U2 strike a chord in the best albums from 2009
Bono and the boys, Bob Dylan, Lily Allen and Jay- Z all deserved a place on our playlists last year, writes Barry Egan
1 U2 No Line on the Horizon
If only for 'Moment Of Surrender, the greatest song written in the last decade. Nobody came near it.
2 Bob Dylan Together Through Life
Ever since he returned to rambling about the passing of life and death on his 1997 comeback Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan recaptured his desire. Together Through Life -- with nine of its 10 songs co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter -- is the 68-year wizened bard at his most playful and bleak. "My wife's home town is hell," Dylan rasps on My Wife's Home Town. In Forgetful Heart Dylan asks: "Why can't we love like we did before?" And answers: "The door has closed forevermore / if indeed there ever was a door."
Produced by Jack Frost (Dylan's pseudonym as a producer since Under the Red Sky in 1990), Together Through Life is full of the kind of sounds you would have heard Dylan playing on his Theme Time Radio Hour: -- Django Reinhardt guitar jazz, Fifties Chicago blues, country blues, zydeco and Tex-Mex ballads.
Purists will protest that it is not Blood on the Tracks -- but it is Dylan enjoying himself while cocking a snook at life and hard times that engulfed the world in 2009.
"It's all good," Bob sings with his wise tongue somewhere in his cheek, searching for a bit of spiritual transcendence in the blues.
3 Antony & the Johnsons The Crying Light
Let's hope Gavin Friday's album, due later this year, can hold a candle to The Crying Light. Singing and emoting like an extraterrestrial Nina Simone, 2005 Mercury Prize winner Antony Hegarty makes death sound forlornly beautiful and even desirable.
Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground is breathtaking and elsewhere on Another World he sings of our own mortality and nature: "I'm gonna miss the birds/Singing all their songs/I'm gonna miss the wind/Been kissing me so long."
The baroque Epilepsy Is Dancing, has echoes of Joy Division's bleaker She's Lost Control in its lyrical concerns, with Antony warbling like an angel in distress.
The androgynous and ethereal torch singer is a transgender William Blake on The Crying Light, poeticising the wondrous beauty of Mother Nature and man's tenuous link to the planet.
Exuding, as The Guardian put it, "the air of a rumpled Buddhist monk", Antony Hegarty is one to follow carefully in 2010.
4 Jarvis Cocker Further Complications
Mercifully, Monsieur Cocker realised sometime ago that there are only so many songs you can write about dissecting the English class system and the nothingness of self.
So now he has a beard and hangs out in Paris and is a self-styled Scott Walker with bits of Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg thrown in. On this, his second solo album since Pulp effectively stopped in 2002, you have Jarvis doing a DIY version of Cohen's Death of a Ladies Man.
On Leftovers, the lyric is unmistakably Jarvis: "I met her in the museum of paleontology and I make no bones about it."
"I was in the Museum of Paleontology in Paris looking at this dinosaur skeleton and there was an attractive woman in there," he said recently about what inspired the lyric.
"As a man of a certain age you do start to become more aware of your mortality. Being attracted to people. . . you kind of wish you could just stop that. It would make life that much more simple if you didn't fancy anyone when you're supposed to be a mature and sensible person."
5 Manic Street Preachers Journal for Plague Lovers
This album celebrates the beautiful/ugly Sylvia Plath-like poetry Richie Edwards left behind when on February 1, 1995, he walked out of the Embassy Hotel in London in the early morning and vanished from the Earth.
"She'd walk on broken glass for love/She thought burnt skin would please her lover," sings James Dean Bradfield on She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach.
Clearly with song titles like this, as well as Pretension/Repulsion, Virginia State Epileptic Colony and -- his epitaph -- 'William's Last Words, Journal for Plague Lovers is not exactly Boyzone. A sublime album in its own right, however, this is nonetheless a provocatively touching tribute -- whatever about an exercise in closure -- from the Manics to their dear, departed friend. Not for the faint-hearted.
6 F**k Buttons Tarot Sport
Ennio Morricone would have been pleased with the hypnotic sonic cathedrals Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power have built beautifully here. Surf Solar, The Lisbon Maru, and Olympians are euphoria for indie-kids of all ages.
7 Madonna Celebration
Michigan's most famous daughter, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, is equal parts Little Orphan Annie, Margaret Thatcher, Dorothy Parker and Mae West. No surprises that she also sold more than 300 million records worldwide with zeitgeist-zapping pop moments like Into the Groove, Papa Don't Preach, Like a Virgin, Borderline, Erotica, Like a Prayer and Material Girl.
Covering nearly every phase of her 25-year career, Celebration is a breathless and bop-friendly testament of the ab fabness of Madge.
8 Lily Allen It's Not Me, It's You
She gave 2009 a shot of sweet cynicism. The girl who is famous for rhyming Tesco with al Fresco and wearing trainers with dresses, opens the album with Everyone's At It, a song about drug culture hypocrisy.
"I'm not trying to say that I'm smelling of roses/But when will we tire, of putting shit up our noses," she raps, "Why can't we all, all just be honest/Admit to ourselves/ That everyone's on it: from grown politicians, to young adolescents, prescribing themselves anti-depressants."
9 Jay-Z The Blueprint 3
"People talking about, Hova take it back," raps Jay-Z on his 11th studio album. "I'm doing better than before, why would I do that?" Exactly. Amazing beats -- courtesy of people like Kanye West -- too.
10 Wilco Wilco
Lead singer Jeff Tweedy struggles as the post-rehab John Lennon for the new decade, full of savage self-doubt and human wisdom. "I was wrong to believe in me only," he announces on Solitaire.