The 40 best bands in Britain

The 40 best bands in Britain

· Links and pictures for: part one (40 to 21), part two (20 to 1)

40. Selfish Cunt Dividing the few who have heard or seen them, art/punk duo Selfish Cunt aren’t simply an in-joke too far perpetrated by the denizens of London’s trendy Hoxton – more a malignancy at the heart of the fashionable life. Singer Martin Tomlinson and guitarist Patrick Constable create unruly anti-songs, angry unravellings of beatbox stutter, garage noise and invective. Genuinely menacing debut double A-side Britain Is Shit/ Fuck the Poor is the most brutal state-of-the-nation address since the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen. Sound: 11/20 Songs: 8/20 Gigs: -/20 Style: 15/20 Attitude: 18/20 Total: 52/100

39. FallacyThe words “Dizzee Rascal” must be salt in the wounds of Daniel “Fallacy” Fahey, who, until the advent of Rascal, was making strides toward becoming Britain’s most acclaimed male rapper. His territory, articulated on last spring’s debut, Blackmarket Boy, is London nightlife, inspired by his time as a doorman in Soho. He is eloquent, politically aware and – too rare at the moment – spins a good yarn. Sound: 14 Songs: 15 Gigs:Style: 10 Attitude: 14 Total: 53

38. Mr ScruffWe live in a post-clubbing era, when no one seriously suggests that DJs can become superstars any more. Yet Manchester’s Mr Scruff has seen his star rise in recent years. He represents the perfect antidote to the cult of the superstar DJ: a self-effacing figure, he sells cups of tea at his live shows and festoons his sleeves with cartoons. Despite a lack of media coverage and his nonexistent image, his sets have become major events, attracting the sort of devoted follower who was supposed to have deserted the dance floor long ago. Sound: 10 Songs: 10 Gigs: 17 Style: 4 Attitude: 13 Total: 54

37. Joss StoneStone is following the Dido career path: on her way to being a hit in the US before making an impression in her home country. Musically, however, she puts you in mind of Dusty Springfield. A 16-year-old blonde from Devon, Stone sounds like a queen of Motown soul. On her demo CD, recorded in Miami with a team of 1970s soul musicians, her voice is smoky, sultry, passionate and quite extraordinary. Sound: 19 Songs: 13 Gigs:Style: 10 Attitude: 13 Total: 55

36. Franz FerdinandThese four young men who met at art school in Glasgow lay claim to an unfairly forgotten lineage of Scots post-punk pop. A timely conflation of snappy art-funk and spiralling guitars, Darts of Pleasure, the best three-track debut single since Suede’s The Drowners, narrowly missed out on a top 40 placing last month. January’s follow-up, Take Me Out, will almost certainly take the band on to Top of the Pops. An album is due in February. Sound: 12 Songs: 11 Gigs: 10 Style: 11 Attitude: 12 Total: 56

35. Lone PigeonGordon Anderson used to be a member of the Beta Band, and his debut solo album, Concubine Rice, was a reminder of everything that was most thrilling about the Beta Band’s earliest EPs. His music is fragmentary, peculiar but always deliciously melodic, while his tales of tramps and cows ache with melancholy. Rumour has it that he is considering giving up music to travel across Britain letting animals out of their cages. If he did, we would lose one of our most beguiling eccentrics. Sound: 17 Songs: 16 Gigs:Style: 7 Attitude: 17 Total: 57

34. Martina Topley-BirdSometimes when Topley-Bird sings she uses a vintage 1940s microphone, an apt gesture for a woman whose voice sounds wonderfully out of time. Discovered by Tricky, she became the Bristolian’s muse and foil, her voice seemingly too old and wise to emanate from a teenage girl. Now a little older and wiser, she is a beguiling solo talent, working prewar blues and post-coital soul into her Mercury-nominated debut, Quixotic. Sound: 12 Songs: 10 Gigs: 15 Style: 11 Attitude: 10 Total: 58

