2010. A year of natural and man-made disasters and disruptions – the Haitian earthquake, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Pakistan floods, volcanic ash from Iceland silencing the skies, toxic waste polluting Hungary’s rivers and, at either end of the year, hysterical news coverage of “Frozen Britain”, as though the very concept of a country on the same latitude as Canada and Russia being covered in snow and ice in winter was completely alien. Although, after over a decade of mostly mild winters, perhaps it was. The year when 13 increasingly fraught years of Labour government ended, and a coalition of cuts (with optional “n”) took over, led by a bunch of Old Etonians who told us – and keep telling us – that we’re all in this together. Like High School Musical with fewer teeth and more double chins. Public services ravaged, tuition fees hiked, despite the biggest protests seen since before the Iraq War. As a wise man once said, there should have been another way.
In the summer, two men went on separate rampages, and the media failed to question the part that it had to play in turning them into sick folk heroes. There was reliable four-yearly disappointment in the World Cup, the usual annual disappointment in Wimbledon. Israel made itself more unpopular than everAn apologist for child sex abuse, homophobia and the repression of women visited the country and was serenaded by Susan Boyle and Michelle McManus, so at least he got the musical reception he deserved. Perhaps not surprisingly, the nation embraced the almost fairy-tale qualities of the miraculous rescue of over thirty Chilean miners, who had been trapped underground for over two months. Every single one brought out alive. And, to round off the year, a royal engagement and a spring wedding. An extra long May Bank Holiday and a great day to bury bad news. And if that didn’t distract the public, then a Brazilian who couldn’t sing and a racist, homophobic ex-politician who couldn’t dance proved very effective distractions indeed. The year ended with more snow and leaks that weren’t caused by burst pipes.
It was the year when, on the large screen, Scott Pilgrim took on the evil exes, Inception confused a lot of people, The Kids Are Alright proved that gay couples don’t have to be miserable or screamingly camp, and We Are What We Are gave cannibals a sympathetic treatment. Those were my films of the year. On television, Glee was the talk of the town, but I sensed the shine starting to come off it towards the end of its run. Deeper, darker, more satisfying entertainment was to be found in Nurse Jackie, This Is England ’86, Misfits and, of course, Mad Men. A show that has now been gobbled up by Sky, which means those of us who refuse to line Murdoch’s greasy pockets will have to wait for the DVD releases to find out if Peggy’s taken over Sterling Cooper Draper Price by 1969.
And so to my soundtrack for 2010. It’s an eclectic mix, one from which you’ll no doubt find heinous omissions, or where you may think I’ve placed the songs or albums that are there too high or too low. Tonight, the albums. Tomorrow, the singles from 50-21. Before we count down, however, one last thing. The day before my birthday, I had my Gaga moment. Having studiously ignored all the hype that surrounded her last year, I watched her performance at the Brit Awards, a tribute to Alexander McQueen who had died the week before (less then two months later, another maverick without whom the likes of Lady Gaga would have found it harder to exist, also passed away too early). Suddenly she made sense. She’s in the list of songs. How high, you’ll find out presently. But first, here’s a countdown of my top 30 albums for the year. When I think about it, 30 new albums in one year is a lot – but justified in the circumstances, as there was a lot of good stuff out. As ever, please feel free to tell me what you think:
30 Magnetic Fields – Realism
29 Clinic – Bubblegum
28 Fionn Regan – The Shadow of an Empire
27 Antony & The Johnsons – Swanlights
26 Jonsi – Go
25 Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
24 Owen Pallett – Heartland
23 Broken Bells – Broken Bells
22 Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
21 Hot Chip – One Life Stand
20 John Grant – The Queen of Denmark
19 Yeasayer – Odd Blood
18 Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love
17 Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
16 Warpaint – The Fool
15 Scissor Sisters – Night Work
14 Clogs – The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton
13 Goldfrapp – Head First
12 Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
11 She & Him – Volume Two
Into the Top 10 we go…
10 Rufus Wainwright – All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu
Just Rufus and his piano, singing about his mother. Devastating, hard to listen to, but ultimately rewarding.
9 LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
If this is to be James Murphy’s final album under this particular moniker, then he ends on a high.
8 Best Coast – Crazy For You
Less than thirty minutes of pop perfection – keep them wanting more is such an undervalued maxim these days.
7 Perfume Genius – Learning
Also a very short album, and like Rufus this is a boy keeping it minimal. So fragile he sounds like you could snap him in two, but there’s an inner steel.
6 The Drums – The Drums
Proving that they can do a full-length record after their Summertime E.P. It’s wonderful how so many indie bands are realising what pop has demonstrated from Bacharach to the Carpenters to ABBA – sadness works best when it sounds happy.
5 Janelle Monae – The Archandroid
A truly stunning concept album about an android from the far future who ends up in the present day and- oh, just buy the sodding album and listen to a creative genius at work. The annoying thing is that if some white bloke had done this, it would have been hailed as a work of genius. But because it was a black, female R&B singer, it got criminally underexposed.
4 Beach House – Teen Dream
I lost count of the number of serene Saturday and Sunday afternoons that I spent in the company of Teen Dream. This is truly an album that was made for wallowing.
3 Everything Everything – Man Alive
Britain’s brightest, most inventive young band produce an album that pulls in a dozen different directions. And yet, somehow or other, it all hangs together. It takes a few listens, but you’ll love it.
2 Robyn – Body Talk
By which I mean Body Talk Part 1, Body Talk Part 2 and Body Talk Part 3 (which is the edited highlights of Part 1 and Part 2 with a few new tracks thrown in). Hard to think of anyone who would these days have the audacity to release all this new material in the space of a year. Drips with pop genius – the Swedes are still way ahead of us.
1 The National – High Violet
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: after all that championing of smart young things, he’s made a bunch of thirtysomething blokes with facial hair his best album again. But it’s justified. Like Elbow, The National finally seem to be getting proper recognition after a decade of quietly but brilliantly plugging away. This album, like all albums should, just flows from one track to the next in a seamless whole, from Terrible Love through to Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. A masterpiece.
And that’s my album countdown of 2010. Singles start tomorrow. See you then…