Monday, 25 May 2015

A Joyless Response to the Joylessness of Eurovision

This isn't the kind of post I usually put on this music blog, it's more like what I'd write on the sports blog - a mild-mannered piece of topical invective. But Eurovision was on last night, and I realised, in those brief seconds where my remote took me to BBC1, that I have moved fully from the delight I took in it as a child to thoroughly hating it. I've made excuses enough. I've enjoyed, indulged, been indifferent, but now, I must say, that joke isn't funny anymore.

Despising what one loved as a child is the mark of a cynic and a killjoy, but, notwithstanding that I've changed, so has Eurovision since then, significantly for the worse. Has the world changed or have I changed? Morrissey quotes through this post are fitting not just because I'm sure there were rumours a few years ago that Morrissey was going to be the UK representative, but also because, like Eurovision, Morrissey was awesome in the 80s and is kind of loathsome now.

Can I comment if I only watched a few fleeting minutes this year? Well, you could say that's enough. But, I should add, I did watch a fair bit of it last year, and, drinking and with family, I did manage to sit through and enjoy the whole thing about 4 years ago. So I'm still in touch with how to enjoy it.

Removed from a positive context though, let us look at Eurovision as it is now. It used to be an epic 3 hours, half songs and half scores. Really, the songs were a bit of silliness to get through before the fun started. Now it's a n obese four hours, finishing so far past any kid's bedtime, and the songs have multiplied while the announcements of scores have been stripped back. The only good bit. The "sport without the sport" as one superfan described it this week (I realise that was a positive for him ... it obviously sounds like life without the living to me). But it's not sport, because good sport, proper sport, is fair and does actually discover who is best, or purports to. Even sports like skating suffer if success is dictated by a seemingly arcane judging system.

See, I watched boxing last night rather than Eurovision. I watched Jame DeGales' supermiddleweight world title bout with the slick American Andre Dirrell. Once it was clear the fight was going the distance, the commentators (and I) began to worry about the judges' scorecards. Bad scorecards can be the bane of boxing. Fighters and fans get furious if one or more judges' has seen the fight differently/wrongly. Any sport decided by human judging can suffer from that. That's not sport, not really. So a lot of sports try to have pretty clear criteria on how they are judging. As it happened, there was one bad scorecard last night, but the other two were, in most eyes (though not Andre Dirrell's), pretty spot-on. The right man won. Hurray, DeGale.

There is corruption and cheating in sport. Fans hate it. It sticks so deep in the gullet. Corruption, nepotism, a lack of merit is the very essence of modern Eurovision. And people don't seem to mind that much.

I'm hardly the one to speak up against "judging" music, I'm really not, I know that, but come on, choosing between 30 songs, ranking 30 songs in one night, that's in and of itself a nonsense. But I can't complain about that.

The songs are rubbish. Haha, they've always been rubbish, you'll say. That's the fun. But they're hardly ever rubbish in a a fun way any more, just cynical, efficient pop tat, slick enough, probably written by committee. Eurovision, as a kid, was often hilarious. It's really not hilarious anymore. It's forced jollity. All the countries know how to write dull but efficient pop music now. It's like someone said to me recently - Much better to have an old house from before when people knew how to make bad houses efficiently and cheaply. Well, a bit like that ...

I watched Eurovision gleefully for years with my brothers and sisters, it was one of my favourite TV events of the year. I knew the songs were rubbish, there was fun in that. Laughing at foreigners was a bit more innocent and acceptable then. I can't really see how it is now.

So I've mostly ignored and abided it for the last 20 years. I've never been beyond sneering at other people's fun, but my happy memories of Eurovision kept me from doing that for a long time.

But it's turned from a silly treat for them that fancy it to something really rather ghastly and bloated, corrupt and pointless.

Empty laughter ...

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Mad Men

A few weeks ago, I decided to write a few words about Mad Men when it finished. As it happens, I don't really know what to say - Mad Men is written about a lot, and very intelligently and insightfully. It is studied and pored over, TV critics and obsessive fans see things which I wouldn't have seen as a basic viewer. I have little to add here. And Mad Men was such a rich, brilliant, complex show that it seems a shame to write about it as prosaically as I undoubtedly will.

I also resolved to come up with a Mad Men Compilation, a list of songs in the spirit of the show, but, thankfully, realising just how pointless that would be, in light of perfectly curated the actual music for the show was, I've pulled out of that.

I had ... America - Simon and Garfunkel (of course) ,,, and Koka Kola - The Clash ...

Aah, Coca-Cola. Right, I should say, as people do these days, if you haven't got to the end and actually want to keep a few things a mystery, don't read on. I won't be able to do this without giving a bit away, of course.

