Thanks for stopping by to check out my “favourite albums of the year” list for 2013. Just a little about myself: I’m 38 years old, I buy a lot of new music each year, based on artists I know I like, recommendations from friends, acquaintances and music writers I know to have decent taste in music and, also, some albums which make a big noise in the musical world. I really believe in the album format and still buy compact discs (I can’t bring myself to become a vinyl collector; I think my bank manager – and wife – would cry) and, the vast majority of the time, listen to music the old-fashioned way… by putting an album on and enjoying it from start to finish.
I think 2013 has been an exceptionally good year for music and the creativity has been astounding, from both established and (relatively) new names. Of course, my end-of-the-year list is entirely my opinion. I say this every year, but I really don’t care about coolness, how much an album has sold, whether it is an indie darling creamed over by so-called hipsters or whether it has shifted hundreds of thousands of copies. Popularity (or lack thereof) is not really an indicator of quality and, while some of the biggest sellers of the years are amongst the worst albums you could have the misfortune to buy, some of the artists you will hear on 6 Music at midnight on a weekday have also sold very few records because, well, they’re not that good. I’m interested in the music itself, not how championing certain artists will make me sound or look… that kind of superficial “music as fashion” attitude is something I detest.
I bought 104 new albums last year and listened to each one at least three times. If it was good enough, it got put on my short-list, which came to about 75 titles. From that, I listened to all of them again, wrote about them and decided if they would feature in a top 40 of the year. The top 40 turned into a top 50, thanks to the quality of the music released this year and some really good albums missed out entirely. I have been working on this project for the last three months, so a lot of time and effort has been invested into my choices, rather than just looking at a list and putting a bunch of records into a vague order; in other words, I have taken this seriously (perhaps a little too seriously)! The reason I do it is so that hopefully I can turn people onto some albums they’ve passed by or perhaps never heard of before and, if I reach just a couple of people, then it has all been worth it.
However, in the end, it is just one person’s opinion and one person’s taste in music. I’m not saying I’m right about any of this… it’s just how I feel. However, I do listen to a lot of new music, go to at least one gig a week and have a love for music that comes only second to the love of my wife and family… and I’m sure, sometimes, they must wonder whether music really does come second! So, I’m going to do this over six ‘blog posts, counting down ten at a time, and then a summary list of my entire top 50.
Thank you for reading.
50. Dream Theater – Dream Theater
As far as Dream Theater go, I’m somewhere in between a layman and an aficionado. I have plenty of their albums, have enjoyed their output over the years to differing degrees and often put one on when I’m in the mood for some excellent symphonic, progressive metal. I didn’t enjoy their last album (“A Dramatic Turn Of Events”) as much I had some of their previous releases with their former drummer Mike Portnoy and was therefore interested to see if they could recapture their magic this time around, now new drummer Mike Mangini has had time to settle in and provide his own creative input. I have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their eponymous album and have produced a piece of work that compares favourably with some of their best music, whilst falling a little short of actual greatness. The best tracks on the album, to me, are “Behind The Veil”, with its winding, twisting guitar solo over crunching power chords providing the pinnacle of the song, “Surrender To Reason”, which quickly goes from strummed guitar-driven dramatic ballad to emotionally charged prog-rocker and the superb “Illumination Theory” (all twenty plus minutes of it) which starts with an almost E.L.O.-like orchestral theme and develops into a suite of songs which is easily the best thing on offer here, utilising several different time signatures, tempos, riffs and several excellent keyboard and guitar solos as well as a rather beautiful symphonic piece written for strings, revisiting and expanding the opening theme.
I think some fans had written off the band after Portnoy’s departure, but when you have a replacement as talented as Mangini and a virtuoso band including the incredible Petrucci on guitar, you would have to be a bit foolish to do so. Whilst admitting wholeheartedly that I’ve heard better from Dream Theater, this is still a rather great piece of work and manages to occasionally thrill and always entertains for the duration of the record. It demonstrates that the band is far from finished, creatively, and are merely entering another chapter of their history. I think that long-term fans will be looking for a little more ambition, arrangement-wise (if everything here was like the final track, that wouldn’t be an issue), and perhaps a quickening of the tempo next time as this album sometimes settles into a low gear a little too easily and both drummer and vocalist seem a little content to cruise than to push themselves. Other than those minor criticisms, it’s a rather good listen and a welcome addition to my Dream Theater collection.