33. 100 ReasonsIn recent years, British metal has, like British hip-hop, been the poor relation of its American cousin. The 2002 debut by Aldershot quintet 100 Reasons, Ideas Above Our Station, represented a genuine UK alternative to the knuckleheaded excesses of US nu-metal. Packed with fiery guitars, anguished vocals and rich melodies, it proved that metal was not solely the preserve of the baggy-shorted and the brain-dead. Sound: 15 Songs: 12 Gigs: 10 Style: 7 Attitude: 14 Total: 58

32. SpiritualizedWith his first band Spacemen 3 and (since 1990) Spiritualized, Rugby dweller Jason Pierce has created songs that eerily conjure up a musical opiate and hallucinatory experience. His only public excesses, however, consist of orchestras, strobes and studio bands of up to 100 people. Either way, after so much time Out There, it’s unsurprising that he performs sitting down. Sound: 18 Songs: 16 Gigs: 14 Style: 5 Attitude: 6 Total: 59

31. Girls AloudThe female winners of Pop Stars: The Rivals turned out to be tough cookies who, as promised, sent the boy winners packing with a combination of girl-gang iciness and 1960s-influenced pop. The first singles, Sound of the Underground and No Good Advice, were unsentimental and addictive, and the girls themselves opinionated in a way that belied their manufactured beginnings. British chart-pop once excelled at producing hits with lots of style and just enough substance to get by, and Girls Aloud are a return to these values. Sound: 16 Songs: 16 Gigs: 10 Style: 4 Attitude: 13 Total: 59

30. British Sea PowerPlenty of new bands have emerged in the wake of the Strokes, but genuinely new ideas seem thin on the ground. Sussex’s British Sea Power have them in abundance, from their decision to deck their stages with foliage and stuffed animals, to their Dad’s Army image, to the opening lyric of their debut single, Fear of Drowning: “Jesus fucking Christ, oh God, no!” At a time when most bands are content to indulge in self-conscious “classic” rock posturing, British Sea Power take their cues from outside the accepted canon of cool. Sound: 13 Songs: 10 Gigs: 10 Style: 16 Attitude: 11 Total: 60

29. Cinematic OrchestraJazzers often dabble with DJs and sampling, but with Cinematic Orchestra, it has happened the other way round. Leader Jason Swinscoe started out chopping up his record collection (1960s and 70s jazz and soundtracks) for the Ninja Tune label. He has ended up with a band of fine jazz players – but not a jazz band. Through two albums (Every Day, Motion), collaborations with Roots Manuva and Fontella Bass, and a soundtrack for the Russian silent movie Man With a Movie Camera, Swinscoe has turned lots of the sampling back into live playing. It has the directness of simple loop music, but 10 times the emotional power. Sound: 15 Songs: 11 Gigs: 14 Style: 9 Attitude: 11 Total: 60

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28. Rishi RichGiven that Britain is a world centre of Asian music, it’s surprising that more Asian artists have not entered the mainstream consciousness. Along with Punjabi MC, London-based producer Rishi Rich is among the first to buck the trend. Already famed as a producer of bhangra, he has shifted with ease into working with pop artists, melding R&B and traditional Punjabi music to good effect for Mis-Teeq, Craig David, Liberty X and Ricky Martin. The result is not a world-music curio, but startling, original pop music. Sound:: 17 Songs:: 16 Gigs:: – Style:: 10 Attitude:: 17 Total: 60

27. MuseIf Brian Blessed were a rock band, you suspect he would sound like Muse. From humble beginnings as a kind of cut-price Radiohead, the Devon trio have flourished into a bombastic, over-the-top rock band. Their most recent album, Absolution, underlines their ambition and their audible disinterest in accepted notions of good taste. It’s difficult to tell how far their tongues are wedged into their cheeks, but it’s equally difficult not to be swept along by their ludicrous, operatic goth metal. Sound:: 14 Songs:: 11 Gigs:: 14 Style:: 10 Attitude:: 14 Total: 63

