In principle, the notion of the NME compiling a Greatest Albums of the Decade is one that should be welcomed, not least as a much-needed corrective to the overwhelmingly sales-and industry-led nature of most such lists.
After all, if there were no such place remaining to proclaim the greatness of, say, The Shins and Arcade Fire, the world would be a much more regimented marketplace. But it's hard to be particularly enthusiastic about the top 50 placings which the magazine has published, for a number of glaring reasons.
Most notable is the overwhelmingly white, male constitution of the list, with only four specifically black acts (and a sprinkling of about the same number of black musicians amongst the other bands), and an equivalent situation pertaining for female musicians – and this following what by any standard has been an unusually prolific creative period for female acts.
This is hardly a surprise – after all, it has always been a source of great frustration to NME writers that its readership is so resistant to black music styles. In the 1980s, I know from personal experience that if a black artist was put on the cover – even a high-profile artist such as Michael Jackson or Prince – there would be a slump in sales. Which is not to suggest that NME readers were in any way racist, simply that their tastes in music were strictly circumscribed in a way that the writers', on the whole, were not. Fair dos: not everybody likes classical music, either. But this list, we're told, was not a readership poll, but compiled by a panel of "musicians, producers, writers and record label bosses" – which does suggest that the voting panel itself was chosen from a very narrow cross-section of the music industry, presumably to closely reflect the magazine's readership. Which raises a further point as to the value of a periodical which so closely mirrors its readers' tastes as to render it virtually stagnant. But that's another matter.
I've no quibble with the choice of The Strokes' debut album as the NME's Greatest Album of the Decade: by their criteria, it kick-started the indie revival which is the magazine's core interest (even if subsequent releases witnessed such a sharp drop in quality they're nowhere to be seen here). Likewise for The Libertines at No 2 – although three entries for Pete Doherty is rather overstating the poor chap's artistic value. Primal Scream's Xtrmntr at three is more of a surprise – a decent album, certainly, but that good? – while the really interesting absence is Britpop, with only Blur of the major players from a few years before making it to the list – and with their least Britpoppy album, at that. Nice to see The Coral hanging in there, though I'm surprised that Radiohead haven't featured higher.
Perhaps more shocking is that, with The Strokes at the top, there is no place for Kings Of Leon, who were initially regarded as a sort of "Southern" Strokes, but have since effortlessly eclipsed their compatriots' achievements – perhaps demolishing their "cool" quotient in the process. And what of The White Stripes, who might have been expected to dominate such a list not too many years ago, but can now only just scrape into the Top 20?
Interestingly, while British and American acts seem equally well represented – though shamefully, there is not one world-music performer on the entire list – heavy metal is as poorly represented as hip-hop, with only the marginally metal Muse and Queens Of The Stone Age qualifying. And while Dizzee, Jay-Z and MIA are grudgingly granted places, there's nowhere for Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP, perhaps the single most influential rap album of them all.
Musical differences: NME vs Andy Gill
The NME top 10
1 The Strokes, Is This It
2 The Libertines, Up The Bracket
3 Primal Scream, XTRMNTR
4 Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
5 Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever To Tell
6 PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
7 Arcade, Fire Funeral
8 Interpol, Turn On The Bright Lights
9 The Streets, Original Pirate Material
10 Radiohead, In Rainbows
...and Andy Gill's
1 Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise
2 The Necks, Drive By
3 Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine
4 OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
5 Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)
6 Bob Dylan, Modern Times
7 Tinariwen, Amassakoul
8 Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP
9 Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
10. Laura Veirs, Carbon Glacier