49. Chas & Dave – That’s What Happens
Anybody who approaches this album with any kind of negative prejudices should probably skip reading this and go straight on to the next choice, because, let’s face it; you’re probably not going to enjoy it at all. However, if you are a fan of Chas & Dave, know the entire range of their material, their influences and their long, varied career (or, at least, quite like them are open minded enough to give this a go), then you are almost guaranteed to really enjoy this album. I hold my hands up; I’ve never been anything but neutral about the “rockney” duo. I invested in a best of earlier this year as I was going to a Chas & Dave gig with a friend and found that I really quite liked a lot of it, although I admit that plenty of the enjoyment was down to nostalgia as, when I was kid in the early eighties, they seemed to be everywhere for a while. When I heard that there was a new Joe Henry-produced album coming out with some well-respected special guests, I was intrigued and knew it was either going to be very good or dreadful… thankfully it’s the former, rather than the latter.
This album is an attempt to re-introduce Charles & David (perhaps they should have called themselves that!) to the world as the serious and very capable musicians they have always been. It’s still a fun endeavour and there are plenty of songs to sing along and tap your feet to, but the overall tempo is somewhat slower than the piano hammerers they’re best known for and there’s a nice mix of rock, blues, skiffle, boogie-woogie and much of the music that has influenced the duo over the years. There are a few standards here such as “San Francisco Bay Blues”, “Midnight Special” and “Glory Of Love” which are respectfully and joyously tackled by the band. Everything on this album is at least listenable, but most of it is really very good indeed.
I have a handful of favourites on “That’s What Happens”. The powerful “Two Worlds Collide” is a really fantastic song and has a full, meaty sound featuring saxophones and violin which, apart from the poignant re-working of “Ain’t No Pleasing You”, is probably my pick of the album. “Rocking Gloworm”, an excellent piece of instrumental boogie-woogie (it’s almost a rag) is also one of my favourites. I can’t honestly state that this is the most brilliant, outstanding piece of work I’ve heard this year, but it’s certainly one of the most relaxed and uncomplicated albums, which means that it is very easy to just lose yourself in and simply enjoy. It’s just a lovely, unpretentious, charming listen which has just the right mix of fun, serious musicianship and character to stay on the right side of tastefulness and could easily win them many new admirers and persuade others to realise that there is much more to Chas & Dave than their stereotypical “knees up” image from a few decades ago. Let’s hope so.
48. Stereophonics – Graffiti On The Train
“Graffiti On The Train”, Stereophonics’ eighth studio album, is unlikely to win them any new fans, garner any reviews littered with gushing accolades or, indeed, change many peoples minds about them. It is, however, rather an enjoyable listen for somebody who has always liked the band and Kelly Jones’ writing, without always liking everything they have always done. I’m not convinced that this album is any real new direction, but it certainly features a slight more widescreen, evolved, mature version of the band which, considering the fact they’ve been around for over twenty years, shouldn’t be much of a surprise. However, this album is most definitely recognisable as a Stereophonics release, even with the added orchestral touches and the usual bombast toned down a little, so there is no chance of them alienating any of their current fans.
The strings-adorned title track with its rather beautiful guitar solo is certainly one of the highlights, although the point Kelly is trying to make through the lyrics, if any, has been lost on me. “Indian Summer”, again featuring plenty of strings boldly punctuating the chorus, is a particularly likeable song, “Catacomb” is a pounding, relentless chunk of indie-rock which, frankly, sounds great and “Roll The Dice” is a classy, emotive, ambitious composition and is, in my opinion, probably the best thing on the whole release. Final track, the poignant, vulnerable and rather beautiful “No-one’s Perfect”, completes my personal pick of the highlights from “Graffiti On The Train”, but it also has to be said that there is also nothing particularly dislikeable on the album either.