26. Richard XThe Blackburn-born producer may only have one idea – slam together two incongruous songs to produce an improbably catchy third – but it has spawned a genre. Richard X has rag-and-boned some of the best singles of the past year, including Sugababes’ Freak Like Me and Liberty X’s Being Nobody. How long he can keep up the mixing and matching depends on his boredom threshold. Sound: 17 Songs: 17 Gigs:Style: 12 Attitude: 17 Total: 63

25. Belle and Sebastian“Belle and Sebastian were the product of botched capitalism,” announced the sleeve notes of the Glaswegians’ second album. Stuart Murdoch was on one of the Major government’s back-to-work training schemes in 1996 when he assembled his dream band, one worthy of standing next to his heroes the Smiths, Leonard Cohen and Felt. Literate, flamboyant and mordantly witty, they have lost band members and direction over the years, but their new, Trevor Horn-produced fifth album finds them again living up to Murdoch’s grand vision. Sound: 16 Songs: 19 Gigs: 10 Style: 6 Attitude: 13 Total: 64

24. Lemon JellyEven when they sample the faraway reports of American astronauts or a Russian choir there is something in the flavour of Lemon Jelly (Nick Franglen and Fred Deakin) that is quirkily English. Here, as some boffin belts out on Lost Horizons, their second album, “All the ducks are swimming in the water, faldaralderaldo, faldaralderaldo.” If this album were an armchair, it would be orange and inflatable. There is nothing exceptional about Lemon Jelly’s folky electronica it doesn’t so much push boundaries as graze happily inside them. But it does so beautifully, with a loopy glee that will get you in the end. Sound: 15 Songs: 14 Gigs: 10 Style: 13 Attitude: 12 Total: 64

23. Four-TetHead and shoulders above the continuing deluge of music created on laptops, Four-Tet began life as an alternative outlet for Kieran Hebden of post-rock trio Fridge. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hebden is also an adept musician, as a recent appearance with folk singer Vashti Bunyan proved. Rounds, the third Four-Tet album, is a futuristic and emotive mix of oblique hip-hop and gauzy folk. Sound: 19 Songs: 13 Gigs: 8 Style: 7 Attitude: 17 Total: 64

22. Pet Shop BoysThe 1980s’ most enduring pop act have always refused to slump into irrelevance, weathering the sneers of rock snobs who dismiss them as camp ironists. Despite recently embracing their old nemesis, the guitar, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe remain unapologetic champions of the joys of pop, allying thrumming club beats with timeless songwriting craft to make something moving and lasting out of the allegedly disposable. Sound: 16 Songs: 17 Gigs: 15 Style: 6 Attitude: 11 Total: 65

21. David HolmesWith a combination of DJing and composing, Holmes has carved out a niche as a provider of the hustling soundtrack: Out of Sight, Ocean’s 11 and Buffalo Soldiers. Tracks from Let’s Get Killed, his second album, and Bow Down showed canny foresight: the future, he has realised, is in getting rock back into dance music, something his live band, Free Association, proves to thunderous effect. Sound: 15 Songs: 10 Gigs: 12 Style: 13 Attitude: 16 Total: 66

20. BroadcastBroadcast’s music could be beamed in from another galaxy – you can imagine Barbarella dancing about her space pod to their latest album, Haha Sound. Using 1960s equipment, Broadcast create songs with the texture of scudding clouds and calm seas, topped with lyrics as calmly beautiful as they are fraught with confusion and tension. It is this atmosphere of longing and searching that gives their music warmth – that, and their ability to write cheeky melodies that radiate an infectious sense of joy. Rarely is electronic music so much fun. Sound: 19 Songs: 15 Gigs: 8 Style: 12 Attitude: 12 Total: 66

19. Beth GibbonsGlaciers move quicker than the career of hip-hop torch singer turned folk siren Gibbons, but it was always worth the wait. With Portishead, she was a goosebump-raising voice in the dark. She reappeared last year in tandem with former Talk Talk member Paul Webb on the extraordinarily beautiful Out of Season, a record with the autumnal tang of bonfire smoke. Foolishly underrated, Gibbons’s voice and songs will be cherished years from now. Sound: 16 Songs: 18 Gigs: 14 Style: 8 Attitude: 11 Total: 67

