2004 got 99 problems but this (comically cut) video ain’t one of them.
These, however, are… It may have been a respite between Coldplay albums, but this particular year still has a lot to answer for. Three of the decade’s top ten best selling albums for a start – Scissor Sisters’ self-titled debut, Hopes and Fears by Keane and James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam (our misfortune was Cockney rhyming slang’s boon). Then there was Snow Patrol’s Final Straw (if only), Razorlight’s Up All Night (now available from Amazon’s used section for 14p) and a new U2 effort, How to Dismantle a Tax Bill or something. Those with hearing envied the deaf.
Elsewhere, these 12 months saw the launch of both The X Factor and the Pirate Bay website. Now ask yourself: which has done more to harm the music industry?
Oh, and John Peel died. Did these 366 days –– it was a leap year, I checked – get anything right?
In the press, the year began with a shotgun wedding – Britney Spears got hitched for two days in January, seemingly marketing for ubiquitous single ‘Toxic’ – and ended with an album 37-years-in-the-making – Brian Wilson’s Smile – taking a Stannah Stairlift to the top of the ‘best of’ polls. Yawn.
Reading between the lines, Wired magazine had a better idea of what was going on – 2004 was the year that “the Internet” became “the internet” in its style guide, perhaps symbolic of how it had become so ordinary.
Speaking of lower case ‘i’s, Apple set up the UK iTunes Music Store, shifting some 450,000 units in its first week. Now anyone can access an almost infinite amount of music, making 2004 the last time I read more about music than actually listened to it. Suddenly, this here guff I’m spouting mattered a whole lot less. Are you still with me?
If you could forgive those big sellers, 2004 was also the year that some of the decade’s real players began to emerge. TV on the Radio gave us debut Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes.
And future stadium fillers Dizzee Rascal and Kings of Leon released not-so-difficult sophomore efforts.
KanYe West came out from behind the mixing desk with The College Dropout. Not that his role as go-to producer was vacant for long – a certain Danger Mouse soon filled the post.
KanYe gets his mouth wired shut (insert “jackass” gag here):
The unremembered ‘80s got remembered. Debuts from Franz Ferdinand, The Killers and The Futureheads, and Bloc Party’s early singles had the NME subs desk wondering if anyone would notice if they stuck another “new” at the front of “new-wave”. And while the post-punk era was enjoying a second wind, the kind of three-chord punk that was supposed to have killed off prog in the first place, was bashed into the shape of a concept album by Green Day. It all got a bit confusing.
Devendra Banhart caused a scene, peddling a song about bestiality that would later find its way into a mobile phone advert. And Sufjan Stevens put his tour of American states on hold to make Christian rock sound like a good idea.
Also worth checking: Chutes Too Narrow by The Shins, Ten by cLOUDDEAD, American Whip by Joy Zipper, Homesongs by Adem, Real Gone by Tom Waits, Our Endless Numbered Days by Iron & Wine, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Leviathan by Mastodon, Inches by Les Savy Fav, Bubblegum by Mark Lanegan Band, Louden Up Now by !!!, Sung Tongs by Animal Collective, Antics by Interpol, Madvilliany by Madvillian and Good News for People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse to name but a few. Phew.
Oh, and the vastly overrated The Streets did an album slightly worse than the last one.
A Coxon-less Blur went on hiatus, Orbital went their separate ways and Jay-Z retired. I think you’ve spotted the pattern here. Also, the Beta Band disbanded, only for all but one of them to join The Aliens – like, take a hint, mate.
Meanwhile, the Pixies made a triumphant (and probably quite lucrative) live return, setting the ball rolling for a whole bunch of other former bands to put aside their creative differences for one last pay cheque.
The world was shrinking fast, but there was still a time lag, hence American website Pitchfork’s 2004 album of the year – Funeral by Arcade Fire, not released until the following February in Europe – only offered a taste of things to come for the UK. Five years on, the weirdest thing is how long it took us to catch up.
Album of the year: The Grey Album by Danger Mouse
What was supposed to be an in-joke for a few mates became an EMI-baiting internet phenomenon. By splicing together The Beatles’ White Album with a capella versions of Jay-Z’s Black Album, one Brian Burton brought the whole bootlegging mash-up thing to its logical conclusion – and set himself up as the knob-twiddler of the moment. Best of all, it was free.