It seems like having a break for a few years, recruiting a new drummer and spending a long time choosing the songs and getting the album sounding exactly how they wanted has paid off. It’s a very good album indeed, with a handful of stand-out tracks which make this a worthy purchase for anyone who has enjoyed a Stereophonics album in the past. OK, it’s not exactly “Performance and Cocktails”, but it’s a much better album than most people would expect from the group at this stage of their career and deserves a wider audience than they get these days. A lot of people seem to have written Stereophonics off… rather unfairly, it seems.
47. Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band – Take Me To The Land Of Hell
What a great album.
I realise that this isn’t a very fashionable view and it’s much easier to make Yoko a figure of fun than to review her work seriously, but the world’s general view about Yoko Ono and her creative output are usually quite unfair. She and the people she surrounds herself with (such as son Sean, Yuka Honda and all her special guests such as Questlove and Lenny Kravitz) are fantastic musicians and true artists who are focused on nothing other than creating challenging, thoughtful material. This enjoyable piece of work is a continuation of a particularly rich run of form and “Take Me To The Land Of Hell” is an eclectic, creative, brilliant album. The rhythms, instrumentation, lyrics and beats are as inspired and vital as any other album released this year, much more so than most of the mainstream artists you will hear on contemporary radio.
Let’s face it, Yoko’s quite an incredible lady. Eighty years old, continuing to make music, working with artists half a decade younger than her and she’s to continuing to push the boundaries and produce original, engaging music. It’s probably disrespectful to describe her as being a bit bonkers, but every great artist sees the world in an individual way and interprets and expresses it in a manner that interests and challenges their audience, so the fact that Yoko continually surprises and amuses is a completely good thing. Of course, Sean Ono Lennon is one of the major creative forces behind this album and he has yet to receive the critical and artistic praise his talents deserve, but I am sure that his ability, craftsmanship and artistry will be recognised in years to come.
There’s a nice mix of upbeat songs and more measured numbers, with dance music, avant-garde rock and emotional ballads on offer. Yoko’s voice can be quite divisive amongst listeners, but I prefer to enjoy what she does with what she’s been gifted with and to listen to what she’s saying and how she’s delivering it, rather than focusing on her technical ability. I’m not going to claim that this is the best album I’ve heard all year, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting and if you’re interested enough in Yoko’s work to be reading this review, then you should take a chance because you will probably enjoy this album a lot more than you’d expect to. I’ve spent my life listening to people knocking Ono for so many reasons and, although I haven’t always enjoyed all of her work, she is currently making music that not only holds its own alongside most contemporary artists, but teaches them a thing or two as well.
46. State Of The Union – Snake Oil
“Snake Oil”, the second collaborative album from national treasure Boo Hewerdine and Georgia-born, England-residing guitar virtuoso Brooks Williams, had a lot to live up to, as their first album was an absolute joy. I’m happy to confirm that their follow-up album is very close to being as wonderful as their first, but the second release concentrates more on the more vintage sounding tracks which littered the eponymous début. The folk/pop crossovers such as “Rent” or “Sweet Honey In The Rock” which made the first album such an eclectic delight are sadly absent on their latest collection, but what it does mean is that “Snake Oil”, as a whole, flows nicely with a slightly more coherent musical theme. It’s a slightly more laid-back album than its predecessor, but doesn’t suffer for being so.