So, Coca-Cola ... well, let me say, popping my collar, I picked it. Not that long ago, but during the penultimate episode (perhaps the thought had floated through my head before, though I do my best not to predict events in TV and films) I guessed, as Don fixed the Coke machine on the motel porch, that he was going to go back to work and come up with that Coke ad, arguably the most famous TV ad of all time. So bully for me.

It was a great trick, a fitting ending, better than any of the other theories fans and critics came up with. The show finished, in almost all cases, humanely, realistically, cynically but hopefully. It got it right. As it did nearly all the time.

Right, I'll stop trying to make big points. Here are just a few distinct thoughts I have about Mad Men.

1. I came to Mad Men after it had run for two seasons, I'd just watched The Wire, which I thought was the best thing ever. I was persuaded to watch Mad Men, I was told it was cool and stylish and what have you ... it seemed a lot of people, friends of mine and media people, were really into it. To start with, I liked it but didn't love it. It didn't seem to have the scope of The Wire, lacked the power, the sweep. I didn't want to focus on just one man, and someone so dull as an ad man either. I liked it,  I didn't love it.
As it progressed through the seasons, the viewing figures, the interest of my friends, the trophies and the critical hysteria, they all died away a little, people said it was losing its way, past its prime. I must say, to me, it kept on getting better and better, and I'm not just saying that because it ended so well. It got deeper and deeper, I understood it more and more, trusted it more and more. Maybe, that's because I read around the show, saw in all those critiques and discussions just how clever Matthew Weiner was trying to be - I had my eye out for the symbolism and the big ideas. The Wire wasn't so much about the symbolism and the big ideas.

2. Having said that, no one would deny that there were moments that tested you with Mad Men. There were less compelling, less believable episodes. There were characters, sometimes men but usually women, who were treated a little contemptuously by the show, serving as mere cyphers for Don's (or maybe Pete's) big story before being casually discarded. But I never felt the show lost its way, it always pulled me back in again quickly. Yes, there was repetition - Don did go through the same cycles over and over again, but that's the point, isn't it, and to set that against a backdrop of the world changing, the man aging, so that the mistakes and decisions he took had a different effect on him and others each time, that was what it was all about.

3. In the end, Don Draper was, of course, the main focus, but seven seasons gave time for so many great characters to emerge. Harry Crane and Ken Cosgrove - supporting characters throughout, never the main focus. But, I feel, very important to show. Watch back the first series or so, and it's interesting, it's Ken that seems like the standard obnoxious lad, Harry's a bit meek, the family man, the geek. I'm sure that's deliberate. As it turns out, Ken is pretty much the only unambigously good guy (maybe Stan too) on the show, Harry, of all of them, turns out to be the biggest scumbag, the real skincrawler. Harry never really gets comeuppance, indeed he's in a pretty good place at the end, but it was nice that he never got the big payout. Ken, well, it kind of comes up roses for Ken, he's happy and successful, he gets revenge on those that undervalued him, but he has turned his back on his creativity, which is a bit of a shame. Ken was the Slim Charles (Wire reference) of Mad Men for me - the background guy you rooted for because he was made of better stuff than the rest.

4. As it drew to its conclusion, I found myself surprised by how emotionally involved I was - how much of the last season (in its two parts) I was moved by. Mad Men didn't go over the top on death, but the passing of Bert and the in particular the fate of Betty in Season 7 cut deep. Betty was unfairly maligned as a person throughout, I felt. Was she really that bad, that vain, that selfish? Did she not deserve to be a bit selfish?
Of course, looking back, lung cancer seemed an obvious end for her, early death also an inevitability. How thoroughly rounded it all seems now.

5. In defence also of Don - yes, he could be a wretch, but was he really all that bad? He had his moments. Mainly, his treatment of the women he was in relationships with was awful. Obviously. But he wasn't a straightforward chauvinist, nor a racist nor homophobe nor snob. He's the one who wouldn't have let Joan prostitute herself, he's the one that saw Peggy's talents. He showed kindness to strangers and was often more fair-minded than others. Was he really a terrible dad? He had good relations with his children, he saw them often, he cared and empathized for the most part. There are a lot worse, I think. I'm not going to try to go into the character in depth, all that he may or may not represent, all that he was looking for and looking to escape from, but honestly, on a basic, unnuanced "arsehole scale" of the characters in Mad Men, for me, he's nowhere near the top!

6.  Roger, for all his charm, now there's a proper arsehole!

7. I've never known another TV show given such academic analysis, nor so deserving of it. I'm so glad it ended brilliantly, because a lot of TV shows don't. The Wire didn't actually. Mad Men was allowed to travel its full journey at its own speed. and I think its reputation will only grow as the years progress.

That's all I've got really ....

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Greatest Greatest Hits

The age of Greatest Hits, is, of course, past. Anyone can put together whatever compilation of whatever band they want whenever they want. But let us not forget or underestimate how enjoyable and important Greatest Hits Collections were. Let us celebrate them.

