Q Magazine – “the modern guide to music and more” – first appeared in September 1986, and published its final issue in July 2020. Here’s a personal and highly subjective look back at the best music released in that period…
In Part 8, we reached Y2K, the Year 2000. From hereon in, things will be noughties, noughties, very noughties!
(Q183) October 2001
Royksopp was not a flat-pack storage unit from IKEA, but a sublime duo from Norway specialising in chilled, ambient electronic dance music for the 21st Century. Their debut album, Melody AM, was a sleeper hit through late 2001 and most of 2002, courtesy of a string of excellent singles (and plenty of Moby-esque TV commercial tie-ins). If you were watching television at the time, Eple will be the most recognisable track – a nagging loop of an instrumental groove overlaid with quirky samples.
Melody AM’s blend of downtempo beats and Nordic wonder had Q suggesting it was “enough to restore the disillusioned’s faith in dance music”. For yours truly, it certainly was. The 80s-centric feel to afdpj at the moment doesn’t tell the full story of my love for electronic/dance music. Eventually, that will have its time in the sun.
Poor Leno and Remind Me (my favourite track of all) featured the guest vocals of Erlend Oye from nu-acoustic maestros Kings Of Convenience. Oye would later release a solo album – Unrest – in the same vein as Melody AM.
Nothing else from 2001 makes this list, sadly. The albums I was most invested in back then have either not travelled too well (Dido, David Gray) or aren’t really outstanding enough to stake a strong claim for inclusion despite being more than decent efforts (Suzanne Vega, Stevie Nicks, Elton John).
Zero 7’s debut (Simple Things) and the aforementioned Kings Of Convenience’s own first outing (Quiet Is The New Loud) would probably be the unluckiest to miss out.
(Q191) May 2002
We therefore jump 6 months ahead and find ourselves faced with a brand new David Bowie album. Hmmm. Does it sound more like Scary Monsters than anything he’s done since then? What say you, Q?
“Heathen has the beefiest sound of a Bowie record since 1980’s Scary Monsters…”
Okay. Is it….*gulp*….a return to form? (Like every single new Bowie album since Let’s Dance?).
“A return to form, definitely.”
And they say comedy is a dying art. However, we’re inclined to cut Q some slack, only because Heathen really was one of the better Bowie albums since 1980. Personally, I liked them all (especially Never Let Me Down) so my opinion may have little bearing on reality (see what I did there?) but Bowie did a Flowers In The Dirt on this record. No, not by teaming up with Elvis Costello, but by simply playing to his (perceived) strengths and not chasing trends or trying to be a bit different simply because he’s Dame David the Pop Chameleon.
(Q193) July 2002
High summer, and what was needed was a bit of woozy, hazy, dreamlike, sun-drenched alternate pop about Anime-style heroines and their battles with pink robots. Yes! Bring it on!
Yoshimi… was, by all accounts, the most accessible Flaming Lips album to date, along with 1999’s The Soft Bulletin (which I would go on to discover forthwith). The earlier, more “challenging” material I shied away from, so in the grand scheme of things I have little context in which to place the album and how it compares to the majority of their catalogue (I bailed out after the next album, 2006’s War Of The Mystics).
There’s a 20th Anniversary super deluxe edition boxset of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots now available, and in the spirit of progress and all things being much better in 2022 than 2002, it’s a 6-disc extravaganza….with individual card-wallet CDs housed in a flimsy outer case, and the live concert material is from a glitchy CD-R because nobody had the source audio anymore. Wonderful.
At this point, the second Coldplay album could have been our next port of call, but – in a echo of U2 and my struggles to put aside all the misgivings and the “external noise” (to use the latest jargon) surrounding them – I think A Rush Of Blood To The Head‘s spot should be taken by something less obvious, and more in need of the recognition.
(Q202) April 2003
Like this gem of an offshoot album by one of Death Cab For Cutie (Benjamin Gibbard) and fellow alternative college rock/pop alumni (Jimmy Tamborello). Now I’d always thought The Postal Service were a duo, but Discogs’ page for the band has them down as a trio, with Jenny Lewis (frontwoman of Rilo Kiley, another band circling in a similar orbit as DCFC) also a member (she is at least on the album, so Discogs aren’t having a moment). Well, blow me down! Seems Q were under the same impression, describing them as an “American duo who, together make mostly delightful, sometimes ’80s-sounding, always plinky, electro-pop.”
Plinky, huh? Well….okay, you can have that one Q. They meant it in a nice way.
Give Up, led by its pair of absolutely corking singles Such Great Heights and The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, makes light of the combined reputations of those involved. It does what the current Royal Mail service in the UK is unable to do, and actually delivers.
(Q206) August 2003
The “mashup” was one of those underground/club/DJ-led trends which crossed over into the mainstream in the early Noughties. Richard X was among those who pioneered its assimilation into mainstream chart pop, via the Sugababes’ Freak Like Me in 2002. Then we had Kylie’s Can’t Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head (itself not an X production), blending the monster smash of 2001 with the New Order classic to fantastic effect.