Gentle, piano-led ballad “Blaze Of Glory” opens the album, with Hewerdine’s mellow, congenial vocals relating a dramatic, fatalistic, yet romantic tale in a beautiful and completely captivating way. “Haunted”, featuring guitar and ukulele, is a charming ragtime piece delivered by Williams and the weary title track, “Snake Oil” is an atmospheric piece with some lovely background harmonies, nice guitar work and the lyrics could easily be used as a metaphor for the mainstream music business. “Daydreamin’”, as the title suggests, is a delightfully lazy piece and Boo’s voice floats over a gently picked ukulele and guitar, and showcases a light, playful guitar solo. “Going Away” is a pleasant, gently-flowing song, the feel of which slightly betrays the hurt of the lyrics and “Man With The Hammer” is a subtle but decent toe-tapper which boasts some bluesy slide guitar but, unfortunately, both contribute to the feeling of a mid-album lull.
Luckily, the brilliantly likeable “Hellzapoppin’” takes “Snake Oil” on an uphill trajectory again, with lyrics and a infectious beat belonging to music made a century ago and the resigned and sublimely melancholy, “Rags and Bones” is a both a classic Hewerdine composition and vocal performance. “Leaving In Her Eyes” is beautiful and is one of those kind of songs that you’d expect to hear in a seventies Woody Allen film, being played over a gramophone, depicting early twentieth century America. “Georgia”, a slide-guitar-embellished ode to Brooks’ home state, manages to be amiable without really hitting the spot, but “Beyond The Next Horizon” concludes the album with a winningly descriptive, cheerful stroll of a song, signing off on a genial note.
Overall, “Snake Oil” is a really lovely album, a beautifully crafted piece of work which transports you back to another time and allows you to escape the realities of today’s hectic world, an antidote to the stresses of modern life which should really be available on prescription. A sepia photograph of the State Of The Union duo may have suited the content of the album more than the striking (but very classy) green and blue marbled album cover, but perhaps that’s an idea for the next album. Hopefully there will be a third collaboration, because Hewerdine and Williams together are a rather special combination and, from the sound of “Snake Oil”, our union is in a fine state.
45. Spin Doctors – If The River Was Whiskey
I was a big lover of the Spin Doctors back in the summer of 1992 when tracks from their début album became amongst the the most played hits of that year and was completely won over by their sound, musicianship and energy. Unfortunately, nothing after that album seemed to be quite as good and they faded from the spotlight quickly, despite still releasing quite a few albums over the years and, pretty much, only hardcore fans stuck with them. I’d love to say that I was one of those people, but I wasn’t. However, when I heard that they were back in the UK this year and were going to perform “Pocket Full Of Kryptonite” in its entirety, I couldn’t resist going to re-live the nostalgia of that album and, with a friend, travelled to Reading on a extremely cold February day to watch them perform that evening. After watching their superb live show, I would have been entirely within my rights to have been annoyed with them, because they didn’t perform their first album in its entirety as the promotional material said they would (just most of it), instead, they were eagerly plugging their new album which, at that point, hadn’t been released, and proceeded to play quite a bit from that one instead. Instead of being a bit miffed, I found that the new material was actually rather brilliant and came away with this album, freshly signed by the band, in my very cold hands, three months before the official release date.
If you’re looking for a similar album to “Pocket Full Of Kryptonite”, you’d best not buy this album, because you will be sorely disappointed. This is a nostalgia trip of sorts, but not for the reasons old fans who joined them during the era of “Two Princes” may want. When I caught them on their UK tour in February 2013, lead singer Chris Barron told audience the story behind this new album between the songs. “If The River Was Whiskey” harks back to the days prior to the Spin Doctors making it in the big time, when they were slaving away at blues clubs in New York. One particular joint required them to stick to a prescribed set list of certain blues artists’ work and, feeling stifled after plugging away at the greats of blues’ well-known and obscure tracks, they started to write their own hard blues tracks and sneak them into the set list. Over time, these original Spin Doctors songs became favourites with the crowd and soon they were doing entire sets of their own material. It was at this point they came clean with their appreciative audience, once they had won themselves some ardent fans. This album is full of these tracks from the early days.
