Les McQueen knows. In his infrequent appearances in The League of Gentleman, Creme Brulee's former rhythm guitarist would often share his opinion that the music industry is a "shit business", specifically one where true talent isn't always rewarded. We all know bands who deserve a lot more than their cult status, but equally, we all know that life isn't always fair.
Here are 10 artists from the noughties who should, in a just world, have been absolutely massive.
At The Drive-In
The beyond obvious, no-brainer pick. No band in the past 30+ years was saddled with the cursed epithet 'the new Nirvana' more than El Paso, Texas post-hardcore quintet At The Drive-In, following the September 2000 release of their stunning third album, Relationship Of Command, on the Beastie Boys' ultra-hip record label Grand Royal. "This band can save rock", the label bragged - perhaps inadvisedly, given that rock was doing just fine at the time - but Relationship of Command was strong enough to justify all the hype, and with frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez absolutely magnetic performers, ATD-I's incendiary live shows were the stuff of legend. Ultimately, the clash between the group's fierce punk rock ideals, and the expectations and demands of the mainstream music industry proved incompatible, and when the two 'faces' of the band started numbing themselves with heroin and cocaine, the group soon imploded in not entirely amicable fashion. They'd reunite, in time, but their time, sadly, had passed.
Perhaps we're being a tad fanciful in imagining a world where a progressive, post-metal band could be "absolutely massive", but when Isis released their monumental second album, Oceanic, in 2002, it was a genuine game-changer, making a solid 98% of their peers instantly seem inconsequential and irrelevant. If Deftones hadn't already been saddled with the patronising 'thinking man's metal' tag in the mainstream media upon the release of White Pony, that weight would have been loaded upon Aaron Turner's band: free of such hype, the Boston band delivered another masterpiece in 2004's Panopticon, were hand-picked to open for Tool in US arenas, and were tipped as future superstars by every metal magazine on the planet. Truthfully though, even at the 'cult heroes' stage of the sliding scale of stardom, Isis weren't entirely comfortable - "We never imagined that Isis would become as successful or as popular as it has," Turner admitted, somewhat ruefully - so perhaps staying under the mainstream radar allowed them to retain their sanity as well as their credibility. What a band, though, what a band.
Championed by Slipknot/Korn producer Ross Robinson, who called their third record, 2000's We Have Come For Your Parents, "the most brutal record ever released on a major label", LA punks Amen were talked up as the most feral LA punk band since Black Flag. When Kerrang!'s September 30, 2000 issue introduced readers to '50 new bands you must hear' under the headline 'New Messiahs' it was charismatic Amen vocalist Casey Chaos who was picked as the issue's cover star, above At The Drive-In, Papa Roach and Mudvayne. The hype wasn't confined to the rock media either, with publications such as NME, Q, and Variety all heaping wild praise upon the quintet. That Amen might not be in this for the long haul, however, was perhaps telegraphed by their impossibly intense live shows - this writer was once flown to America to see the band, only for Chaos to knock himself out on-stage, bringing the gig to an end after just 8 minutes - and by the time their Daron Malakian co-produced fourth album Death Before Musick emerged, four-fifths of the band who recorded We Have Come For Your Parents had quit. For a time though, they had everything necessary to go supernova.
When they emerged in 2005, The Horrors - an explosion of hair and cheekbones and black leather, with impeccable garage rock/post-punk influences and a healthy disdain for almost all their peers - were a music critic's wet dream. Beyond their sharp look and smart mouths though, there was serious substance, as the Southend quintet proceeded to prove by getting better and better with each successive album, boldly expanding their sound into new spheres. Again, to their credit, The Horrors were never a band who made blatant plays for mainstream acceptance, and while the UK's notoriously fickle music press has long since switched its attention to new waves of Next Big Things, Faris Badwan's band continue to draw in new believers: their stint supporting Depeche Mode in arenas in 2017 was evidence that they're well-equipped should a Nick Cave-esque late career boom in popularity yet lie ahead.
Whatever ambitions Omaha, Nebraska's Desaparecidos may or may not harboured in terms of success - a nebulous concept anyway - their problem was not that they could not find an audience, but rather that their frontman was too popular. Conor Oberst had already released three albums with Bright Eyes, his indie-folk-emo band (and before that, two albums with his emo collective Commander Venus), before Desaparecidos came together, and despite all the critical acclaim garnered by the quintet's brilliant 2002 debut album Read Music/Speak Spanish, Bright Eyes' mounting popularity ensured that the prolific singer/songwriter simply didn't have enough time to dedicate to his post-hardcore side-project. Which is a shame, because 21 years since its release, Read Music/Speak Spanish remains a thrillingly urgent listen, as good as any album in the genre released in the past three decades. Then again, Oberst's refusal to be pigeon-holed is admirable, and his recent (ish) collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers in Better Oblivion Community Center doubtless drew in a whole new appreciative audience, so it's hard to argue that he's missed the boat in terms of 'making it big'.