18. ColdplayThey have been much criticised, but Coldplay are arguably one of Britain’s premier post-millennial rock bands. Influenced by the likes of Jeff Buckley and Echo and the Bunnymen, they have combined guitar transcendence with traditional songwriting to create what are fast becoming modern standards. Keeping matters fairly safe and anthemic up to now, singer Chris Martin recently revealed that the band are taking some time out to “reinvent themselves”. If this means following the wayward career paths of stadium peers Radiohead and U2, we might just see a shift into left field. Sound: 15 Songs: 18 Gigs: 19 Style: 5 Attitude: 10 Total: 67

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17. Robert WyattSemi-paralysed since an accident in 1973, the former Soft Machine drummer has become one of British pop’s most recognisable, haunting voices. Hugely influential and musically varied, Wyatt is synonymous with uncompromising poignancy: his 1983 version of Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding, released during the Falklands war, remains one of pop’s most powerful political statements. He has recorded with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Namibia’s Swapo singers, and his recent Cuckooland album finds him on typically vital form. Wyatt can be as personal as he is political, and is able to sing equally movingly about love, brandy, and the joys of mustard. Sound: 16 Songs: 15 Gigs: 11 Style: 10 Attitude: 17 Total: 69

16. GoldfrappThere is plenty of sex in pop, but precious little sensuality. After a few years in the shadows as a guest vocalist for the likes of Orbital and Tricky, Alison Goldfrapp (aided by collaborator Will Gregory) emerged to remedy that shortage with a cocktail of ripe carnality and sinister beauty. The duo’s albums, Felt Mountain and Black Cherry, are exotic middle-European fantasias co-scripted by Christopher Isherwood and Hans Christian Andersen: music for black forests and red light districts. Sound: 16 Songs: 10 Gigs: 10 Style: 18 Attitude: 16 Total: 70

15. Basement JaxxBrixton duo Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe began their career trying to imitate US house producers before introducing a very British irreverence to their music. The secret of their multicultural melee is not seamless merging, but worlds colliding: Latin rhythms and Jamaican chants ricochet off American house and R&B, which in turn clash with punk and rave. That their new album makes neighbours of Dizzee Rascal, Siouxsie Sioux and a former member of N’Sync says it all. Sound: 16 Songs: 14 Gigs: 17 Style: 11 Attitude: 13 Total: 71

14. SugababesEvery generation produces a girl or boy act that even indie types grudgingly admire – and at the moment, the teenage Sugababes are it. Their languid sound is unique, as is their involvement in songwriting and production, and if there are puppeteers behind the scenes, they are subtle about it. The Sugas have enough of a DIY mentality to excite anoraks (“We just assumed everyone always wrote their own songs”), the pop sensibility to score a string of hits and an apparent ban on smiling. Sound: 17 Songs: 17 Gigs: 13 Style: 11 Attitude: 14 Total: 72

13. Chemical BrothersAs dance music’s creative biorhythms hit a low, it’s worth remembering the duo who did so much to define the genre’s glory days. From the start, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons saw the connections between the records they loved: the stampeding energy that yoked hip-hop to acid house and the rapturous overload that joined techno to 1960s psychedelia. And they are still joining those dots, ever alert to the endless alchemical possibilities of the sampler and sequencer. Sound: 20 Songs: 16 Gigs: 15 Style: 7 Attitude: 16 Total: 74

12. Super Furry AnimalsWhen SFA emerged in the mid-1990s, British pop had never seen anything like them. With a line-up including politico/poet Gruff Rhys and disgraced former schoolteacher “Bunf” Bunford, they offered a kaleidoscopic vision of pop possibilities. Their 1996 debut Fuzzy Logic took in marxism, Welsh nationalism, dole culture, drug smugglers, unicorns and more. However, their fondness for a jape should not overshadow the enormous thought that underpins their music. Six albums down the line, the band have achieved a level of consistency matched by few British outfits since the Beatles. The recent Phantom Power was their second to chart in the top five, and they remain one of Britain’s best-loved live bands, often turning up at gigs with tanks and furry costumes. Sound: 17 Songs: 15 Gigs: 16 Style: 10 Attitude: 16 Total: 74