Putting together my previous post on Masterpieces brought me to this, in some ways the very opposite. Some acts created something magnificent once in their career,  they have a masterpiece but not that much else (let us say The Stone Roses), while some acts have no one outstanding work, but a phenomenal body. I disqualified Greatest Hits collections from being masterpieces, but some of them sound like it - All Killer No Filler.

A Greatest Hits is slightly different from a Best Of. There's an extra level to it. It's not just having a great body of work over the course of a career (let us say Leonard Cohen), it's also having a degree of success and being sufficiently in tune with your own work and fans to know what the best songs to release as singles are. It's also being a band that has singles, has hits, full stop, an act that has some degree of "pop" to them.

The ideal purpose of a Greatest Hits, I suppose, is to remind people who weren't huge fans of a band that, actually, they've got quite a few really good songs spread out down the years. There were, I think, three very notable Greatest Hits collections by bands in my era, albums which were surprising crossover successes and took the band to an extra level in people's consciousness - The Beautiful South, The Lightning Seeds and James. Bands born for the Greatest Hits Collections, poppy enough to collect several Top 20 singles, not despised but not overly acclaimed, without a particular album to be an albatross round their neck. The  Greatest Hits was the very best they could offer, you'd hear it in a car and go "hmm, this band have a surprising number of songs I know and don't mind ..." or words to that effect.

I suppose a great Greatest Hits has to be the best a band can offer - so, to take the most  obvious example, I wouldn't put The Beatles' Greatest Hits (I'll be flitting very loosely between real compilations and imaginary ones, by the way, I know there have been countless Beatles compilations) in the list, because somehow, their parade of Number 1s, their massive hits, that's nowhere near the best the band has to offer, despite being some of the finest songs ever, it doesn't come close to telling the whole story.

With the Rolling Stones, I think they're much closer to a great "singles band" - for me, most of their greatest songs were the hits. To take another of the great 60s bands, the Kinks, I'm not sure they quite qualify - I owned the Kinks' Greatest Hits so am well qualified to pass comment. There are, as the years progress, a surprising number of dodgy ones. Quality control is not as high as one would hope.

My favourite Greatest Hits is by The Jam. It's probably the single most influential album of my life and, though their albums are good and there are excellent album tracks, the singles are perfectly ordered, telling a coherent story, growing in stature through their brief career. There are the perfect number as well (a perfect Greatest Hits should be between 15 and 24 songs). There was the perfect trajectory of chart success as well. I'll see if I can remember (the chart position was printed in the sleeve notes).
40 (In the City), 12, 36, 20, 25, 15, 17, 15, 3, 1, 1, 4, 4, 1, 2, 1 (Beat Surrender) - build, build, build, explode, hold it, end it when you're on top.

So, here are some great Greatest Hits artists, acts you can spend a very enjoyable hour with even if you don't want to spend much more ...

There could be several more, most of them are pretty obvious, nice to pick out the surprising ones ...

  • The Jam
  • James
  • The Beautiful South
  • Ash
  • Queen
  • Super Furry Animals
  • Wham!
  • ABBA
  • A-ha
  • Beyonce
  • Diana Ross and the Supremes
  • The Police
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Bob Marley
  • Blondie
  • Madonna
  • Billy Joel
  • Lionel Richie
  • Girls Aloud
  • Bon Jovi
  • Eminem
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Rolling Stones
  • Madness
  • ELO
  • Isley Brothers
  • Elton John
  • Iron Maiden
  • Sheryl Crow
  • The Pretenders
  • Supergrass
  • Bee Gees
  • Kool and the Gang
  • Bill Withers
  • Foo Fighters
  • Kings of Leon
  • The Cure
  • Whitney Houston
  • The Temptations
  • Bread
  • Slade
  • Eurythmics
  • Glen Campbell
  • Elvis Presley
  • Lightning Seeds
  • Erasure
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • The Who
  • Inspiral Carpets
  • Kylie Minogue
Anyone else you can think of?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Super Furry Animals at Brixton Academy, 8 May

As I sat, shaken and stupefied, on the Victoria Line, my first thought as my ears rung, my eyes recovered from the blistering strobe show, my core shaken by the extravagant bass recalibrated, and my calves ached from 3+ hours on Brixton Academy's famous sloped floor, was "this is a funny way for 35-45 year olds (as the crowd overwhelmingly were) to spend their time in 2015.

This wasn't a heritage gig. I still go to gigs, but I haven't been to one where I had to stand up for a few years. These weren't young punks, these were bald 45+ family men, calm and mostly static on stage, calm amid the delirium of seeing the best band in the world get back together to do one of their greatest ever shows.

