In the immortal words of Drake “All I care about is money and the city that I’m from”. Seen as though I don’t actually have any money however, I spend a lot more of my time caring about the city that I’m from. That city being London. Thus I decided to combine my three favourite things, London, music and lists to create what this introduction is trying to introduce, an index of the five best London albums. What is a London album I hear you ask? Broadly speaking, it is any album by a London band, an album about the city or any album I feel evokes the nation’s capital, its streets, its people, its pollution. And yes I’m including Greater London in the remit, from Barnet to Bermondsey, Harrow to Hackney. Basically any place that has a tube station. Whatever. Read!!!
The Clash- London Calling
Obviously. One of the best bands with undoubtedly their greatest album, no list of London albums could miss the Clash’s seminal London Calling. Tackling social displacement, unemployment, racial conflict and drug use in the nation’s capital it’s both thought provoking and killer throughout. Which is twice as impressive considering it’s a double album. The Title track is also the song most people associate with London, so essentially whenever an American film or sitcom it set over here you will no doubt hear this song playing over a montage of Big Ben and Tower Bridge. Every time. Without fail.
Bloc Party- A Weekend in the City
‘Because East London is a vampire, it sucks the joy right out of me’ sings Kele Okereke in Song for Clay (Disappear Here) from Bloc Party’s second album, equating Shoreditch and its surrounding areas with the L.A. of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. This is profoundly familiar to anyone who’s been there a Friday night and its observations like these which make A Weekend in the City a consummate reflection of what it feels like growing up into a young adult in the Great Smoke. Tune after tune of experimentatal post-punk loveliness show for me just how important and transcendent Bloc Party were in the post-Strokes indie scene of the mid-2000s. The Prayer is how every one feels before a night out, surely?
Its physically impossible to write an article on London music without including some grime. Is there another genre more indelibly linked to a single city? For JME is definitely one of the smartest grime artists in the game and whilst he may not have the energy of Tempa T or the production of the Wiley helmed Roll Deep, Famous? Undoubtedly makes use of the tropes that grime is so well known for. JME is definitely one of the most well-travelled Londoners which play a big part in his lyrics, for instance in the classic Shut Your Mouth: ‘Live in north, Uni in south, Radio in east, so shut your mouth’ which according to rapgenius translates as: ‘JME lives in north London, he went to Uni in south London and was often on pirate radio at the time in east London so.. shut your mouth’. For this he gets mad love, despite trying to shift limited edition Boy Better Know snapbacks for £105.78 a pop (Leaaave ittttt!)
Silence in the city is hard to come by, so when you get it, it very much takes you by surprise. Equally as surprising was the sombre dream-pop of south-west Londoners the xx’s debut self-titled album. Before they came out of nowhere to take the country by storm and eventually win the Mercury prize back in 2010, the band graduated from he same secondary school that also nurtured the talents of Burial, Fourtet and members of Hot Chip. That is some company to be part of. Purveyors of the most unconventional kind of pop-songs, the band effortlessly captured the feel of late-night/ early morning London, indebted no least by having to record the album in the dead of night at the West London home of the abel XL recordings. Not so much lyrical allusion to the city, but their evocative tones for me definitely makes this an album Londoners can be proud of, mixing elements of indie guitar pop and electronic production to make a sound as hybrid as the city itself.
It’s a little known fact that Blur’s third album was originally supposed to be called London and Noel Gallagher once stated that the finished product sounded like ‘Southern England Personified’. Both these truths serve to highlight how the band consciously (perhaps subconsciously) allowed the city to seep into their music. The 90s may have been the decade of Brit-pop but more importantly it was a time of significant political upheaval in the country, an age of Tony Blair, New Labour and ‘We’re all middle class now’. The subsequent Cool Britannia wave of renewed patriotism in Britain and pride in British Culture is an inseparable association for any band of the time and Blur are no different. However their sardonic social commentary, as evidenced in songs such as Boys and Girls, were lost on their contemporaries (looking at you Oasis) and separated them from the homogenous British lump that was the arts in the 90s. What with the gentrification and whatnot Parklife is definitely evocative of the transitional state of the capital at the time:
‘A malady has taken him over
Coughing tar in his japanese motor
The lights are magic
And he feels lucky
And he’s got money
Shoots like an arrow – oh’
Artists in London- Enjoy it while you can!