And the winners are...

It was the year of Britpop. So it's lucky then that the Independent critics' Top Twenty albums of the year include no fewer than 13 Brit or Brit-based productions. On top? That tricky Bristol sound
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The Independent Online
'Trip-hop as a memorandum to the soul on the subject of the flesh: its squalors and its pleasures'

1. Tricky Maxinquaye (Island)

Maxinquaye slipped out at the start of the year and hung around the corners of the bedroom for the duration, dripping noxiously. This was trip-hop as a memorandum to the soul on the subject of the flesh: its squalors, its pleasures, its vulnerability to all forms of penetration.

Suddenly, the Bristolian existential fuzzball described by Massive Attack and Portishead had a centre, and it wasn't a soft one. Which is not to say that Maxinquaye was unattractive. There are fascinating melodies on this album and succulent voices, set against the broken rhythms of things that go bump in the night.

You could see why he chummed up with Bjork during the year. Here were kindred spirits acting together on the certainty that danceable contemporary pop could be made to tackle the inner world, as well as the inner city world. The big hit single comes next.

2. Little Axe

The Wolf that House Built (Wired)

It was a big year for dub and all forms of curatorial mixage, and no album made a better showing than Skip MacDonald's Little Axe epic, which proposed that dub, funk, gospel et al are a continuation of the living blues, not their residue.

3. Radiohead

The Bends

(Parlophone)

Thom Yorke and his anti-merry men dragged us to the ocean-bed of 20th-century despair. Good job they'd remembered to stick power-chords and a great big bastard of a hook into every song.

4. Teenage Fanclub

Grand Prix

(Creation)

Lovely boys, lovely songs, lovely guitars. Why can't life be like a Teenage Fanclub album?

5. Pulp

Different Class

(Island)

This part-anthemic, part-abrasive, all-disco album was brimming with sex, fags and bad clothes. Not to mention the sort of tunes that you wake up whistling. The first kitchen-sink drama you can bop to.

6. Black Grape

It's Great When You're Straight... Yeah

(Radioactive)

Big Fat Shaun, Kermit, Bez and chums stun one and all by stuffing out the party album of the year. There's something weird about the way Ryder makes everything he touches swing.

7. Oasis

(What's the Story) Morning Glory?

(Creation)

He's made us sit up, now he wants us to listen. Two years in and Noel Gallagher is relaxing: these are his most poignant, piercing songs yet. A lack of rock'n'roll, then? Not on your nelly.

8. Pavement

Wowee Zowee

(Big Cat)

The long-reigning kings of American indie deliver an embarrassment of riches: 19 songs careering from twisted balladry to brash glam and C&W-on-"E". And you can hum every one of 'em.

9. PJ Harvey

To Bring You My Love

(Island)

The goth from the black lagoon turns the blues bruise-purple. The noise is gone but she sounds louder and more fearsome than ever.

10. King L

Great Day For Gravity

(Circa)

Gaz Clark and Neill MacColl play it loud-ish, and cause Neil Young to rotate in his speaker bin. A conflation of Danny Wilson and The Bible is not everyone's cup of tea, but it is ours.

11. Blur

The Great Escape

(Food)

The bigger they get, the stranger they sound. These amorphous pop songs are steeped in confusion. And that's just the chirpy ones.

12. Aimee Mann

I'm With Stupid

(Geffen)

Not her greatest work, but even on a bad day Aimee's the most withering peroxide songwriter in America. For someone so clever, she's amazingly good at getting herself in a pickle. Have a better year, girl, and write some good songs.

13. Mercury Rev

See You on the Other Side (Beggar's Banquet)

These American mavericks serve up the album that the music/drugs equation always promised to spawn. A fruity salad of guitars, flutes, clarinets and french horns create this skinny-dip in psychedelia.

14. Palace Music

Viva Last Blues

(Domino)

Like PJ Harvey, Will Oldham knows that tranquillity can sound terrifying. His world is profane and forbidding, but his fragile laments make you weep, crackling grimly under the aegis of laughing producer Steve Albini.

15. Axiom Funk

Funcronomicon

(Axiom)

Long, dark, heavy meditation on the history of the groove by Bill Laswell, so you shouldn't be surprised at how good it is. Buy Axiom Ambient as well and consider yourself properly equipped for the millennium.

16. TLC

CrazySexyCool

(Arista)

Uppity girls with a song in their hearts and how's-your-father on their minds. The genre formerly known as Swingbeat really has the makings of a new Motown sound.

17. Jackie Leven

Forbidden Songs for the Dying West

(Cooking Vinyl)

Elegaic, low-strung, grumpy Romanticism for grown-ups. Van Morrison fans, this is your life. Claire Leighton fans too.

18. Babyface/ Various Artists

Waiting to Exhale

(Arista)

Babyface gets the best out of Whitney, Chaka, Aretha, TLC, Mary J, Toni B etc on the soundtrack album of the year. And the film's not even out yet. There's a case to be made for Babyface as producer of the year.

19. Bjork

Post

(One Little Indian)

More elaborate, less sheer than Debut, therefore not as good. But "Hyper Ballad" is song of the year and Bjork is its woman. Car-parts, bottles and cutlery have been this year's essential accessories.

20. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci

Bwyd Time

(Ankst)

Never mind that these Welsh geniuses are barely old enough to buy a pint: their soothing, skew-whiff melodies can get you plastered.

We also liked...

21. Bruce Springsteen The Ghost of Tom Joad (Columbia)

Nebraska revisited, with new scorn for the American way.

22. Keb' Mo' Keb' Mo' (Okeh)

A warming perspective on Robert Johnson's blues.

23. Carlos Vives La Tierra Del Olvido (Polygram)

Colombian rocker transforming the music of the accordion.

24. John Prine Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings (Rykodisc)

The thinking countryman's sarky bastard.

25. Buju Banton Til Shiloh (Loose Cannon)

Possibly the best ragga album in the world.

26. Tarnation Gentle Creatures (4AD)

Patsy Cline in Twin Peaks on 4AD.

27. Peter Kowald Was Da Ist? (FMP)

German bassist in solo mode: the best solo bass album ever.

28. The Cardigans Life (Stockholm)

This year's Swedish pop sensation.

29. Regina Belle Reachin' Back (Columbia)

Going back to her Philly roots, with style and soul.

30. Elastica Elastica (Deceptive)

The real Notting Hill punky girl-group experience.

We being: Geoff Brown, Glyn Brown, Nick Coleman, Richard Cook, Jane Cornwell, Paul Du Noyer, Emma Forrest, Ryan Gilbey, Andy Gill, Nick Hornby, Barney Hoskyns, Phil Johnson, Charlotte O'Sullivan, Jasper Rees, Giles Smith, Philip Sweeney, Ben Thompson

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