Aphoristic Awards – Best British Albums from 1980 to 2010

Writing about Dire Straits’ discography this week, I learned that 1985’s Brothers in Arms was one of ten albums nominated in 2010 for the title of best British album of the previous 30 years. I was especially intrigued by a comment by one Paul Gambaccini, who stated that the list of nominees was “risible”.

Ten years after the fact, here are the ten albums that were nominated at the Brits for the title of best British album between 1980 and 2010:
Sade – Diamond Life (1985)
Phil Collins – No Jacket Required (1986)
Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (1987)
Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1996)
The Verve – Urban Hymns (1998)
Travis – The Man Who (2000)
Dido – No Angel (2002)
Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head (2003)
Keane – Hopes and Fears (2005)
Duffy – Rockferry (2009)

The smooth soul of Sade’s Diamond Life is the only hint of diversity in this list of pop/rock, and inevitable winners Oasis are the only hint of rebellion. Taken as a whole, the list represents the huge selling records that non-adventurous music fans bought by the truckload. It’s a natural tendency for awards ceremonies to opt for the artistically safe and commercially proven – that’s why the Grammys are so frustrating.

As an alternative, I thought that it would be fun to make my own list of ten best British albums between 1980 and 2010. It’s an interesting challenge, as it largely cuts out classic rock era acts like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Stones, as well as early punk acts like The Clash and The Sex Pistols.

My list is somewhere between a personal list and an objective one. If I was relying fully on personal preference, I would have stuffed my list with 1980s sophisti-pop like Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom and The Blue Nile’s Hats. Here are my ten picks for best British albums released between 1980 and 2010.

Iron Maiden – Powerslave

Iron Maiden Powerslave

Heavy metal is often ignored by award ceremonies and lists, instead existing in its own world of dedicated fans. Iron Maiden are the best-loved band from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and their fifth album Powerslave is a career peak. It offers succinct rockers like ‘Aces High’ and ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ as well as the epic closer ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem.

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love

Kate Bush The Hounds Of Love

Kate Bush‘s music has always flowed with vibrant and romantic creativity, Fifth album Hounds of Love is a career peak, with its two seperate sides showing the breadth of her talents. The first side is dedicated to radio-friendly pop songs like ‘Running Up That Hill’ and ‘Cloudbusting’, while the second side is an arty suite about drowning.

The Smiths – The Queen is Dead


Released on indie label Rough Trade, The Smiths’ third album reached #2 on the UK charts. As always, it documented the unlikely alliance between the jangly guitars of Johnny Marr and the lovelorn, literate lyrics of Morrissey. The Queen is Dead is The Smiths’ most confident record, full of classic songs like ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ and ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’.

XTC – Skylarking

XTC Skylarking

XTC started as a high energy act in the punk era, but after Andy Partridge was afflicted by stage fright they quit touring and became a studio-based entity. 1986’s Skylarking is their best album – producer Todd Rundgren sequenced the band’s songs into a thematic day, and his arranging skills help showcase more diversity than usual. Highlights include the power-pop of ‘Earn Enough For Us’, the hazy psychedelia of ‘Summer’s Cauldron’, and sophisticated piano-pop of ‘Ballet for a Rainy Day’.

Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden

Talk Talk Spirit of Eden

1986’s The Colour of Spring is an amazing pop album – Talk Talk‘s early success allowed Mark Hollis a larger recording budget, enabling him to to use orchestral colours behind his emotive voice. 1988’s Spirit of Eden deconstructs the band’s music entirely – pop songs are replaced by exploration, making Spirit of Eden an important precursor to post-rock. Lee Harris’ jazz drumming and Hollis’ yearning voice are surrounded by woodwinds, piano, and spasms of guitar noise. Has anyone made a song more beautiful than ‘I Believe in You’?

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Richard D. James started recording Aphex Twin’s debut album at the age of 14. He used primitive equipment, notably recording onto a cassette tape that had been damaged by a cat. Despite the project’s limitations, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is a landmark work in Intelligent Dance Music, with dreamy pieces like ‘Ageispolis’.

Portishead – Dummy

Portishead Dummy

Like Aphex Twin, Bristol trip hop band Portishead made an enduring impression with their debut album. The collaboration between producer Geoff Barrow and vocalist Beth Gibbons resulted in beautifully morose music, while Adrian Utley introduced exotic textures like theremins and cimbaloms. Gibbons’ gorgeous voice and consistently strong songwriting provided substance behind the band’s sonic experimentation.

PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?

Dorset’s Polly Jean Harvey started her career with abrasive records like the Steve Albini produced Rid of Me. Is This Desire? toned down the raw edges for a calmer sonic palette. It was written about her breakup with Nick Cave, which also inspired songs on Cave’s The Boatman’s Call.

Radiohead – Kid A

Radiohead Kid A

There’s a strong case that Oxfordshire quintet Radiohead are the most significant UK act of the 1980-2010 window. They emerged with the 1993 alt-rock hit ‘Creep’, and released landmark 1990s albums The Bends and OK Computer. They reinvented themselves with 2001’s Kid A, challenging their audiences with rhythmic and textural experimentation, right from the enigmatic opening slink of ‘Everything In Its Right Place’.

M.I.A. – Kala

M.I.A. was born in London, but moved to Sri Lanka at the age of six months. Her father was a Tamil political activist, and her family went into hiding during the Sri Lankan Civil War. Moving back to England in 1986, she was inspired by the political sounds of The Clash and Public Enemy. Her early albums are endearingly quirky and raw, with political lyrics and sub-continent textures. Her second album, Arular, is her most loved, with the surprise hit ‘Paper Planes’ sampling The Clash’s ‘Straight to Hell’.

