Welcome to day three of my best albums of 2013 countdown. Today I reveal my picks for numbers 21 through to 30. If you haven’t yet read my choices for 31 to 50, click the link at the bottom of this post to find them. If you have, well here’s the new stuff:
30. Matt Berry – Kill The Wolf
Matt Berry’s music is a fairly recent discovery for me. I only bought his third album, “Witchazel”, a few weeks before this album was released (back in June 2013) because I read some very enthusiastic reviews for it and ended up very much enjoying its creative folk eccentricity. This led me to immediately pre-order “Kill The Wolf” and, now I’ve heard it half a dozen times, I love it even more than “Witchazel”. I’m not sure if Matt’s comedy/acting background does him many favours in the music business in that people may not initially take him seriously in this field, but knowing his persona does mean that you’re not expecting something too straight-laced when you do take the plunge. However, what the uninitiated probably wouldn’t expect is an album of such fantastic quality that cements his credentials as a terrific musician within the first couple of tracks alone. There are a lovely range of styles on offer here, with a folk theme underpinning the whole project. This is a gorgeous-sounding album with a huge amount of attention given to the instrumentation and production to make this as full and magical sounding as possible. It is more than apparent that English folk and rock acts of the sixties and seventies have influenced Matt strongly in his music, but this album is no throwback to a bygone era or exercise in nostalgia – it’s way too good and original to be slotted into that pigeonhole.
The opening song, “Gather” is a very folky piece, a near-chant about gathering herbs, nuts and other wild flora. You could be forgiven for wondering what on earth you’ve bought at this point, but it’s almost a red herring as the majority of the album is a mixture of genres, with “Devil Inside Me” immediately providing a rock/indie flavour. Other notable tracks include “Fallen Angel”, which is simply gorgeous, a shimmering slice of folk sounding very much like “Space Oddity” era Bowie and “Medicine” is a fantastic, catchy-as-hell, choral indie song, which could be described as Divine Comedy meets Polyphonic Spree with a Coral-like guitar solo in the middle. “Solstice”, probably my favourite track on “Kill The Wolf”, is an incredible piece of work; over nine minutes of fabulous prog-folk-rock, boasting seventies synthesiser sounds and a truly lovely, expansive guitar solo which Mike Oldfield himself would probably doff his cap at. “October Sun” is also rather splendid, an autumnal romp which delivers a whole dazzling spectrum of aural colours to your ears and “The Signs” is a straightforward, but excellent, vintage rock track, with a late sixties Zombies flavour to it, featuring some great electric piano, hand-claps and even a tasty blast of saxophone. The last of my personal favourites is “Knock Knock”, a genius portion of classic pop which has all the characteristics of a massive hit from around forty years ago.
It’s rare to find an album that sounds quite as beautiful as this one; a smorgasbord of acoustic guitars, mandolins, violins, animal noises, caressing choral sections, glockenspiels, richly descriptive lyrics and a sumptuous, creative mix of genres all the way through. If you don’t have any of the multi-talented Matt Berry’s albums yet, I would strongly recommend “Kill The Wolf” as a starting point and, if you enjoy this one, work your way backwards (although good luck getting hold of a copy of his rare second album, “Opium” and even rarer 1995 début “Jackpot”). This is definitely a slightly easier album to listen to than its predecessors and is, in my opinion, the most accomplished, consistent and complete piece of work of Berry’s so far. Apart from, hopefully, completing his transformation from cult, fringe artist to a respected, critically-acclaimed musician, “Kill The Wolf” is also one of the finest albums I’ve heard all year, so it goes without saying that I recommend it highly.
29. Ocean Colour Scene – Painting
I was utterly bemused by some of the lukewarm and negative reviews for this album when it was released. What do people actually expect from Ocean Colour Scene and what is the point in writing a review for an album by a band you know you don’t like? That, to me, is the problem with so-called professional reviewers; they may listen to a lot of music and be a decent judge of quality, but if you don’t really like an artist, there’s no point in giving your opinion. However, if you’re a long-time fan, I fail to see how you’d be in any way disappointed by “Painting”, as it’s simply a fantastic album of new Simon Fowler and Steve Cradock-penned Ocean Colour Scene songs; a brilliant collection of quality, classic ballads and rockers with a healthy dose of psychedelia added for good measure. It would be a massive insult to the band to describe this excellent new album as “more of the same”, because each of the compositions are well crafted, enjoyable and original. If you wanted them to go all Weller, pushing the boundaries, experimenting with making a massive nearly unlistenable electronic noise and, in the meantime, alienating a huge section of their fanbase whilst doing so, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re waiting for them to re-write “Moseley Shoals” note-for-note again so you can re-live your youth, you’re going to be somewhat crestfallen. It is, however, a terrific piece of work and a pleasure to listen to from start to finish, not a bad track on it.
