MY ESSENTIAL ALBUMS - IAN VALER
Ian 'Val Mallia' Valer was involved in Maltese broadcasting from the early '90s till the beginning of the naughties. His eclectic taste in music was apparent in his daytime, dance and rock shows on stations such as the now defunct Island Sound. At the time he even had a stint as a music journalist reviewing albums and concerts in the local press.
He is probably best remembered for The Alternative Pulse, a Thursday evening radio show that pulled a large audience tapping into a niche that had never been given a full dedicated radio show before. Presenting the first ‘alternative’ radio show on the islands meant Ian was keen on promoting the thriving local alternative music scene. The show gained popularity quickly, and even organised its own branded live events. The presenter also fronted a band, Cupid21, around the same time. The band disbanded when some of the members moved to London – the city that is now home to him too.
Ian went on to focus on a career in hair and fashion. While in London he still landed some club work in night-spots such as Funky Buddha and Pacha, but finally left it all to concentrate full time on his hair styling career. The music bug has not totally died however: he currently regularly releases podcasts called The House of Style - Soundtrack for the pursuers of the more delectable side of House. Go to www.ianvaler.podomatic.com for a listen.
1. Marillion – Fugazi
There are a few bands I had a slightly unhealthy obsession with at a very young age, including Adam and the Ants and Visage. I always had an attraction for the theatrical. When I first compiled this Top 10 I left this album out, thinking there are surely other albums that have made a bigger impact on me - but all I needed was a quick listen to bring back many great memories.
This is a weird one. Prog-Rock was never my thing, but no one can deny the masterful poetic wordplay from frontman Fish in this album. The lyrics struck a chord; this album probably ignited my love for lyrics which take centre-stage in the music I hear.
We are talking school days here and it was a bit like an epidemic in my year: if you were not into Marillion there was something wrong with you! I was the proud owner of the cassette, which is the format it was released in originally together with LP, and picture disc… the CD came at a later stage.
A little trivia: the line "What do you call assassins, who accuse assassins anyway, my friend?", from the end of "Assassing" is used in the PC game Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2.
2. Kate Bush - Hounds Of Love
Okay, so the fact that I was lucky enough to get my hands on tickets to see her this September probably plays a part in this selection, but back in September 1985 this was one of my first, proper, obsessive albums when I was a kid.
It was just something I had never heard before, with a balance of the beautiful, the dramatic, and the theatrical. Perhaps being a kid, a lot of the actual themes escaped me at the time, but it all made sense as I grew older and it stayed with me, culminating in the recent stage version I saw in Hammersmith, London.
3. Tori Amos – From the Choirgirl Hotel
Tori Amos was a breath of fresh air, especially appearing out of nowhere with Crucify when all the world was getting ‘grungier’ and harder. She can now boast a music career spanning over three decades, albeit a very frequently misunderstood one.
From The Choirgirl Hotel sees Amos experimenting with a slightly more electronic sound, a fuller band sound rather than the solo piano she flirted with in her previous albums. This is a sound she never really returned to, making this album very much one of a kind, and a firm favourite of many Amos fans.
4. Suede – Dog Man Star
It is difficult to actually describe the feeling I get from this album. Suede were, without a shadow of a doubt, my number one band in the early '90s, and after their widely acclaimed debut, this was their difficult second album. Moral in camp Suede was well known to be at an all-time low and the news of guitarist Bernard Butler leaving the band towards the end of recordings left a very bitter-sweet taste when Dog Man Star was released – was this the end?
Of course now, we know it was not, but this remains arguably their peak – definitely not on a commercial level but from an artistic point of view. Many regard this album as their masterpiece – as was eventually cemented by NME magazine years later, when it placed the album at #31 on their round-up of the best alums of all time.
Judging by the cover art of both Fugazi and this, I clearly also had a thing for naked men and beds...
5. Placebo – Without you I’m Nothing
There are only a few bands that, on hearing them the first time, made me think: “wow – who is this?"