Do you have ten favourite albums from the UK from between 1980 to 2010? Post any lists or suggestions below!

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.

Aphoristic Album Reviews features many Reviews and Blog Posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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  1. Love seeing Kate Bush and The Smiths among your ten and there’s a few others here I need to explore. I’m not sure how you define British. By the artist’s nationality? What if the album was recorded elsewhere? I know Ride the Lightning was recorded in Copenhagen and Metallica are considered an American heavy metal band.
    Anyway, my picks (today) are:
    Closer by Joy Division
    Treasure by Cocteau Twins
    Sandinista! by The Clash
    Flesh & Blood by Roxy Music
    Disintegration by The Cure
    So by Peter Gabriel
    Songs of Faith and Devotion by Depeche Mode
    (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis
    Elephant by The White Stripes
    Seventh Tree by Goldfrapp

    • I was assuming nationality. I think Ireland is eligible, as U2 have been nominated for Brits before.
      It’s pretty hard not to go hard on the 1980s for a UK poll, right? Peter Gabriel, Joy Division, and The Cure are all excellent, and I totally forgot about the Cocteau Twins.

  2. you’re right. Every single one of the original nominees was not a good album. Although I did notice that each one had one or two passable hit singles on it that weren’t too bad. There would have been nothing wrong with having so many pop-rock rock albums if only they were good ones. Even though I’m not a fan of them, the Coldplay album is the only one there that’s anything close to a consistent album. Needless to say, your choices are much better and many of them are excellent.

    • It’s more the overall impression of mainstream pop/rock that I don’t like – there are a few albums on that list I haven’t heard because I just assume they’re boring. There have been a few edgier album of the year winners over the award history – Manic Street Preachers, David Bowie (posthumously) and The 1975 have all won album of the year – but they’re not on this list.

  3. As I’m now generally much more into the ‘60s and ‘70s than anything that came afterwards, I’m not even sure I can come up with 10 British albums from the ‘80s and ‘90s I still truly like.😀
    Here are some that come to mind in no particular order:
    – Peter Gabriel/So
    – Sting/Ten Summoner’s Tales
    – Joe Jackson/Blaze of Glory
    – Paul McCartney/Tug of War
    – George Harrison/Cloud Nine
    – U2/The Joshua Tree
    – Simple Minds/Real Life
    – Dire Straits/Brothers in Arms
    – The Police/Synchronicity
    – The Cranberries/No Need to Argue
    I guess that’s 10 after all!😀

    • It’s weird Synchronicity didn’t win album of the year – seems like an obvious choice where The Police were arguably the biggest band in the world, delivered a huge album with an inescapable hit single. But the Brits gave the 1984 award to Michael Jackson (?). Obviously Thriller was huge, but Michael Jackson’s not British.

  4. I would like to give a shoutout to Blur’s Parklife as it is a very ‘British’ album, for being a zeitgeist album at its time, it still stands up to this day and I just want something to rival up Oasis,

        • I would probably have Top 10’s something like this. But I had to make it 20 instead of 10 because choosing from non-electronic and electronic albums is just too much for me to narrow it down to 10.
          Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2
          Roni Size & Reprazent – New Forms
          The Orb – Orblivion
          The Orb – Orbus Terrarum
          XTC – Apple Venus Volume One
          Psychedelic Furs – Talk Talk Talk
          PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love
          PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?
          Primal Scream – Evil Heat
          Tricky – Pre-Millennium Tension
          AIR – Moon Safari
          David Bowie – Outside
          The Selecter – Celebrate the Bullet
          Future Sound of London – Lifeforms
          u-ziq – Royal Astronomy
          Underworld – 100 Days Off
          Spring Heel Jack – 68 Million Shades
          The Chemical Brothers – Come With Us
          The Chemical Brothers – Further
          The Prodigy – The Fat of the Land

          • There’s about four or five from the 2000s on there. I just think there were a lot more good ones from the 90s. In certain kinds of music anyway. I thought Britpop was kind of a washout though. With a couple exceptions like Blur and a few odds and ends. I could probably come up with more good stuff from the Madchester and Baggy era that preceded Britpop. But the 90s was when the British had the best electronic music in the world. And the best of it actually coincided with the exact same time period as Britpop, which I always thought was an interesting fact. They were both at their peak at just about the same time. heh heh. And in my mind I always think of them together.

  5. The thing that British music was really good at during this time period was electronic music and certain dance music. Especially during the 90s. I could easily come up with a list of 10 great electronic albums. But my taste just runs that way and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to agree. I remember a time in the 90s when the British used to give all their music awards to all these pretty good electronic albums, and I was really impressed by their non-mainstream taste . But I guess that time is totally forgotten by now. It was more like a trend.

    • Sure, makes sense. I looked at the Brit awards and they were actually relatively ok in the 1990s. But dance music didn’t really win the album of the year award much – mainly alternative rock like Manic Street Preachers, Blur, and Oasis.

  6. Your list is far from risible!
    We’d have some overlap with The Queen is Dead & Radiohead (though I’d likely go with The Bends & OK Computer). Kate would be a contender too.
    Elsewhere, Pulp’s Different Class, The Cure’s Wild Mood Swings, The Darkness’ Permission to Land, Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, Blur’ Blur, it would be a battle for the last couple of spots!

  7. Oh wait. I forgot to change AIR to Stereolab when I remembered they were French not English. And then I thought Stereolab was considered a French band too, but they’re not.
    So it should be:
    Stereolab – Dots and Loops

  8. Yeah Talkie Walkie is my second or third favorite by them. I also love 10000 Hertz Legend. Actually their best is Premiere Symptomes but that’s actually an EP..

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