Of course, I’m not suggesting for a moment that you shouldn’t buy this album, quite the opposite, in fact. I just want to let people know that you’re not exactly going to get “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” or “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” if you exchange your hard-earned cash for it. This album is full of hard blues tracks, gritty solos and more than a little hint of funk. Despite the high quality of musicianship, it’s not a piece of work designed for introspective chin-stroking blues snobs, either. This is crammed with ballsy, sweaty, energetic, authentic rockers, with more infectious riffs than you could shake a stick of Kryptonite at. These are songs you can easily imagine thrilling a packed out, boiling hot, Big Apple blues club and these high-octane blues numbers certainly created an electric atmosphere in the venue I saw the Spin Doctors blow the crowd away, back in February.
My personal picks from the album are the jaunty title track, “Traction Blues”, which combines a superb riff, great lyrics, a storming guitar solo and a brilliant up-tempo beat, the soulful “About A Train”, “The Drop” a superb performance which showcases the fluid, muscular musicianship of the band and the excellent introduction to the album, “Some Other Man Instead”. The rest of the album isn’t exactly filler, either. This isn’t the sound of a band trying something different, this is the sound of a band who have rediscovered what it was that made them the brilliant band they were – and are. Rarely have they sounded so fresh, unforced and natural on record and hearing the band like this is an unashamed pleasure. It’s like we finally get to see the real band… and that’s not in any way derogatory to their back catalogue, they’ve written and released some fantastic work, but this is surely the most alive I’ve ever heard them sound and I can’t recommend this album highly enough.
44. The Graveltones – Don’t Wait Down
This time, a few months ago, I hadn’t heard of The Graveltones. I was, however, lucky enough to grab myself a ticket for Suede’s low-key show at The Garage in Islington in the middle of October 2013 and found myself really enjoying the powerful two-piece support act, who seemed to be a mixture of the heavier side of The White Stripes, Band Of Skulls and early Kings Of Leon. I think you can guess where I’m going with this – yes, it was The Graveltones impressing with a really outstanding, urgent set, leaving the main act with something really quite difficult to follow. Of course, after seeing them, buying the album was a no-brainer and I haven’t been at all disappointed by their début, “Don’t Wait Down”. This thrilling piece of work is a complete assault on the senses, a formidable, riff-heavy monster of an album and the two London-based Aussies, Jimmy O (vocals, guitars) and Mikey Sorbello (drums) have managed to transfer their blistering live form from the stage into the studio quite convincingly.
They’re not one trick ponies, though. Although the Led Zep-style riffs are present and correct on “Forget About The Trouble” and “Dying On Your Feet”, they show more mainstream indie-rock sensibilities on “Money” and a more sultry, restrained, smouldering blues on “Crime To Be Talkin'” (featuring Lauren Tate on vocals). “I Am A Liar” is perhaps the most different piece on “Don’t Wait Down”, featuring a bar-piano and mournful, weary vocals describing the pain of being dumped. It all works very well and adds to the texture of the album, so you never get overwhelmed with song-after-song of similar sounding tracks. There are a couple more highlights – “Catch Me On The Fly” is an infectious piece of blues rock and the album closer, “Six Billion” arguably saves the best until last with a sprawling, dramatic piece of theatre where the guitar solos explode from the speakers so hard, they almost punch you in the gut.
This album really ought to lose points for a lack of real originality, but it’s actually such a good album and the influences worn so blatantly on their sleeves that it really doesn’t matter. For a début album, this is really quite exceptional and I’d be extremely surprised if, given a little more exposure, The Graveltones weren’t playing in much larger venues in the next couple of years. They have certainly gained many plaudits over the last year and gathered plenty of new fans at each show (if their Facebook page is anything to go by), so the future looks bright for the hirsute duo – but this fresh, new album is here right now, so do yourself a massive favour, grab a copy and hear one of the very best débuts of the year.
43. Christy Moore – Where I Come From
The word “legend” is often overused, however, in the case of Christy Moore, I would consider it to be completely justified as he truly is one of the giants of Irish folk music. He has written and interpreted songs which tell beautifully descriptive stories, battle against prejudice and injustices, speak of drinking, romancing, dancing, being caught in the working class trap and many other subjects, usually with a dash of likeable humour. It also documents life in Ireland over the past century, the highs, lows, the deadly serious and the trivial, all with Christy’s very individual take on it.