11. Dizzee RascalLast month, 19-year-old Dylan Mills won the Mercury prize. The reponse from the music industry was muted, possibly because no matter how many awards he wins, Mills’s music is likely to remain unpalatable to the mainstream. However, a lack of commercial potential doesn’t make his work any less vital. His lyrics offer a witty, disconcerting skewering of teenage life in inner-city Britain, while his noisy, uncomfortable sound is as close to the cutting edge as British urban music gets in 2003. Sound: 20 Songs: 20 Gigs:Style: 15 Attitude: 20 Total: 75

10. David BowieOne of rock’s pivotal style icons and innovators, Bowie’s major achievements (Ziggy Stardust, Young Americans, Low, Heroes et al) have involved remodelling fringe ideas for the mainstream. By the 1980s, having explored glam rock, androgyny, astral travel, “plastic soul”, synthesisers and cocaine, he was exhausted, and by the 90s he had panicked into following trends (notably drum’n’bass for 1997’s Earthling). Recently, however, Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003) received glowing reviews. Fans have speculated whether the twin-colour-eyed genius is an alien life-form, a theory given credence by the fact that, at 56, he looks better than he did in 1975. Sound: 16 Songs: 14 Gigs: 18 Style: 15 Attitude: 13 Total: 76

9. The StreetsHe looks like a naughty schoolboy and sounds like a rascal, his days one long blur of PlayStation, dope and too much brandy. But in putting that lackadaisical life to a soundtrack of cheap bleeps and Casio melodies, Mike Skinner pushed UK garage to a whole new level. Last year’s debut, Original Pirate Material, exuded wit as it chronicled the warts-and-all life of one cocky, unreliable, skint, very British lad. It will be thrilling to see where this cheeky, utterly engaging geezer goes next. Sound: 20 Songs: 17 Gigs: 11 Style: 10 Attitude: 19 Total: 77

8. The DarknessProving, as Adam Ant said, that ridicule is nothing to be scared of, the Darkness sashayed out of Lowestoft to give glam-metal a 21st-century voice. Though their spandex leotards and high-decibel pounding appear to be a style magazine’s idea of a prank, they are serious enough about it to have sold 450,000 copies of debut album Permission to Land in three months. They may last only until Justin Hawkins’s hysterical falsetto gives out, but every ludicrous bite should be savoured. Sound: 10 Songs: 14 Gigs: 15 Style: 19 Attitude: 20 Total: 78

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7. Mis-TeeqBritain’s answer to Destiny’s Child (albeit with a penchant for PVC jerkins), Mis-Teeq have long since outpaced the garage scene that created them. It’s hard to believe this primped and polished – but utterly cool – trio were raised in south and west London. There’s a Gothic eeriness to hits like Scandalous and One Night Stand that differentiates them from their US counterparts. Until they start hankering for solo careers, the future is shiny. Sound: 15 Songs: 16 Gigs: 16 Style: 17 Attitude: 15 Total: 79

6. BlurTheir name may have been picked under duress from a record company shortlist of meaningless epithets, but it suits them. Blur are all about velocity. Whether you consider Damon Albarn a mercurial genius or a dexterous dilettante, he never sits still, the only constant being a passionate belief that pop and art are not mutually exclusive. A full decade after they drew Britpop’s battle lines, Blur are immersed in playful junk-shop funk and plaintive ballads on a seventh album, Think Tank, which may be their finest yet. Sound: 15 Songs: 18 Gigs: 18 Style: 15 Attitude: 15 Total: 81

5. Roots ManuvaBritish rap has often been in awe of its American forebear, but Roots Manuva has changed that. Roots – Rodney Smith to his mum – claims that Ian Dury and Chas and Dave have influenced his rap as much as Public Enemy, while his backing tracks mix Brixton reggae with Depeche Mode. So far, he has only grazed the charts (with 2001’s Dreamy Days), but his influence is incalculable and he opened the doors for the Streets, Dizzee Rascal et al. Simply, Roots has demonstrated that singing in a British accent isn’t uncool. Equally, he has shown rap a subject-matter away from US ghettos, sex and guns. His brilliant flows make everything from drug culture to vagrancy, religion, beans on toast and “10 pints ah bitta” sound as exotic and entrancing as anything from the US. Sound: 18 Songs: 17 Gigs: 13 Style: 15 Attitude: 19 Total: 82