I don't know how many times I've seen the Furries - it might be up to about 10 now, plus Gruff Rhys about 5 times. I first saw them at the same Brixton Academy 14 years ago - that was a great gig too, they were still in their prime then, touring one of their best albums, Rings Around the World. They've never not been great, but late on they'd become less thrilling, no one could deny that their last three albums were less ... crowd-pleasing ... or just plain good. They weren't as good.

Well, this week's setlist suggested they didn't deny it themselves. No songs from Dark Days/Light Years, no songs from Hey Venus!, one, a pulsating Zoom, from Love Kraft. 1, out of 25 songs, from the last third of their career. No one complained.

No one really complained about the 5 songs from Mwng, their Welsh language album, since the reunion was putatively for the re-release of that album, and those songs are really nice. Indeed,

Ymaelodi รข'r Ymylon stands with their best. There was a little more chatter, sure, when those songs were being played, but, only a little, and anyway, it's hard to sing along in a language you don't speak.

For the rest, people sang along. People danced. Many probably cried. Because it was like that, it was a bit special. They played what you'd hope they'd play. They played Ice Hockey Hair 3rd and Demons 5th, just in case anyone wasn't sure that this was going to be the greatest gig ever.

It's not like the Furries only have 20 great songs, 20 songs which will make 1000s of people feel like the gig has been curated just for them. I'm going to prove it. Here's a 25-song SFA gig setlist entirely made up of songs they didn't play on Friday. It's still awesome. [bit geeky this, I know. Hope I'm not losing you].

God! Show Me Magic
Herman Loves Pauline
Fuzzy Birds
Presidential Suite
Atomik Lust
Out of Control
She's Got Spies
Citizen's Band
Dacw Hi
Helium Hearts
Show Your Hand
Gathering Moss
Play it Cool
Turning Tide
Ysbeidiau Heilog
Bad Behaviour
Bass Tuned to DEAD
Venus and Serena
The Undefeated
Keep the Cosmic Trigger Happy
It's Not the End of the World?
For Now and Ever

Come on, now, that's still basically one of the best gigs ever, but you've probably spotted the gaps and seen what they actually did play. They played the hits, the Number 12 and 14 hits, they played Northern Lites, Juxtapozed With U, Fire in My Heart, Something 4 the Weekend, If You Don't Want Me to Destroy You, Rings Around The World, of course they played The Man Don't Give a Fuck.

It's lovely to be reminded that I'm not the only one who thinks as highly of these songs as I do. Several reviews have mentioned Ice Hockey Hair casually as "maybe the best song of the 90s" (as if the journalists in attendance got together and decided to throw that in ... I thought I was the only person that thought that. It is, of course it is. It's better than Good Vibrations.

The refocusing, the clear thinking about what their most crowd-pleasing songs are, Gruff's new songwriting surge on Hotel Shampoo and American Interior, surely hopes can be high that they'll get it right if they record again, that they've got at least one more classic in them.

They sound like the Furries again, glorious, ever-changing, scary and challenging at times, tight, euphoric, despite the grim night before (Gruff made brief reference to the misery of it all. And the phrase kept going through my head... We've got the best songs. We've got the best songs ... they've got Mike Read and Gary Barlow ... it's worth the current despair of being left-wing just for this).

Next month I'm seeing Blur. Blur have got a new album, a really great new album which I very much want to hear, but I don't know, I don't know if they'll top this. I don't know if they can. I know who the second best British band of the last 20 years are, and I know who's the best. Now that you're here, tell me you're a non-believer ..

Friday, 1 May 2015


In 2005 (or was it 2006?) I went to see Sufjan Stevens at the Royal Festival Hall (or was it the Barbican?). He was touring the album 'Illinois' and it was a glorious, memorable gig, one of the best I can remember. The support act was also great, a woman who sauntered out diffidently, said she was in the backing band and was going to play a few songs - I particularly liked the one called 'Marry Me, John' - she was St Vincent, who is now an acclaimed star in her own right, perhaps even more so than Sufjan Stevens. They're both acts of pure class, and they share something else, which I wonder if they talked about on that tour - a stillness, composure, a lack of emoting and grandstanding which could be off-putting to many fans of modern music who are used to  really feeling it when the singers really mean it, man.

But in both cases, the songs lack nothing in emotional depth. Particularly when it comes to Sufjan Stevens' latest album, 'Carrie and Lowell', one of the most quietly devastating albums ever recorded - a sparse, fluff-free coruscating memorial to his recently deceased mother.

'Illinois' was a glorious, eclectic album, with big brassy adventures, rich arrangements and vast ambition; 'Carrie and Lowell' by comparison is tiny - it captures the mood of two of 'Illinois''s most quiet and renowned tracks 'John Wayne Gacy' and 'Casimir Pulaski Day' and carries that through the whole record.