Although this huge three-disc collection is labelled as a retrospective, there are two new tracks and the other forty-three tracks have all been re-recorded by Christy and long-time collaborator Declan Sinnott (amongst others), so this isn’t your usual greatest hits package and will be of great interest to admirers of Moore’s music. Indeed, there are some tracks that have been omitted that you will be surprised by, if you are a fan of Christy’s, but there is a certain near-live (a couple of tracks are actually live) character to this massive collection, so listening to this album, from start to finish, is like sitting through one of Christy’s wonderful live shows (something I did last month), albeit without his enjoyable ad-libs.
As this is such as massive collection, I simply cannot begin to talk about the merits of individual songs, otherwise I would be typing and enthusing all day – it’s pretty much all fantastic stuff. One thing I will say to surmise the content of this album is that if I could put my finger on one defining characteristic of Christy’s music, it would be his honesty. Whether singing about politics or matters of the heart, there is a fierce humanity in his lyrics and all of these songs chosen for this collection have been written by Moore himself (although some have been co-written, such as “North and South of the Border”, with Bono and The Edge), so you get a wonderfully rich and broad taste of the man’s work and words. This makes “Where I Come From” a rather good starting point for anybody curious soul wanting to find out what Christy’s music is all about, however, this is far from a definitive compilation of his songs, so it leaves the listener with plenty of brilliant songs yet to discover.
42. Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost
I’m an enthusiastic admirer of Elvis Costello’s work. So much so, that I went to six of his “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” shows this year and have all of his albums, even the more obscure stuff, so I was looking forward to this collaboration with The Roots immensely, especially given some of the extremely positive reviews. However, after owning this album for a while and giving it many, many plays, I have to conclude that it’s not quite as brilliant as some critics have painted it and that it’s simply a very good piece of work, rather than one of his very best. Of course, it’s a highly listenable affair, with crisp beats, funky bass-lines, brass punctuation and impassioned performances from all involved. Costello himself is almost rapping his biting lyrics and The Roots’ input and arrangements certainly give this project a different feel to anything he has ever released before, so it’s most definitely interesting and for Costello, a man of many musical guises, to come up with something so different at this stage in his career is no small achievement. In addition, one of the small pleasures listening to this album for someone familiar with his back catalogue is to name the original songs where many of the lyrics have been lifted from and adapted.
There are a few choice cuts from “Wise Up Ghost”. “Refuse To Be Saved” (featuring lyrics from “Invasion Hit Parade” from “Mighty Like A Rose”) is an immense, high-energy track which ends with a maelstrom of orchestral instruments augmenting the sparse beats and brass riffs, “Tripwire”, a lovely near re-working of “Satellite” (from “Spike”), is a rare delicate and tender moment in an otherwise upbeat bunch of compositions and “Viceroy’s Row” has a near-hypnotic hook and features one of the more prominent melodies on the album as well as a beautiful disjointed piano on the penultimate verse. The title track, which samples “Can You Be True?” from the underrated “North” to great effect is also one of the very best things on offer here and my last pick of the album is “If I Could Believe”, a beautiful hymn-like composition featuring a fragile, but passionate, Elvis vocal, which is perhaps the only track on here that sounds like a conventional Costello cut, so much so that it almost feels like it’s a little out of place on this album.
I can’t quite explain why “Wise Up Ghost” doesn’t appeal to me as much as it possibly should. It’s a pleasurable record to listen to, I enjoy the creativity of the rhythms and arrangements and I certainly appreciate the fact that Elvis has done something this different, but it doesn’t really connect with me on an emotional level, the way his music normally does. There is a general lack of melody on “Wise Up Ghost” too and, as Costello is generally a master of a beguiling, intricate melody, the whole album feels slightly one-dimensional without many memorable melody lines in attendance here. Also, although there aren’t many direct lifts from Elvis’ formidable catalogue of songs, using lyrics that he has penned previously and adapting them takes away a little bit of originality and, if anything, makes me want to hear the originals rather than getting fully into these new tracks. By the standards of the majority of today’s music, this is a really good album. By the high standards that Elvis himself has set over the years, it doesn’t quite hit the mark… but, either way, it’s an interesting, enjoyable album which is well worth investigating and may introduce Elvis to an entirely new market, which can’t be a bad thing.