Highlights of “Painting” are the powerful, angry “If God Made Everyone” (one of the best songs Ocean Colour Scene have ever written), the catchy “Doodle Book” (love the guitar licks), the excellent opener “We Don’t Look In The Mirror” (a perfect, anthem to kick the album off), “Painting” itself (which does actually sound as if could be a “Moseley Shoals” album track) and “The Union”, resplendent with a dreamy, blissed-out chorus. Simply put, if you don’t like this album then you don’t like Ocean Colour Scene, because “Painting” is the sound of them doing what they do best – writing and performing bloody fantastic songs. When I saw the band live this year (twice), the new songs sounded every bit as good as the Ocean Colour Scene classics. There certainly are a handful tracks here which would make it onto an OCS “best of” and I can say, without doubt, that I will still be listening to this one in years to come.
28. Dawes – Stories Don’t End
I have been a fan of Los Angeles band Dawes since I first heard their sensational début, “North Hills” in 2009, featuring their laid back, expansive, country-flavoured sound and beautifully crystal-clear vocals from Taylor Goldsmith. Their music is steeped in the Laurel Canyon sound of soaring melodies and close harmonies that artists such as Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash made famous, but there is also a nod to country-rock artists such as Jackson Browne and The Eagles. Their third album, thankfully, hasn’t seen any major change of direction and is arguably their strongest set of songs yet, although, it has to be said, their first album is something special, a strong benchmark they will always have to live up to. The second album didn’t quite manage it, but “Stories Don’t End” is much more of a contender.
The opening track, “Just Beneath The Surface” ensures the album starts strongly, with a beautifully melodic verse leading to a soaring, explosive chorus (the version which closes the album, a more gentle take on the song, is simply dreamy). Straight away there is another highlight with the second song, “From A Window Seat”, which is reminiscent of seventies country-rock giants such as The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac and “Most People” could almost be a Jackson Browne composition, as could the gorgeous toe-tapper, “From The Right Angle”. Some of the songs are almost hymn-like, such as the gorgeous, heart-wrenching tale of lost love “Just My Luck” and the self-doubting “Something In Common”. Regardless of whether the songs are gentle and poignant, or rolling along with a fuller head-nodding country-rock beat, each track here is rich with well-crafted, appealing melodies and there is a nice mix of upbeat and introspective here. There is even a track which could easily be a mainstream radio-friendly hit, “Hey Lover” (written by an ex-band mate of Goldsmith’s, Blake Mills), complete with a sweet, catchy, sing-along chorus.
The whole album sounds rather fantastic on the first listen, but also improves on every subsequent playback and there is a timeless feel about the album which is wholly appealing. Although the production still has a very “vintage” feeling to it, there has been a minor evolution in sound and it appears that there has been a conscious effort to bring their music into the 21st Century, but it has only been a partial success. Although “Stories Don’t End” doesn’t sound in any way dated, this is definitely an album which could have been recorded and critically acclaimed at any point in the last forty-five years. After all, songs that sound this good and are this well crafted simply don’t go out of fashion.
27. Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail
I’ve always liked Billy Bragg a lot. Not so much because of his music, but more for who his is, what he believes in and how he expresses himself. His music has almost been secondary to me, because, while tracks of his are superb in isolation, I’ve found it difficult to listen to whole albums, even his greatest hits compilation, because of his slightly shout-y singing voice which, unfortunately, just grates on me after a whole. The greatest thing for me about “Tooth & Nail”, produced by the excellent Joe Henry (most recently responsible for Hugh Laurie’s albums and Chas & Dave’s 2013 comeback record, “That’s What Happens”), is that Bragg’s vocals are softer, more tuneful and much easier on the ear, but the lyrical integrity of Bragg’s views and beliefs haven’t been toned down at all, so it is just about perfect for me; his voice has literally never sounded better to my ears. The whole of this album is an impressive, eclectic mix of folk, pop, rock, blues, country and Americana all narrated by Bragg’s distinctive, but noticeably softened, London accent and thoughtful, human lyrics.
