Music Features

Ten Artists I Should Have Discovered Earlier (NR10)

The advent of Spotify and spending more and more time in charity shops and secondhand stores has led to a rediscovery of many acts I've pined for; more than that, it's an affordable way to experience back catalogues while retaining a credit-crunch friendly bank balance. As such, artists I never paid enough attention to before, and bands that didn't move me first time round, are making themselves known to my adult ears, and as I aim inexorably towards my late twenties and beyond, I find fewer and fewer new bands cutting the mustard. Those that do, in many cases, are riding on the back of one of these acts below, and so I present my list of bands and artists that are a vital part of my life now – but have taken their time to make it there.

10. Massive Attack

Released just before I reached an age where I could appreciate music, Massive Attack's Blue Lines heralded the start of something big and new in British music - they were outside of London and involved in creating a scene, but not with the Neanderthal swagger of the Manchester scene, or the retrogressive jangle of the scousers. Massive Attack drew from US hip hop to make an album that was so forward-thinking that it sounds the part now; then disappointed a little with Protection before re-emerging in 1998 with the crystalline, dramatic sounds of Mezzanine. I missed out on the whole thing: in 1991 I was mostly vaguely aware of The Locomotion, in 1998 I was mostly in thrall to Metallica and the Wildhearts. Now I'm a bit more grown up, it's a good time to discover these titans of trip hop. 

9. Van Morrison

George Ivan Morrison is one of those classic rock belters that you just don't get any more. Not like Robert Plant or Roger Daltrey – Van Morrison is the proof that white, Irish sons of dock workers can defy expectation and conventional boundaries. Morrison's body of work encompasses vast chapters of music from all over the world, pulling together many disparate strands into a cohesive, inseparable whole. Drawing from French impressionism, deep Southern soul, Chicago jazz, and Gaelic and English folk, albums like Moondance or the monumental Astral Weeks are infinitely more sophisticated and eclectic than anything his peers were releasing at the time. Not bounded by the hippy ideal, the mod ethic, or the isolationism and elitism of jazz and folk, it's pretty much incomparable stuff. 

8. Kanye West 

I can rarely be accused of being on the ball for anything, and that includes my taste in hip hop, most of which was produced before I reached the age of eight. Nonetheless, the glamorous Atlantan has wormed his way into my affections with a string of albums pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in hip hop today: not through controversy or unlistenable experimentation, but through his sharp reading of his industry, his crack production and worldly-wise lyrics. Start with either Late Registration, or his debut College Dropout

7. Leonard Cohen 

Everybody goes through a Dylan phase - not everyone graduates to Cohen. And I do mean graduates; where Dylan obfuscates his meanings in complex allegory, Cohen's lyrics are purely poetic, but far from mere allegory. His Canadian drawl, while a long way off being musically beautiful, fits the near-whispered narratives and polemics better than Dylan's nasal whine, and his sharp, Gainsbourgian image is far more appealing than Bob's pencil tie and tousled hair. A class act all around, seek out Songs of Leonard Cohen for his sixties manifesto; the artistry of Suzanne or the witty accompaniments of So Long, Marianne. Head for I'm Your Man for the return of those sardonic back-up singers on First We Take Manhattan or the epic rumbles of Tower of Song. Either way, seek him out. 

6. Stevie Wonder 

I have little excuse for my unfamiliarity with Stevie Wonder, given that the man himself was churning out hits from the age of 12, and writing songs like Tears of a Clown by 17. In his transition from a Motown singles artist to a artist of integrity and talent, Stevie Wonder ended up releasing a string of classic albums and some of the greatest hits the pop world has known. Now approaching 60, Wonder can look back on a career of socially active, engaging music that few can, and what's more - he writes some not half bad pop songs. 

5. U2 

Enjoying a U2 record came replete with a dizzying level of self-loathing for me, put off by Bono's Messiah-complex and the fact that they've essentially not grown since 1987's The Joshua Tree. That record marked their creative pinnacle, distilling the essence of everything that makes U2 what they are. Drawing on the political bombast of War, the soundscape approach to instruments of The Unforgettable Fire, and the brash statements of OctoberThe Joshua Tree ups the ante to a peak of anthemic, politically-aware yet emotional pop rock to which few have come close. 

4. Neil Young

Most of the artists on this list are godfathers of something or other that I have listened to at some point in my life, and Mr Young, in his capacity as the Godfather Of Grunge is no different. Since his earliest work with Buffalo Springfield, through branching off into solo explorations and with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young's work has always been characterised by the same righteous anger and painful self-awareness that powered the likes of Pearl Jam or Nirvana through the early nineties. And between his sprawling, cathartic guitar workouts (Cortez The Killer), rootsy stomps (Cinnamon Girl) or harrowing acoustics (Needle & The Damage Done), contemporary alt.rock owes a great debt to Neil Young. Start with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, then snap up everything he produced in the seventies: On The Beach, Harvest and After The Gold Rush are indispensable. 

3. REM 

In most circles, admitting a fondness for REM will earn you as much scorn as liking U2, but here's a band with a back catalogue that's not flawless, but for large swathes of it is as good as. With perhaps the exception of 1991's Out Of Time, from Murmur in 1983 to New Adventures In Hi-Fi in 1996, REM released a slew of classics for which any fan could present a solid case for loving. Whether it's the mystic, withdrawn jangle of the early days, or the bolder presentation of Life's Rich Pageant or the perfectly-presented pop majesty of Automatic For The People there's more quality on each of these records than most bands achieve in an entire career. 

2. Tom Waits

I feel like I've immersed myself in Tom Waits in the last year or so, but really, I've just scratched the surface. Waits albums seem to take time to appreciate, with the intricacy and depth of each increasing as his career has progressed. Nevertheless, 36-year-old records like Closing Time lose nothing in charm, bedraggled sophistication, and world-weary wit when stood up next to the monumental spirituals of Mule Variations or the sonic experimentation of Swordfishtrombone. Veering maniacally between jazz, punk rock, and a whole cascade of indefinable other influences, Tom Waits has a catalogue that remains beyond encapsulation, and as such, he's someone to whom I'll need to devote a lot more time to in the future, to get anywhere near an understanding. 

1. Bruce Springsteen 

The Boss successfully avoided my attentions for years, but now I've got on the bandwagon (only, oh, 30 odd years late) it's going to be tough to get off. Nebraska was a good place to start for me - a stark, chilling country record that Bonnie 'Prince' Billy would be proud of, it was a good jumping-off point to Springsteen's more bombastic catalogue. Massively diverse and constantly entertaining, the high points have turned out to be the brutal Darkness on the Edge of Town and the career-spanning Live 1975-1985, but you'll invest wisely if you seek out anything from 1975's Born To Run to 1987's Tunnel of Love. Springsteen has been the single biggest change in my listening habits in the last year or so, and if you've never got past the pomp and ceremony of Born In The USA you have, like I had, very much to learn.