41. James McCartney – Me
James McCartney has always been one of my favourite “Beatle kids”. The fact that he remained in the background for so much of his life, waited tables for a living whilst going through college and seemed determined to live as normal a life that the son of one of the most famous musicians on the planet possibly could are all to his credit. Occasional appearances on his Dad’s albums (the guitar solo on “Heaven On A Sunday” from the critically acclaimed 1997 album “Flaming Pie” and a couple of co-writes and appearances on 2001’s “Driving Rain”) made it clear that he had inherited some of the McCartney music genes and, for years, it was speculated on whether James would actually release anything of his own. Just when the Beatle community had resigned themselves to the fact that it would probably never happen, the first E.P.s appeared in 2010 and 2011 with little fanfare or fuss. I both bought these as well as going to see James perform with his band at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, London. My initial impression was that he was a good musician with some interesting songs and a very reserved stage presence – a genuinely nice, modest guy. Oh, and that he didn’t really sound like his Dad, either vocally or compositionally.
Now, a couple of years later, we have his first proper album, “Me” and, objectively, it’s actually very good indeed, better than his earlier material. Calling the album “Me” is almost self-explanatory, the need to stand or fall on his own merits is evidently a strong part of James’ personality and, although there are going to be many fans of Macca senior buying this for Paul’s involvement, this album has a distinct character of its own and, unless you knew previously, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that this album was by the son of Paul McCartney, just by listening to it. Fans will draw parallels and will be consciously listening out for similarities, but they would be better served by just listening and enjoying the album for the likeable, mature piece of creative, contemporary rock it is. It also packs a much more substantial punch than his previous work, so even if you were nonplussed by the E.P.s, “Me” is well worth checking out.
The vast majority of “Me” is excellent. The first album highlight, “Butterfly”, a superb anti-racism song, has a winding, twisting acoustic guitar line coupled with visually descriptive lyrics which leads into an arresting, thundering, powerful chorus. “Snap Out Of It” is a great song, with an acoustic guitar-led verse and a dramatic, exciting refrain. “Life’s A Pill” is a very catchy piece of power pop, with a lovely melody, nice harmonies and appealing use of layers of acoustic and electric guitars. “Home” is a pumping, high-energy rocker, as is the fantastic “Wisteria”. The folky, but pounding “Virginia” is a strong way to finish the album, with some nice backing vocals from Paul. The rest of the album is also pretty good too, above average songs with lovely instrumentation and arrangements; the strings on “Bluebell”, for example, are just beautiful and the piano line on “Snow” enchanting. The only track I really don’t care for on this release is “Mexico”, with the lyrics being a little shallow and perhaps not bearing a resemblance to the country that most who live there would particularly relate to – in other words, a bit of a tourist’s tune.
If there was to be one overall criticism of the album, it would be the vocals. James’ voice isn’t the strongest, but it isn’t exactly weak either. It’s quite a gentle instrument which suits the quieter songs a little better and tends to get slightly lost amongst the heavier tracks on the album. If it was slightly higher in the mix on those pieces then it may stand out more, but there may well be a personal reason it has been mixed to blend into the music a bit more than other lead vocalists’ performances generally would. It’s one of those competent but not outstanding voices, unfortunately, but that’s what James has been given and he makes the most of what he has. Being a “Beatle kid” is, in my opinion, much more of a curse than a blessing, but given the way James has conducted himself during his life and listening to the strongly individual, intelligent music on display here, he has the integrity and talent to succeed as a respected musician in his own right and, more importantly, on his own terms.
31 to 40 to follow tomorrow…