The Icarus Line
The Icarus Line's closest brush with the mainstream came during a South By South-West festival gig at the Hard Rock Cafe in Austin, Texas, when guitarist Aaron North smashed a mic stand through a glass display case and snatched a guitar previously owned by late Texan blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan. This did not go down well at all with the locals, but North was hailed by the media for "liberating" the guitar, a move interpreted as a symbol of their lack of respect for rock n' roll iconography and sacred cows. ("Everyone said it was great," the guitarist later commented. "It wasn’t great. I had a meltdown, and I was championed for it.")
Not that The Icarus Line gave two fucks about upsetting people, or indeed courting favour: in tandem with the band, North helped run the website Buddyhead, which mercilessly savaged some of the biggest rock bands on the planet. The LA quintet's own fleeting interactions with the major label rock world became an embarrassment to all concerned: snapped up by major label V2 after huge acclaim for their ferocious debut album Mono, the band's excellent second album Penance Soiree sold less than 20,000 copies, as the world decided that they didn't need a 21st century west coast version of The Stooges, just as it had decided that it didn't need the original Stooges. Sigh. North subsequently bailed and joined Nine Inch Nails, while frontman Joe Cardamone took the band into darker, gothier Nick Cave/The Birthday Party territory, and received no increase in interest whatsoever from the record-buying public.
Go on Spotify or YouTube, listen to these five songs by The Distillers - City Of Angels, I Am A Revenant, Drain The Blood, Beat Your Heart Out and The Young Crazed Peeling - and you too will wonder why The Distillers aren't superstars. Brody Dalle has as much charisma, personality and star power as any rock god from her era, and The Distillers had songs for days, and yet - unfairly, if typically - she was too often accorded the spotlight only in a supporting role, first to her first husband, Rancid's Tim Armstrong, then to her second husband, Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme. It's not yet too late for The Distillers to grab a seat at rock's head table, but you kinda suspect that it won't ever happen, which is the world's loss.
TV On The Radio
In 2008, TV On The Radio's third album, Dear Science, was declared the Album Of The Year by Rolling Stone, The Guardian, MTV, Entertainment Weekly, Spin and the readers of Pitchfork, after which the Brooklyn, New York band went supernova, joining U2, Metallica, Radiohead, Green Day and The Rolling Stones as stadium rock superstars. Oh wait, no, that didn't happen at all. Instead, TV On The Radio remain one of those bands that everyone namechecks, and wonders aloud why everyone else doesn't love them quite as much as they do. Truthfully, guitarist Dave Sitek is better known than his band, due to his production work for everyone from Beyonce and Kelis to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Weezer, but in kinder world, he'd be too busy signing autographs to ever sit behind a mixing desk.
A confession: when Betty Curse appeared on the British music scene, at a point when this writer was in charge of the world's biggest weekly music magazine, I wasn't buying it. At the time, punk and metal was back in the mainstream, and so the appearance of a former teen actress (see: 28 Days Later) singing subversive goth-punk songs written by a mischievous industry maverick (Steve Ludwin) who'd been asked by Slash to audition for Velvet Revolver just seemed much too good to be true. Hands up, I was wrong. Had Betty Curse - aka the gifted and very genuine Megan Burns - got the industry backing she deserved, she could have become an inspirational icon on an Avril Lavigne/Amy Lee scale, and a generation of teens could have grown up singing infinitely-darker-than-they-appeared anthems such as Excuse All The Blood, inspired by the suicide note left by former Mayhem frontman Dead. Sorry Megan.
During their first five years, Gallows stood toe-to-toe with Rage Against The Machine and The Prodigy as one of the world's finest live bands. Drawing upon two utterly essential albums - 2006's Orchestra Of Wolves, and their 2009 masterpiece Grey Britain - the Watford quintet garnered acclaim from some of the biggest, most respected names in punk and metal, and spilled blood on every stage they played. Since exiting the band, frontman Frank Carter has gone on to greater success with his Rattlesnakes, while the band went on to make excellent records with Alexisonfire guitarist Wade MacNeil on vocals. And though they may not have become global superstars, Gallows at their peak changed lives, and that kind of impact can't be measured in sales or streams.