The vast majority of this album really is excellent. Early album highlight, the broadly agnostic-themed “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” is a superb track, both musically and lyrically, the sleepy “Handyman Blues”, which speaks of a complete lack of ability when it comes to DIY, is genuinely touching (and could have been written for me) and the sad but dignified “I Ain’t Got No Home”, a Woody Guthrie composition, describes an unwanted transient life and the unfair imbalance between the rich and poor. “Swallow My Pride” is magnificent, the type of country song of longing and misguided pride that Elvis Costello would probably have covered on “Almost Blue” had it existed then and “Do Unto Others” picks up on one particular truism in the Bible that everybody should at least try to live by and makes a rather fine song from it too. The delta blues-influenced “Over You”, with words by Joe Henry, is very enjoyable indeed, “Goodbye, Goodbye”, a gentle, acoustic guitar-driven piece, could almost be a perfect fit for a funeral and “Your Name Of My Tongue”, with words by Joe Henry and music by Bragg has echoes of “Land of Hope and Glory”, but the passionate delivery and cascading piano makes this my final pick from this excellent album.
Although, arguably, “Tooth & Nail” fades a little towards the end (the strongest songs do seem to be weighted towards the front half of the album), this is a really pleasurable listening experience from start to finish. His world-weary, expressive voice caresses and persuades as he presents his credentials as a musician and singer here more successfully than at any other time in his career. Yes, this superb piece of work is a long way away from his image of the angry young man, the rebel with plenty of causes, but, for me, this is just about the best album that Billy Bragg has ever put his name to. Of course, huge fans of Billy may disagree and find this new direction about as welcome as David Cameron would be at one of his gigs, but with his wonderful lyrics as sharp as ever and his often abrasive vocal style having the edges sanded down a bit, “Tooth & Nail” is not only one of the best things I have heard from Bragg, it is one of the finest albums I have heard all year.
26. KT Tunstall – Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon
The moment you hear the first tentative, gentle bars of opening song, “Invisible Empire”, you know that this, her fourth full studio album, is going to be something different from Kate. I was a huge admirer of her début album, “Eye To The Telescope” but felt that each subsequent album had less to offer than the previous, so my expectations were lower for this release. The sad loss of her Father and the break-up of her marriage, however, have provided (I’m sure, unwanted) material for an album full of painfully emotional lyrics and a more stripped down, vulnerable sound. KT’s vocals are very prominent throughout, being the main instrument on this album and it’s clear that she has some important things she needs to express. It would be difficult to categorise this album as there are elements of folk and jazz, but it has most definitely not been written to appeal to the pop mainstream. This is a carefully sculpted piece of art which requires your full attention to gain full appreciation of, not something that should be relegated to background music whilst you carry on with other tasks.
This is a remarkably good, honest album, with a depth and maturity to the writing that you could argue has only been occasionally present in Tunstall’s previous work and there are many notable performances. “Made Of Glass” is a truly beautiful track that anybody who has suffered heartbreak can relate to with lyrics such as, “I’m tired of thinking of you/each and every minute I see something I know that you’d love” which ends with a Andrew Bird’s mellifluous whistling. “How You Kill Me” continues that theme, of someone’s life and dream being crushed by a relationship and “Yellow Flower” is such an emotionally affecting and gorgeously melodic piece, surely about coping with the imminent passing of a loved one. “Waiting On The Heart” has a very grand, cinematic feel to it, “Feel It All” manages to convey the raw, heightened state of somebody assessing their emotions after dramatically life-changing events and “Honeydew” is as lovely as the title suggests, being a subtly beauteous ode to love. “No Better Shoulder” is a bitter-sweet end to a rather fine album and the haunting guitars perfectly mirror the haunted theme of the words. The bonus track, a full band “jam” version of “Feel It All” is rather good indeed, boasts a moody but satisfying guitar solo and is the song most likely from this set to receive radio play.