It struck me - they're both, in their own way, masterpieces. Maybe. 'Carrie and Lowell' has the feel of an album which will be seen as such. Reviews have been universally grand and deservedly so, in my opinion. Indeed, it would be the best reviewed record for a long time were its scores not trumped by those for Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp a Butterfly'. If you look at Metacritic, it's rare for two albums to be met with such universal approval, to be acknowledged as masterpieces so rapidly.

Masterpiece ... a word I'm tossing around ... a word that always gets tossed around in music criticism. But if there are "masterpieces" in popular music, which I firmly believe there are, what are they, and why?

This is a fun thing to consider, ever so slightly different, but more satisfying, than simply "what is a great album". Some great albums, I've come to realise, aren't masterpieces. I wouldn't say vice versa is possible, though ... (actually, i think there is one, as you'll see later ...)

I've done "Greatest Albums" on this blog before, but it was never a list I was happy with. I'm not going to rate anything now, but I am going to make a few lists considering what might be masterpieces, what might fall short etc.

Perhaps I'll make these lists

1. Things which are, in my view, flat out major masterpieces
2. Things which might well be masterpieces, they're just not quite my type of thing or, to be honest, I haven't listened to enough yet (even if I've listened to them 10 times straight through, sometimes that's not enough)
3. Minor league, personal masterpieces, albums which I really think are pretty faultless, but I appreciate that's personal taste and they won't be viewed as such by others, and they're not likely to change the world any time soon
4. Things which, taking a tough line, though they're great, they might be influential, they might have several great songs and new sounds on, aren't quite masterpieces
5. Things which regularly get called masterpieces but I really strongly don't think they are

None of this will be close to comprehensive, it's just for fun, lazungenulmen.

Firstly, going back to my starting point, I thought about how impressive it is that Sufjan Stevens may well have come up with two masterpieces, and that they are both so different in sound, conception, scale ... then I thought about how vastly different the recent Sufjan Stevens and Kendrick Lamar albums are, one so sparse, so modest, so single-minded, so contained, the other so close to bloated, so long, so vast in ambition, so teetering on the edge of outstaying its welcome. But, you know, I think the critics are right in both cases. On my first listen to 'To Pimp a Butterfly' I was a bit annoyed and didn't get the hype, the second, already I was picking out tracks I liked, beginning to discern the flow, finding getting through its hour-plus less of a trial, the third was pretty much a pleasure without taint. OK, only three full listens so far, it might not be my place to call it a masterpiece yet ... but if it's being said, I'm not disagreeing. I prefer my hip-hop either more rockist, either literally or in spirit, whereas 'To Pimp a Butterfly' is, both in sound and spirit, steeped in jazz, and that might always be a hindrance to my listening to it over and over again. Still, 'To Pimp a Butterfly' is still calling me back to listen to it ... I might just be forever hooked next time, we'll see.

That's just the way sometimes. Some albums you can listen to, you can admire, you can even love for a while, but it won't keep calling you back year after year, because it's just not quite your medicine.

So, probably the albums in the top list are mainly ones which are both acknowledged marvels and also just my kind of thing. Surprisingly few ...

One can afford to be fairly strict when using the word masterpiece when it comes to albums. Albums are brilliant, magical things. Gosh, a song is hard enough, but to create a masterpiece of an album? A collection of between, say, 6 and 20 songs without a weak moment, which cohere and complement each other, which tell lots of stories and one story, which hold the interest, sounds and ideas which haven't been heard before, which create their own universe, which bear repeating for years to come, which never jar, never bore ... I think that's harder than almost anything else in the whole world of the arts, quite frankly ...

Some great albums are wonderful happy accidents - 'Otis Blue', say, or 'Grievous Angel' by Gram Parsons (happy perhaps the wrong adjective). They're great to listen to, they have meaning and influence, but, you know, they're rush jobs, they're collections of parts - a few covers here, a few out-takes there, I don't think masterpiece is quite the right word for these. I'm not saying a masterpiece needs years in the making, but I do somehow feel there needs to be intention, of authorship. Otherwise we might as well include Greatest Hits.

Perhaps there's no more to say by way of explanation and the categories speak for themselves. ... well, something else to say. Especially when I was younger, much less so now, my way into music was rock critics and list books and people telling me what to like and me heeding it. That's the way for a lot of people but I'm sure it was the way for me more than most. But I wasn't entirely divorced from my own taste. I would buy and listen to many albums I'd been told were masterpieces and I can still remember my varying reactions - the instant sheer understanding and acknowledgment sometimes, the slight uncertainty amidst the general enjoyment the next, the gritted teeth attempt to believe in what I'd been told sometimes, and occasionally the sheer "fuck off, you're kidding me, this is mediocre". Sometimes, the initial reaction has been diluted and hidden away, and rightly so, because albums, even shitty albums, deserve more than just one listen if you're going to pontificate on them, and sometimes, my first instinct, either way, was way off the mark. But those first reactions are worth something too. I still remember the first time I heard 'Astral Weeks' and truly felt like I was hearing something magical, and the first time I heard 'Pet Sounds' and pretended to myself that that's what I was hearing ...