4. The CoralIn terms of looks, there is little to differentiate the Coral from any of the innumerable bands of young lads that Britain churns out. Musically, however, the Liverpool sextet are worlds apart. Last year’s self-titled debut album revelled in the kind of invention most bands find frightening: doo-wop harmonies bounced against Captain Beefheart growls, jagged punk guitars and lyrics that veer from the strange to the surreal. Where they truly excel is on stage: seeing the Coral live is an exhilarating experience, offering a rare glimpse of the passion and pop nous that drove the British invasion all those years ago. Sound: 20 Songs: 19 Gigs: 20 Style: 10 Attitude: 15 Total: 84

3. PJ HarveyIt has been Polly Jean Harvey’s ambition, throughout her career, to be considered not a great female musician but a great rock musician. Of course, in her contrary way, she has also spent a lot of those years flaunting her femininity, donning slinky catsuits and spiky high heels, singing of sex and dresses and bad-hair days. While in the late 1990s her music was influenced by the masculine sound of US producer Steve Albini, more recently she has taken her cues from another queen of rock, Patti Smith. So yes, Harvey is a woman in a man’s world – but listen to her passionate, angry songs, full of hammer-headed riffs and glacial melodies, and you realise that she is simply a fantastic, inspiring musician, all on her own terms. Sound: 17 Songs: 16 Gigs: 19 Style: 17 Attitude: 18 Total: 87

2. RadioheadThe sight of 100,000 people twitching wildly to Idioteque at Glastonbury this year was testament to how far Radiohead have come. After OK Computer launched a wave of hyperbole big enough to drown them, the relatively obtuse Kid A seemed like a retreat to higher ground – but it only increased its creators’ mystique. Radiohead have become emblematic of all that a world-class rock band can be, balancing success with integrity, size with intimacy, and always finding a way to escape the long shadow of their prior achievements. Helmed by Thom Yorke, the quintessential anti-star, they become more unique and valuable with each passing year. Sound: 19 Songs: 17 Gigs: 20 Style: 13 Attitude: 19 Total: 88

1. LibertinesThe Libertines have had a turbulent 12 months since the release of their debut album, Up the Bracket. Co-frontman Pete Doherty was awol from the band when he was arrested for burgling bandmate Carl Barat’s flat, and subsequently jailed. But that’s beside the point (except for those still foolish enough to equate drug addiction and petty crime with bona fide rock’n’roll credentials). All the credentials the Libertines need are there on Up the Bracket. Like the Kinks, the Jam, the Smiths and the arty, questioning wing of Britpop, the Libertines view Britain afresh. Theirs is an eccentric collage of island life – Boadicea and Chas and Dave, Sherlock Holmes and Sid James – in which wry cynicism competes with romantic idealism. It’s an assertion of cultural identity that is witty and vibrant rather than dim and bullish, and it’s best captured on the raucously stirring Time for Heroes: “There’s few more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap. We’ll die in the class we were born, that’s a class of our own.” The Libertines’ strength – and their weakness – is a sense of barely contained chaos. Their boozy, last-orders punk thunders along the thin line between swagger and stagger, and the latter often hobbles their live shows. Whether they become greats or just one of those great what-ifs that Britain specialises in depends on whether they regroup, but they have the talent and the belief. Shamelessly intelligent, stylish, wayward and complex, if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot, they can shoot for the stars. Sound: 19 Songs: 19 Gigs: 13 Style: 19 Attitude: 20 Total: 90

The panel: Alexis Petridis, Maddy Costa, Dorian Lynskey, David Peschek, Betty Clarke, Caroline Sullivan, Pascal Wyse and Dave Simpson.