There is a certain weight to the claim that this is KT Tunstall’s best album yet, however, it really shouldn’t be forgotten just how superb her début was. They’re such different pieces of work that it is extremely difficult to compare the two and it’s probably a waste of effort attempting to. My opinion is that “Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon” is, without doubt, her most accomplished piece of work and, whilst it doesn’t have the huge, infectious songs that made “Eye To The Telescope” such a runaway success, it has a more powerful emotional pull than anything she has ever released before. I’m not writing “Drastic Fantastic” or “Tiger Suit” off, incidentally, they are both decent albums, but both didn’t compare favourably in the shadow of her immense début. Pleasingly, KT has now created a piece of work which not only compares, but creates debate amongst fans as to which is better. I think that alone should tell you just how good this album is – I’m only sorry that she had to go through so much in her life to write these exquisitely painful but beautifully human songs.
25. Elton John – The Diving Board
With Elton’s piano and voice at the fore throughout the majority of this album, “The Diving Board” continues Elton’s creative purple patch and delivers an album reminiscent of some of his best work from the early seventies. It’s not a particularly instant piece of work and like “Tumbleweed Connection” requires a little bit of time and focus to appreciate everything Elton and Bernie are trying to get across on this project. The first time I listened to it, I concluded that it was a rather nice album, but a little unremarkable. Half a dozen playbacks later and I think that it’s really a rather wonderful album indeed. It is a relatively gentle affair, very little that gets out of second gear here, but the music and lyrics really are largely fantastic and it proves to be a very good piece of work to simply relax to and enjoy. It also feels like a truly accomplished album, rather that just a collection of songs, with some lovely short pieces of incidental, instrumental music to tie everything together. In other words, it’s a classy affair.
There aren’t many compositions here which are less than excellent. The highlights are plentiful, with my favourites including the magnificent “Oscar Wilde Gets Out”, imagining the scene when Wilde was released from his couple of years hard labour, “A Town Called Jubilee”, one of Bernie’s many richly descriptive pieces of prose based on small town old America and “The Ballad Of Blind Tom”, which tells the story of a blind pianist over a deft riff and an uplifting, catchy chorus. The mournful “My Quicksand” is also rather excellent, “Voyeur”, even with its piano line a little reminiscent of Cat Stevens’ “Matthew and Son” is one of the best songs on the album and “Home Again” is a beautiful, wistful piece with a longing chorus. Other stand-outs on the album are “The New Fever Waltz”, “Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight)” and the excellent title track. There are, simply, too many top-quality songs here to list them all in any great detail. The only song that sounds a little contrived and pedestrian here is “Can’t Stay Alone Tonight”, which doesn’t have the level of intricacy and thought to either the music or lyrics that make the other songs so appealing. It’s pleasant enough, of course, but the rest of the material on offer here puts it to shame. The bonus live tracks really aren’t worth the extra money on the deluxe edition either, as the tinny, distorted piano sound is quite awful and compares badly with such a beautifully recorded studio album. To be frank, I find them quite difficult to listen to, especially right after the main album, so they’re a bit of a disappointment.
To surmise, I don’t think it’s quite as good as his best album from the last twenty years, “Songs From The West Coast”, but it’s probably better than anything else from these last two decades which, considering the other excellent efforts such as “Peachtree Road” and “The Captain and The Kid” (I wasn’t over-awed by “The Union”), isn’t exactly faint praise. His piano playing is creative, painting beauteous, intricate pictures within the songs, and, although his voice perhaps lacks the range it once had, he delivers these songs with real belief in the material and makes the most of what he still has. Lyrically, “The Diving Board” is nothing short of excellent and the long-standing partnership between Elton and Bernie sounds as fresh today as it did forty years ago. This album may be a little too slow-paced and gentle for some palates, but if you appreciate beautifully crafted songs and some of the less-commercial efforts that Elton has released over the years, especially in his early days, then “The Diving Board” will probably be something you will enjoy greatly.
24. John Fullbright – From The Ground Up
I discovered “From The Ground Up” from one of those Amazon recommendations and, one I opened the product page up, was immediately struck by the amount of enthusiastic five star reviews for this Oklahoma born and based guy that I’ve never heard of before. Once I’d had it delivered and played it once, I was immediately able to see why so many people loved this album; it’s magnificent and a quite remarkable set of songs for both a studio début and someone in their early twenties. On the whole, it’s an accomplished piece of Americana, with equal fine attention to detail paid to music, lyrics and delivery. There are echoes of many great names – The Band, Tom Waits, Dylan – it doesn’t do either Fullbright or the artists mentioned any disservice to make the comparison between him and those American greats. In fact, just a couple of albums more of music of this quality and he could start being mentioned in the same breath as those legends of American music.