Another thing about pop music ... by the very name, its interaction with its environment matters. There can be no debate about this, cos it's pop music. So, I suppose, a magnificent work that has never been heard can't be a masterpiece. In 2015, there are no lost classics. Gosh, that's blazingly obvious, isn't it ... sorry, I'm patronising you ...

Oh, and one more important thing to say. There are big masterpieces and small masterpieces. It makes sense that it's harder to make a big masterpiece, as more can go wrong. You can't keep up the pace of a 100m for a Marathon. You can't. That's a reductive and silly way to put it, but I hope you get the gist. But, if you choose to make a "big" album, in length or concept, it's your fault if you don't carry it through. "Flawed masterpieces", if you can really see their flaws, they're just not masterpieces, they're over-ambitious mistakes. I'm strict but fair about this. Will you see Blonde on Blonde here? Will you see The White Album? Not on my watch ... not that those albums haven't given me great joy ...

... perhaps, also, the term masterpiece lends itself more to a certain kind of artist - are a band, a collection of individuals, however united, or a pop group, or a big commercial act, as likely to be able create a masterpiece, something so focused, as one serious-minded individual with a devoted but not vast fanbase?

I should say that, inevitably, as I started doing it, I tried to cover more bases, listen to more stuff, try not to miss anything out, it's completely inevitable and ultimately unsatisfactory. So i just want to reiterate again I'm not trying to make this a definitive list ... hopefully I've missed lots of really obvious ones to prove this.

Anyway, I could go on and on with "just one more thing"s.

OK, then, here we go.

I'll comment on particulars occasionally, but hopefully most things will be self-explanatory.

1. Things which are, in my view, flat out major masterpieces
  • Blue - Joni Mitchell
  • Astral Weeks - Van Morrison
  • The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - David Bowie
  • Searching for the Young Soul Rebels - Dexys Midnight Runners
  • If You're Feeling Sinister - Belle and Sebastian
  • Carrie and Lowell - Sufjan Stevens
  • It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - Public Enemy
  • The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Lauryn Hill
  • The Holy Bible - Manic Street Preachers
  • OK Computer - Radiohead
  • Have One on Me - Joanna Newsom
People might reasonably ask if some of the 2 hours/18 tracks of this couldn't be pruned ... is there one rule for this, one rule for others. Well, the fact that it is 2 hours does, of course, mean that it is less often listened to all the way through than some others, but I don't think it lacks an arc, or drops in quality. If you do have the time for it, this rewards the time.
  • Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
  • The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses
  • London Calling - The Clash
  • Time Out of Mind - Bob Dylan
  • The Velvet Underground and Nico - The Velvert Underground and Nico
  • Funeral - Arcade Fire
  • The Times They Are a Changin' - Bob Dylan
  • Definitely Maybe - Oasis
Just about. Shakermaker almost costs it ...
  • Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space - Spiritualized
  • Tapestry - Carole King
  • Darkness on the Edge of Town - Bruce Springsteen
  • Pink Moon - Nick Drake
  • Heartbreaker - Ryan Adams
  • Brothers in Arms - Dire Straits
An odd choice, for sure, but I think of this album, and really think, of its type, they got it absolutely spot on.
  • Songs of Leonard Cohen - Leonard Cohen
  • Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
  • To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar
  • The ArchAndroid - Janelle Monae
  • Revolver - The Beatles
  • Blur - Blur
I think I'd been thinking that there was no Blur masterpiece, that their albums never quite got it all the way through, but when i think about 'Blur', i rather think there isn't a single track I'd remove, or that isn't memorable or interesting, and I think this sums up the era better than almost anything else.
  • Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder
I thought at length about this, and decided that the songs I don't love on this album, well, it's not that they're not great songs that increase the richness of the album, it's purely personal, so not reason to not see it as a masterpiece - the fact that I personally don't love As, Pastime Paradise, Joy Inside My Tears, Isn't She Lovely, Another Star, well, that's my problem, it's not like they're, in any way, "filler"
  • The Ramones - The Ramones
  • A Christmas Gift For You - Phil Spector
  • 69 Love Songs - Magnetic Fields
Perhaps this is the one masterpiece that isn't also a great album ...
  • Abbey Road - The Beatles
This was one I vacillated over - depends what one thinks of the silly songs on the album. Well, they're part of something bigger and they're the best silly songs I've ever heard. And silly songs were such a big part of the Beatles, it's not some random assault on the ears, it's part of what made them great. Abbey Road really does work as a whole album, doesn't it?
  • Debut - Bjork
I'm recently converted to this. Not that I didn't know the songs, and I've never been a huge fan of Bjork, but I listened to it all the way through, and it was obvious that it was a masterpiece.
  • The Band - The Band
  • Exodus - Bob Marley
If there's going to be one Bob Marley album, this is surely the best. Maybe it's disingenuous of me to proclaim it a masterpiece. But its substance, influence and craftsmanship is undeniable. 
  • The Crane Wife - The Decemberists
I just upgraded it, almost grudgingly. I mean, it's pretty masterful
  • Sound of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
It's stunning centrepieces almost unbalance it, but not quite. 
2. Things which might well be masterpieces, they're just not quite my type of thing or, to be honest, I haven't listened to enough yet.

