Talk about the Queen over at Strictly towers and you’ll probably get stuck in a very long and heated argument. However, one thing that we all uniformly love is British music. So rather than discussing The Queen, we’ll be picking our favourite British album of the last 60 years.
There will be no set order this week, just 10 selections chosen by 10 writers. So let’s go!
Radiohead – OK Computer by Hannah Watts
When considering British records the first albums that come to mind are Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead and pretty well anything by The Beatles (not least I expect because the Queen, The Beatles and the phrase “bollocks,” all stereotypically British). In spite of this I have chosen Radiohead’s not-distinctly-British-sounding masterpiece OK Computer as my nomination for best British album.
OK Computer marks the ascension of Radiohead from a decent indie rock band to one of the most undeniably inventive and unique creative forces to come from our 209,331 square kilometres of land. From the opening guitar riff of “Airbag”, through the stomach-lifting bass entrance in “Exit Music…” to the tilted waltz of “The Tourist” it’s a collection of carefully constructed pieces and moments that fit together and flow as every truly great album should. It is perhaps for this reason that the tracks that have gone on to be classics (“Karma Police”, “Paranoid Android” and “No Surprises” to name a few) do not overshadow the other songs on the album in the way that can happen when certain songs are overexposed.
It’s true that OK Computer doesn’t have the same markedly British feel associated with our rebellious late-70s punk, our jangly 80s indie or our rowdy 90s lad-rock, but it does carry an overwhelming sense of fear and alienation – and really what better way to soundtrack Britain in 2012.
Like most children, my early introduction to music was from my parents. Luckily for me, my dad was a Pink Floyd fan, which led me to follow him and maybe even surpass his love for the band!
Meddle isn’t as recognisable as other Floyd albums such as The Wall or The Dark Side of the Moon, but musically I think it’s their best. From the thumping bass run that rips through the opening track ‘One Of These Days’ to the haunting closing epic that is ‘Echoes’, this album does everything you’d want it to and more!
The Libertines – Up The Bracket by Simone F
For me, this is one of the Greatest British Albums of the past decade. Back in 2002 a friend shoved Up The Bracket down my nose and promised me this band would change my view of guitar music (having been heavily into Joy Division and Nirvana at this point, but having never really understood the local music scenes).
The day I listened to at times slurred passion of Pete and Carl, with their wistful melodies and love/hate relationship through the record itself, it was like someone had sparked up a cigarette and smacked my face in a sweaty pub. The odd poetic lyrics were like a spiritual smoke from The Clash.
From that very moment, I was in. Climbing through windows to see this very band live, and I walked away covered in spit and heartfelt love, and in situations with the band one will never forget, can never forgot (scars never fade away). Music needed a pure rock n roll band. The Americans had The Strokes, England, London, Camden had The Libertines. Now one of the most iconic guitar bands for the best and the worst reasons.
The stories that came out about their troubled personal life just made the interest in the band more real and human. Even to this day, I can officially say listening to Up The Bracket makes my hormones become all teenage again; it’s one of the best British albums to date.
It certainly was lucky number 7 for Depeche Mode, as Violator, their magnum opus and seventh studio album, became their most successful album on both sides of the Atlantic. Getting to Number 2 on the UK charts and going Gold, whilst going 2x Platinum across the pond, and as of 2010, it has sold 15 million copies worldwide.
Driven by singles such as “Personal Jesus”, “Policy of Truth” and “Enjoy the Silence”, it helped put Basildon on the musical map, as well as making Depeche Mode one of Britain’s most successful exports to the United States. Whilst these singles certainly stand-out as lone wonders, listening to the album coherently, they form a part of the jigsaw puzzle of emotions; from angsty melancholy to nihilism, misanthropy and sexual obsession. Their dark, brooding synthpop masterpiece would become heavily influential in electro, dance, metal and rock circles – from Rammstein to Nine Inch Nails, to Bloc Party and Arcade Fire.
It was also recently voted Britain’s second Best Album of the Last 60 years by HMV customers, whilst the Rolling Stone ranked it 342nd on their “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Pulp – Different Class by Kyle Prangnell
Different Class by Pulp arrived in 1995, at the height of Britpop, and although a lot of headline space was taken up by the battle between Blur and Oasis, Pulp arguably made the best album of the era. The album’s view of its own generation, in the likes of “Sorted For E’s and Whizz” and class division in “Common People”, made it perfect for its time.
Different Class has lost nothing in time though, drugs and a feeling of class division are ever present, and Cocker’s lustful control of the English language is inimitable, meaning even today the album hasn’t dated at all. Apart from the hits “Common People” and “Disco 2000”, the moment that shows Pulp standing out from the crowd is the sexually driven revenge story of “I Spy”, in which Cocker guides us through a devious yet wonderful story, each word spoken cutting to the bone as if spoken scornfully for the first time towards the very person they were aimed. This album exemplifies Britain as it was, and as it is today.