they really existed,” and there are so many “la-la-la” bits. The track Village Green has a harpsichord and is so unbelievably Ye Olde England-sounding it is amazing that they don’t squeeze a Hey-Nonny-Nonny into the chorus.

They call it a concept album in retrospect, and I suppose it is in many ways. Its about a time when everything was made of wood or metal because there was no plastic and there were factory chimneys smoking in the distance and Richard Burton was a rising star. What Davies didn’t realise, though, was that for a generation that missed it, this album would come to be about the very time in which he recorded it. A time when every schoolboy had a picture of Booby Moore or Jimmy Greaves on their bedroom wall, and every girl wanted to look like Twiggy. They may call it a concept album, but at the end of the day it is nothing less than a phenomenally good acoustic rock album, and while The Beatles and Stones were taking all the plaudits, …Village Green would go on to influence just as many artists. Without this record, no Paul Weller, no Blur, no Belle And Sebastian, no White Stripes. Long live Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety.

Best Tracks: Johnny Thunder, Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains, Village Green


Best Moment: The opening line in Animal Farm: This world is big and wild and half insane. Someone get the man a nice cup of tea.


Like this? Try: If You’re Feeling Sinister by Belle and Sebastian, 1994


profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 27

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)


Very little is known about Nick Drake. He was reportedly a skilled cricket player, stood six foot five inches tall, went to Cambridge university and lived with his parents. Only a handful of photographs exist, and no film footage at all. He died in 1974 at the age of twenty six, from an overdose of amitiriptyline, and it is not known whether it was an accident or suicide.

Drake’s first two albums, Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, were masterpieces of lush English folk, and they routinely pop up on Top 100 Album lists. However, due to his refusal to do any sort of promotion or interviews, and his stage fright that saw him abandon his one and only tour halfway through, neither sold over 5000 copies upon release. In the two years after this, Drake became crippled by depression due to what he saw as his own failure, and recorded Pink Moon when he was so low he was barely able to speak. He arrived unannounced at the record company to drop the master tapes off. They had neither expected nor wanted another album. The sessions had resulted in one of the most intensely intimate albums ever made.

As a rebuttal of Bryter Layter’s expansive arrangments, Drake recorded this album with just his guitar and his voice. There is only one overdub, a sparse piano part on the title track. The entire running time is less than twenty nine minutes, and not a millisecond is wasted. Its eleven songs achieve a haiku-like, minimalist perfection, whispering in your ear yet somehow incredibly distant. The guitar playing is unbelievable, percussive and shimmering. It is almost impossible to believe that there is only one guitar part recorded on each song, such is the dexterity of Drake’s craft.

Pitchfork ranked Pink Moon as one of the twenty best records of the 70’s, yet it is so starkly self-possessed that it doesn’t really belong to any decade. Many people who knew Nick Drake have commented that he never made eye-contact with anyone, and that is the best description of this record that I could give. It is the music of a man who won’t look you in the eye; not because he is untrustworthy, but because he doesn’t want to. It is the sound of a grown man who is too sad to even cry. His voice rarely gets above the softest slur. On The Things Behind The Sun, when he sings “The movement in your brain, sends you out into the rain,” he means that going out into the rain was an entirely involuntary action, and he didn’t know why he was doing it, such was his mental state at the time.

I don’t expect many people who will read this review to have heard this album, but as a hint of how utterly perfect it is, there’s this story. Joe Boyd, producer and chairman of Witchseason Records, who Drake recorded this album for, was the only other person allowed in the studio when this record was made. When Boyd sold his label to Island Records in the late seventies, the first proviso at the top of the contract, above payments, royalties and copyrights, was that Nick Drake’s records never ever be deleted.

Best Tracks: Road, Things Behind The Sun, Parasite

Best Moment: Try hearing the way he sings the line: “Take a look you may see me on the ground, for I am the parasite of this town,” without putting your hand to your face and whispering “poor sod.”

Like This? Try: The Last Of The Country Gentlemen by Josh T. Pearson.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 28

The Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols  (1977)


By 1976 rock music had become bloated, self-indulgent and dull. Paul McCartney was dragging Wings on a US tour which he saw fit to commemorate with a dreadful triple live album, The Rolling Stones had slid almost the full way into self-parody with an average at best album called Black and Blue, and ELO had released a ludicrously titled atrocity called A New World Record. Bryan Ferry had taken to wearing suits and had grown a spiv-moustache, John Lennon had chosen the domestic life and David Bowie was coked off his nut and pretending to be a Nazi. Led Zeppelin released the album of their 1975 tour in 2003 on which six songs breach the ten minute mark and three breach the twenty minute mark. Prog had become the alternative music of choice; two years previously, Genesis had released The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, which contained tracks with titles such as The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging, The Chamber Of 32 Doors, and Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats. Emerson, Lake and Palmer started their campaign for the crown of Worst Band Of All Time and Rick Wakeman recorded The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur and The Round Table. Then performed it on ice at Wembley Arena. If you can get hold of the Best Of The Old Grey Whistle Test DVD Vol1, which covers this period, you’ll notice that every member of every band on it looks like they stink.

So in this landscape of Cambridge graduates with hair down to their arses slurring merrily about elves dancing round mulberry bushes or spaceships sailing to Narnia while their mate wearing pantaloons puts his spliff down in time to play his eight minute theremin solo, can you imagine how terrifying it must have been to see a bug-eyed spiky-haired ginger waif twitching hyperactively and snarling to two hundred people in a tiny little sweatbox about abortions and overthrowing the government? Can you imagine how upset all the keyboard players were that no-one wanted to hear their twenty banks of synths and their mellotron anymore, and they just wanted three chords on a Les Paul? Can you possibly comprehend how perturbed these classically trained “progressive musicians” must have felt when they realised that their delicate twenty minute “rock symphonies” were blown out of the water by violent three minute slabs of racket? Or when their masterpieces with titles such as The Battle Of Marston Moor (July The 2nd 1664) were deemed utterly irrelevant by a song called Pretty Vaaaaaacunt? Just for one moment can you try and understand how scared all the Middle England parents must have been when they heard “You fucking rotter” on The Bill Grundy Show, or how emphatically “not amused” The Queen must have been to ban The Pistols from the number one spot, even though they’d sold 47,000 more records than Rod Stewart?

No. You can’t. And neither can I, because nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime, and will never happen again. The most important British group of all time.


Best Tracks: Bodies, God Save The Queen, Pretty Vacant


Best Moment: The sheer violence of Lydon’s voice throughout is astonishing, but the way he sings the line “She was a bloody disgrace,” in Bodies is genuinely eye-opening.


Like This? Try: Raw Power by Iggy and The Stooges, 1973