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
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‘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 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
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
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
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!