I have, at minimum, listened to all these albums all the way through at some point. I'm not going to include anything I haven't listened to all the way through, anywhere
  • Dummy - Portishead
  • In the Aeroplane Over the Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel
  • Graceland - Paul Simon
  • Let England Shake - PJ Harvey
  • Yeezus - Kanye West
This album is tight, tighter than I realised. It's certainly the album I've heard by him closest to perfection. 
  • Illmatic - Nas
  • Appetite for Destruction - Guns N' Roses
  • The Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
  • In Utero - Nirvana
  • Back to Black - Amy Winehouse
  • Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - Arctic Monkeys
  • Songs for the Deaf - Queens of the Stone Age
  • Trans-Europe Express - Kraftwerk
  • The Hissing of Summer Lawns - Joni Mitchell
  • Endtroducing - DJ Shadow
  • Dog Man Star - Suede
  • Demon Days - Gorillaz
  • Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
Anything jazz can go here, really. I've listened to A Kind of Blue a bit, at least.
  • Are You Experienced? - Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix is just a gap in my understanding of popular music. It's not that I don't like him, not even that I never listen to him, I just never really get into it, I never feel it
  • Led Zeppelin IV ...
As above, although this is a band I have a more active disregard for
  • Back in Black - AC/DC
  • 3 Feet High and Rising - De La Soul
  • Loveless - My Bloody Valentine
  • Daydream Nation - Sonic Youth
With the two above, it's hard for me to get a grip - my taste is song-based, rather than sound-based, so I never quite get know what part of the influential noise I'm meant to fall in love with. A lot of "indie" fans think these two are the best things that ever happened, I hear a fraction of what it's all about, it's not like I don't enjoy a tuneful drone, but ... unfortunately, there are few albums acclaimed for their sonic adventurism that I hear and don't set off a voice in my head going ... "more tunes! ... and more words! I love words and tunes!"
  • Remain in Light - Talking Heads
  • Marquee Moon - Television
  • Since I Left You - Avalanches
I remember buying this when it came out, listening it, thinking it was a masterpiece, and never really wanting to listen to it again.
  • Mezzanine - Massive Attack
  • Tom Waits
I just don't feel qualified to say ... apart from Closing Time, I haven't enjoyed a Tom Waits album all the way through. He just got toooo mucch goin' on for me to fully accept one album ...

3. Minor league, personal masterpieces, albums which I really think are pretty faultless, but I appreciate that's personal taste and they won't be viewed as such by others
  • The Sophtware Slump = Grandaddy
  • The World Won't End - Pernice Brothers
  • Nashville - Josh Rouse
  • I am Shelby Lynne - Shelby Lynne
  • The Trials of Van Occupanther - Midlake
  • Songs for Beginners - Graham Nash
  • Odessey and Oracle - Zombies
  • Wild Wood - Paul Weller
  • Phantom Power - Super Furry Animals
Perhaps all the Furries albums are just short of being masterpieces, that's almost the point of the band. Perhaps Mwng is their masterpiece. But, to me, Phantom Power is their best album, 9.6 out of 10 whereas others are 9.5. The band fall outside all these five categories I've provided really.
  • American Interior - Gruff Rhys
  • More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley
  • Grand Prix - Teenage Fanclub
  • The Hour of the Bewilderbeast - Badly Drawn Boy
  • Summerteeth - Wilco
This one doesn't get talked about as one of their greatest but, for me, it's one of the finest sounding albums I've ever heard, the songs are so dark and beautiful, I think it's more even than A Ghost is Born and Being There and in its way far more potent than the later albums. You could say Wilco (the album) is a masterpiece of ... self-definition and containment ... without being an actual great album
  • Free All Angels -  Ash
  • Lapalco - Brendan Benson
4. Things which, taking a tough line, though they're great, they might be influential, they might have several great songs and new sounds on, aren't quite masterpieces 