Together with Radiohead and Muse (not on this list simply because it is really difficult to choose only 10 albums) Placebo gave me exactly that reaction. The first song I ever heard was Come Home which had Drowning by Numbers as a B-side – simple yet majestic. At first the band reminded me of Rush’s Tom Sawyer, but there definitely was nothing Prog-Rock about this band.
Their debut album was all I expected: fast, powerful, beautiful, and ambiguous. But it is the second album that makes this Top 10. Without You I’m Nothing is an exceptional album which brought them huge exposure and critical acclaim. The title track is a masterpiece in its own right.
This album was once described as: "a thrilling record, made by freaks, for freaks. Just don't expect to leave with your soul intact.”
6. P.J. Harvey – To bring you my love
Widely regarded as the first lady of Alternative Rock, I fell in love with her back in 1993 when I first heard Rid of Me. That love was cemented through the years with great albums such as Stories from the city, stories from the sea, an album focusing on her love affair with New York city, which also won her the 2001 Mercury Prize, and the more recent Let England Shake .
This woman can do no wrong, but the album that makes my list is the exceptionally haunting To bring you my love – a masterpiece of a record focusing on relationships, the loss of a lover and the longing of the heart.
The title track presents a narrator who not only desires love but is willing to sacrifice everything to get it. "I’ve lain with the devil, Cursed God above/Forsaken heaven/To bring you my love."
Released on Island Records in 1995, this album brought her massive critical acclaim worldwide. From here on there was no turning back.
7. Dimitri from Paris – Sacrebleu
This album and Dimitri from Paris himself, are probably the culprits responsible for taking me away from the live music scene and to the electronic side of things. The clever quirkiness, the chic, the sampling, including quotes from movies such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and La Dolce Vita forged what would eventually become very much my DJing style… a prelude to my own House Of Style podcasts.
8. Scissor Sisters – Scissor Sisters
Probably considered to be the anti-Christ by a multitude of Pink Floyd fans for releasing a disco version of Comfortably Numb, the Scissor Sisters were arguably the first band of the naughties to be REALLY different.
A heady mix of Disco, Glam Rock and the alterative underground they were originally called the Dead Lesbians before moving to the name we all know them so well with. Their music goes through many emotions and though it may sound jolly, the lyrics tend to hold darker secrets, if one listens closely. This eponymously titled album put flamboyance back into pop when everything was getting a little but too generic.
9. Killers – Hot Stuff
By the time this came out, I had somehow fallen out of love with Rock, with most bands I was really into earlier failing to impress with their newer albums.
But in 2004, while floating in the electronic side of music, one band pulled me back to a good old guitar riff, clever storytelling and a liking for moustaches: The Killers.
Anyone who has seen them live will also know they give one hell of a show – if I was doing a best concert list they would be at the very top.
Mr Bright Side is definitely still my favourite song to be drunk to! (Especially at Popstars or Mis-shapes in (R.I.P.) Ghetto, London)
10. Moloko - Statues
At first I wanted to include Catalogue, which is their greatest hits album, but having an innate dislike of greatest hits albums, I just couldn't do it.
Moloko was an electronica duo made of Sunderland-born Mark Brydon and Irishwoman Roisin Murphy. They actually met in a virtual chatroom. Murphy had no experience when they recorded their first album, which found mild success, but when Sing it Back was remixed by Boris Duglosch it became a massive hit in Ibiza and launched the band internationally.
The split of Brydon and Murphy as a couple in 2001 also saw the band’s split while they recorded the enchanting Statues.
The album is still categorised under the dance genre, though it has a sad undertone documenting the couple’s split. After touring to support the album they parted ways. Murphy released two solo albums, the second of which, 2007’s Overpowered, deserves a nod. The self-confessed perfectionist had done what Moloko had often failed to do - make an album which was all-killer and no filler!
Rumours of another album have been circulating for years but with killer collaborations and EPS, and in this digital age, do we really need albums?
Trivia: the band’s name, which means ‘Milk’ in Russian, has links with the novel and film A Clockwork Orange.
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