Next up, Being Nobody. Which, as the title suggests, took elements of Ain’t Nobody (the Rufus & Chaka Khan classic from 1983) and Being Boiled by the early Human League Mk.I of 1978, then got Liberty X (no relation) to perform it. Result: one of the best pop records of 2003, and a short-lived pop band got a temporary reprieve from the dumper.
The trick was repeated a few months later with Finest Dreams. Another mid-80s soul/funk classic (SOS Band’s The Finest) bolted onto another old Human League track (The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, this time from Dare). Kelis did the honours, and a Top 10 hit ensued. Not long after she would be showing her milkshake to all the boys in the yard.
You would think, then, that a whole album of this electrifying, very contemporary take on synth pop might prove quite popular. I certainly thought it would be. Q, too, were enthusiastic, declaring it “a collection of cleverly updated cover versions, sparky pop jams and oddball electro…”
Richard X Presents His X-Factor Vol.1, however, seemed to sink without trace within weeks of its release. The lack of success could possibly be attributed to the confusing/misleading title; did the public think it was something to do with that “other” X-Factor, the dreadful Simon Cowell talent show? And, as ever with albums named Volume One, there was never a Volume Two.
The project didn’t even live to see an official third single; You Used To (my personal favourite on the whole album) had promotional 12″s and CDs pressed up and distributed to the media, but the planned retail launch in January 2004 never came to pass.
A corner had been turned, though. The first Girls Aloud album had also emerged in the middle of 2003 (and narrowly misses inclusion), invigorating the tired X-Factor/post-Girl Power/Boyband wasteland that the UK Top 40 had become for me. Pop’s new golden age was here and I was into my chart music far more than any time since the early 1990s. But first, some more traditional fare.
(Q214) April 2004
Keane were the new Coldplay. The old Coldplay were still going strong, and recently enjoyed an enormo-selling album and tour, so could there be room for both?
Q found Hopes And Fears “hugely impressive”, but otherwise hedged their bets on the predictions front. “Can Keane become the new Coldplay? …time will tell”. As if unsure of how much they should champion these young upstarts with the super-soaraway anthems Somewhere Only We Know and Everybody’s Changing, Q reviewed the album again only four issues later. This time, their verdict was “a class act”, whose “soft-centred arena rock will give mentors Coldplay a fright”.
Hopes And Fears turned out to be one of my most-played albums of that year. In fact, I was properly obsessed with it (and the band) for most of 2004. Ultimately it was eclipsed by another debut from a band evoking the spirit of alternative 1980s pop.
(Q216) June 2004
The Killers were even named after the fictitious group in New Order’s music video for their 2001 single Crystal. Hot Fuss landed halfway through 2004 without too much fanfare, as far as I can remember. Q‘s ambivalent 3-star rating also failed to spot a modern classic in the making. Somebody Told Me that Mr Brightside has been on the UK charts for several years, which goes to show how bizarre and nonsensical all that stuff has become. Three of its singles were #1s on my own Top 40 during 2004 and 2005, as Hot Fuss notched up 150 weeks on the album charts I also used to compile in conjunction with their singles counterpart. So yes, I quite liked it I suppose.
(Q219) September 2004
No 5-star review for The Blue Nile’s return after 8 years; were Q feeling alright?
“This release is an event”, they said. Well yes it was. Any time the band release something it’s a big deal for me. I even wrote a long article about the deluxe edition’s release in 2020….
Finally for this section of our retrospective, a pair of cracking and unexpectedly wonderful albums by very different female artists which both arrived towards the end of the year but became an essential part of my soundtrack to 2005.
(Q222) December 2004, album released November 2004.
L.A.M.B. bam, thank you ma’am. No Doubt’s lead singer Gwen Stefani went solo, and made the best pop single and album of the entire year (beating off some very serious competition). What You Waiting For? spent an eternity at #1 on my chart, while the parent LP was rarely outside the Top 5 for what felt like months. Utterly mesmerising, dynamic, modern pop with an avalanche of hooks and a devilish twist. Honestly, who knew?
My only frustration was the record company’s choice of singles, faffing around with middling R&B like Luxurious and Rich Girl when the dashing electro pop of The Real Thing and Danger Zone were right there. Altogether now – this shit is B-A-N-A-N-A-S!
(Q222) December 2004, album released November 2004.
We’re working to a chronological timetable here, so KT Tunstall’s breakthrough debut slots in ahead of anything from 2005, even though that is when I discovered her via Black Horse & The Cherry Tree. The music video on MTV etc that is, not the famous Later With Jools solo performance which I missed at the time (probably because I’m not the biggest fan of Later…, the format just bores me after 20 minutes).
Q‘s reaction to the album was somewhat strange, with comparisons to Norah Jones and Dido, but given how the latter had totally dominated my charts during 2000 and 2001, perhaps that explains more than I realised. Eye To The Telescope would, in a similar way, be one of the defining records of my 2005 and 2006, spurred on by a sequence of excellent singles that kept on building commercial momentum. Her engaging personality and willingness to play live meant she became a regular in the media and on TV, as if she was reluctant to turn any opportunity or invitation down.
That would eventually create its own problems, but trooper that she is, KT continues to do her own thing and delight her loyal fans (like me!) with regular albums of new material. C’MON THE TUNSTALL!
Gosh, that takes me back….