This category could go on and on really. It's all those great great albums which somehow aren't quite perfect
  •  Pet Sounds - Beach Boys
  • Thriller - Michael Jackson
  • Music from Big Pink - The Band
  • The Queen is Dead - The Smiths
  • Enter the Wu-Tang - Wu-Tang Clan
  • Exile on Main Street - Rolling Stones
I've always thought 'Exile on Main Street' was the closest the Stones got to a masterpiece, but i think i like the idea, and the feel, of it more than the actual collection of songs. I've been listening to their other classic albums lately, which I'd rather dismissed (I've always thought of them as more of a band of great songs) ... and I think I'd stick with the judgement that there isn't quite a masterpiece in there. 'Sticky Fingers' and 'Let it Bleed' are close ...
  • Grace - Jeff Buckley
This is truly one of my favourite albums, but I think circumstance and meaning has made it so, to an extent. It is just a little uneven, it could have been better. Not that that matters.
  • Bringing it All Back Home - Bob Dylan
  • Forever Changes - Love
  • Moondance - Van Morrison
  • Parklife - Blur
  • Let it Be - The Replacements
  • Low - David Bowie
  • Screamadelica - Primal Scream
  • Nevermind -  Nirvana
  • Rubber Soul - The Beatles
  • Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
  • My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West
  • Rubber Soul - The Beatles
  • Ys - Joanna Newsom
  • Parallel Lines - Blondie
  • The Soft Bulletin - Flaming Lips
  • Hunky Dory - David Bowie
  • The Bends - Radiohead
  • Nixon - Lambchop
  • The Crane Wife -  The Decemberists
  • Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
  • The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow
All Elbow's albums are excellent, none of them are quite masterpieces
  • After the Goldrush - Neil Young
  • The Boatman's Call - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • Want One - Rufus Wainwright
Somehow, it's the very existence of Want Two which makes Want One not a masterpiece
  • Blonde on Blonde - Bob Dylan
  • The White Album - The Beatles
  • Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
  • Talking Book - Stevie Wonder
  • Doolittle - The Pixies
  • The Blueprint - Jay Z 
  • Fear of a Black Planet - Public Enemy
  • Deja Vu - Crosby Stills Nash and Young
  • St Vincent - St Vincent
  • Benji - Sun Kil Moon
Almost carries itself like a masterpiece, it's so coherent, and so true, and the tunes are surprisingly memorable ... maybe just needs a couple more outstanding songs
  • The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan
5. Things which regularly get called masterpieces but I really strongly don't think they are
  • What's Going On - Marvin Gaye
  • Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Beatles
Does this need any explanation? It doesn't really, does it?
  • Sign o' The Times - Prince
  • Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
  • Otis Blue - Otis Redding
  • Never Mind the Bollocks - The Sex Pistols
  • Beyonce - Beyonce 
It's got all the hallmarks of a masterpiece, it's just really quite boring
  • Is This It - The Strokes
  • The College Dropout - Kanye West
  • A Different Class - Pulp
  • Deserter's Songs - Mercury Rev
  • Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
  • In Rainbows - Radiohead 
  • Smile - Beach Boys
  • Hounds of Love - Kate Bush
  • Court and Spark - Joni Mitchell
  • Don't Stand Me Down - Dexys Midnight Runners
  • The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
  • Smile - The Beach Boys
  • On the Beach - Neil Young
  • Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan
  • Songs for Swingin' Lovers - Frank Sinatra
  • Trout Mask Replica - Captain Beefheart
  • Pacific Ocean Blue - Dennis Wilson
  • No Other - Gene Clark
  • Anything by The Who
It's not that I hate The Who, like I hate The Doors or U2. Their best songs are awesome, really tremendously awesome. What it is ... and I'm reminded of this by another entertaining Pete Townshend interview in this month's Uncut, is the disconnect between how clever and important he says it is, all the ideas in the music, and what it actually sounds like. It's a similar thing with Noel Gallagher. Really, The Who and Oasis are quite a good comparison, though Noel Gallagher never had the pretensions, or has claimed not to. The singers, great as they are in their own way, limit forever what the band can be, and the songwriter isn't deft enough with words to transcend it. So, to me, for all the big ideas and for all the fact that I've only listened to one or two in entirety, I simple can't imagine any Who album could be a masterpiece.
  • Slanted and Enchanted - Pavement
  • Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen
Utterly subjective in my preference for Darkness on the Edge of Town over this. My reasoning? It's too samey, too boring ... which is an accusation that could superficially be levelled at several of the albums I have called masterpieces...
  • Liege and Lief - Fairport Convention
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon and Garfunkel
OK, that should do it. It's an interesting idea to consider, isn't it? Even for the very greats of popular music, it's hard to consider them having more than one masterpiece, isn't it?
In some ways, it doesn't matter that much - bands like The National and The Jam, acts like Diana Ross, Chuck Berry and Madness aren't here at all, but they've got more great songs than most of these listed. But it does make you realise how rare it is to find a work that is wholly satisfying. Long may people keep trying.