My favourites are plentiful, the gorgeous, soulful “Jericho” swoops and soars, “I Only Pray At Night” is a beautiful piano and vocals ballad, “Nowhere To Be Found” has the same qualities as a poignant Ron Sexsmith composition and “Me Wanting You” is a slow, heartfelt, longing piece which has the hallmarks of a classic American song, the type Elvis would have covered and took to the top of the charts. “Forgotten Flowers” is a country-tinged beauty whereas “Song For A Child” is a simple ballad which, thanks to the delivery, manages to keep slightly mawkish lyrics feel genuine. I have to say that I prefer the more gentle songs on the album, when Fullbright’s voice is stoked full of heartache and regret, they definitely play to his strengths, but the rest of the material is also rather successful too. This is an album full of passion and a huge amount of promise; I have a feeling that we’ve yet to see the best from him, too.
23. She & Him – Volume 3
I have to confess that when She & Him first released an album, as much as I liked it, I didn’t think they would be a long-lived act and had consigned them to being a bit of a novelty, a playful side-line from someone who was primarily an actress, albeit a very good, good quality one. However, “Volume 3” (their fourth album, including a rather fine Christmas volume) sees M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel producing an incredibly likeable and strong set of songs that prove their longevity. This gorgeous collection of songs harks back to music from the mid-twentieth century, has an unashamedly vintage reverb-laden feel and, as a result, brings with it all of the wide-eyed innocence and hopelessly romantic connotations of the era. There are eleven original songs penned by the duo and three carefully selected, tasteful cover versions, the toe-tapping beats of “Baby”, the swooning “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” and a playful rendition of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl” which, surprisingly, works well. I realise that some people will automatically turn their nose up at this project simply because of Deschanel’s acting career, but this is no vanity project of a Hollywood superstar, this music has as much integrity and value as any other indie band with a similar ethos such as, for example, Camera Obscura.
As simple as this sounds, I think whether you like this album or not depends very much on whether you enjoy this era of music. Yes, it is quite light and breezy, some would say a little too twee, but not me; I absolutely love the sound of She & Him. Woozy strings, ukuleles, tears on pillows, the kind of harmonies that American all-girl singing groups from the 1930 to the 1950s would be proud of, they’re all here. I’m not going to going into speaking about specific tracks, as they’re all pretty much just as good as each other which makes it difficult to pick favourites. This is the kind of album that softens the heart of a hardened old musical cynic like me and makes me wish for the kind of world this music transports you to; a less complicated one full of sweetness, love and romance. This is the kind of album it is so easy to get lost in, to forget the everyday problems and the stresses of modern life while you’re listening to it. This is the kind of album that makes your life better simply by owning it, because, quite simply, it’s absolute loveliness personified.
22. Josh Ritter – The Beast In Its Tracks
I have enjoyed and admired the talented Josh Ritter’s work for the best part of the last decade, with the pinnacle of his career, for me, previously being the remarkable folk-driven “Hello Starling” and the more eclectic “The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter”, both fantastic in their own, individual ways. With this, his “divorce” album, he has written and released an album that is just as great as those two albums, but for, again, an entirely different reason. This is the often brutally honest sound of a man who has lost somebody he obviously loved a great deal and, although the music sometimes comes across as being pretty, light and breezy, it barely disguises a great hurt. There are confessions, some almost spiteful barbs and the sound of Ritter attempting to be a good, gracious, magnanimous human being. Like many people left on their own and still holding a torch for somebody, sometimes he manages it, sometimes he doesn’t. It’s like Bob Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” has been re-imagined to a soundtrack of Simon & Garfunkel. Unfortunately, I can relate to this album, all of it. I’ve been there, bought the T-shirt and, well, now it appears that I’ve bought the album. I can’t think of a collection of songs that describes the complex feelings, the aftermath and the attempts to forge new relationships after a break-up better than this one; it is absolutely superb.
This is an album full of remarkable songs. “Evil Eye”, a toe-tapping, catchy melody masks some dark lyrics aimed towards his ex-lover and “A Certain Light” makes you feel desperately sorry for Ritter’s new love as, although it is full of praise, happiness and almost over-stated optimism, there are those telling lines in the chorus “And she only looks like you in a certain kind of light/when she holds her head just right” that tell you that this can only possibly end in tears; quite a deceptively heartbreaking song. The superb “Hopeful”, possibly my most favourite track here, comes across as an open letter towards his ex-beau, describing his journey through his break-up and finding a new love, talking of “coming out of the dark clouds”. Finally, my last pick, “New Lover”, truly an excellent track, is the sound of Ritter trying to be the better person and it sounds as if he is trying to convince himself more than anybody else of his happiness and the fact that he has moved on (when it really seems quite obvious that he hasn’t).
I can’t quite bring myself to say that this is the best album that Josh has ever made, but it is at least the equal of my other favourite Ritter releases. I know that he is more than capable of writing songs of this calibre and has already released a respectable number of critically acclaimed records, but this release really is an exemplary piece of work by his own standards, let alone compared to other albums being released these days. If you do not really understand this album and cannot relate to it, then I’m happy for you, that you have never gone through this sort of emotional torture, however it does mean that you’re missing out on being able to appreciate one of the most beautiful, bittersweet pieces of art I have had the pleasure of listening to this year and, to me, it’s almost worth that level of mental upheaval just to be able to empathise with Josh’s words. Of course, some of the best albums ever released have been inspired by bad break-ups, but I hope, for his sake, he has found himself some real happiness and he can share that will us in musical form next time.
21. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind The Film
I’m going to come clean; I really didn’t care for this album at all when I first listened to it. I’ve been a Manics fan for a couple of decades now and, the first time I heard “Rewind The Film”, I couldn’t remember feeling so completely underwhelmed and disappointed in a piece of work from James, Nicky and Sean. Thankfully, I persevered and, over the following weeks, listened to it occasionally until some of the tracks started to shine and then, over the past month or so, I’ve been putting the album on by choice, rather than to give it a chance, as I was before. It is now my opinion that it’s an absolute corker of an album and I love pretty much all of it. I think it’s fair to say that it’s really quite different from any other Manic Street Preachers album, it’s mellower, gentler and much less sonically hard-hitting. Of course, this means that when they do a little of their trademark, explosive big chorus type-thing, such as in the album’s sublime title track (featuring the superb Richard Hawley on vocals), it is to great effect.
The album starts with a very soft, defeated song, “This Sullen Welsh Heart” (featuring Lucy Rose) and then bursts into life with the brilliant “Show Me The Wonder”, resplendent with punchy brass lines, one of the few songs on this album that has the patented Manics sound. There are many other highlights on this beautifully crafted piece of work. The title track, as I’ve already mentioned, is fantastic, the gorgeous “Anthem For A Lost Cause” uses strings, brass and those echo-laden backing vocals the Manic do so well to great effect and “As Holy As The Soil (That Buries Your Skin)” is a slow-burner that starts gently and builds into a powerful, soulful beauty. The bleak but majestic “3 Ways To See Despair” is possibly my favourite track on the album (the demo on the bonus disc with the children’s chorus is chilling, almost wish they’d gone with that!), “Manorbier” is an almost Western-like instrumental and “30-Year War” has to get a mention for the angry, anti-establishment lyrics alone, which talk about killing the working class “in the name of liberty”, “the endless parade of Old Etonian scum” lining the front benches, and the old boy network winning the war again. Powerful stuff that shows that Wire hasn’t lost any of his lyrical cutting edge.
All-in-all, this is rather a special record, but it took me quite a long time to appreciate and enjoy all of the tracks completely, so I can understand why some fans have been a little underwhelmed by “Rewind The Film”. However, perseverance is the key and, once you really get to know all of the tracks, it will be a surprise that you didn’t realise how brilliant the album was in the first place. I tried to listen to all of the demo versions on the bonus disc before I knew the songs properly and found it to be a really unrewarding process, but after I began to really enjoy the main album I revisited the demos and found them to be a wonderful companion to the finished recordings. The band really need to be congratulated for releasing something so different and for having the courage to record something they probably knew would challenge a lot of their fan base. Having said that, surely the majority of their fans (they tend to be an intelligent lot) must realise that the band can’t keep on pumping out albums that are sonic duplicates of their most successful pieces of work and, as such, this album is probably a taster to suggest that being a Manic Street Preachers fan is going to be very interesting in the coming years.
So, thirty down, twenty to go. I’ll be back tomorrow with my penultimate ten… it gets seriously good from now on!