- It’s a common myth that Bob Holness played saxophone on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”. The original saxophonist was, of course, then session musician Prince. However, the Blockbusters host did play the clarinet on Chas ‘n’ Dave’s “Snooker Loopy”!
- Metallica’s Lars Ulrich is an avid collector of all things Chris De Burgh. He once paid a massive $32.50 on eBay for the original handwritten lyrics of “Don’t Pay The Ferryman” and often wears the white suit Chris De Burgh wore in the video of “Lady In Red” whilst wandering around his castle in Rotherham.
- Yoko Ono literally means “farting fish” in Japanese!
- Bono and The Edge originally met in a Dublin queue to buy tickets for a Supertramp concert. Bono said, “I love Supertramp, I do.” The Edge replied, “Really, you too?” Bono liked the phrase “You too?” so much, he decided to form a new band right there and then, shortening it to “U2”. At that point, no member of the band could even play an instrument!
- Formed ELO frontman Jeff Lynne is addicted to Pickled Onion Monster Munch. It’s not available in Los Angeles, so he pays for weekly shipments from the factory in Leicester direct to his California mansion. His musical pal Tom Petty has to wear a nose peg when he visits Jeff, as he can’t stand the stink of the niffy fried corn snack!
- Luther Vandross’ real name was Eric Bristow, but he had to change it because there was a professional darts player of the same name. They met to decide who had to change their name to Luther Vandross, but after Eric threatened to bottle the soul legend, Luther agreed that it would be him. The pair never forgot their rivalry and once, when Eric was playing a very important darts match, Luther got very drunk on Diamond White and heckled him all throughout the match. Eric had the last laugh, however, because he won that match comfortably.
- 12-bar legends Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo once joined Bucks Fizz for a gang bang directly after their Eurovision triumph. When Francis asked Rick which girl he was going to have sexual intercourse with first, he said that he was “Making His Mind Up”. Francis laughed so hard that his nose fell off and then Rick had a heart attack before he could do anything saucy to either of them. It was after this incident that they both became teetotal, born-again Christians. Bucks Fizz, however, still battle their hard drug addictions.
- Most people don’t know that Slade’s Noddy Holder is actually royalty and lies 12th in line to the British throne. His real title is Duke Noddington of Holder and is The Queen’s first cousin. He was actually born and bred in Berkshire, but affects a Wolverhampton accent to further his rock and roll career.
- Crowded House rock star Neil Finn keeps dozens of fully grown pet crocodiles in his twelve bedroom bungalow near Bath to make him feel like he’s back down under. He recently had a scrape with the law when one of them escaped and ate the postman. The antipodean singer got a fine of £100 and was warned not to let his feisty reptiles eat postmen again otherwise the fine would be doubled.
- Parents in the 1980s would have been very surprised to learn who was under the Paul Daniels creation “Wizbit”’s costume. The production staff were sworn to secrecy, but it was none other than grumpy Irish rock and soul sensation, Van Morrison. He even penned the catchy theme tune to the show – “Ha ha this-away, ha ha that-away, ha ha the other way, my oh my”. The royalties for this song alone earned him more money than all of his other songs put together!
- Although blaming ill health, Phil Collins has actually given up his career in music to become a school caretaker. Although he has asked all his friends in the music business to keep it a secret, he can be regularly found spreading sawdust on lumpy schoolboy vomit in a state-run Primary school in Nuneaton. “Beats playing the drums for a living”, he sniffed, before running off to tell a bunch of kids to get the hell off his lovingly-kept flowerbeds.
- Joan Armatrading invented Jeggings. The once popular “Love & Affection” soul singer was watching her grandchildren run around in jeans and had a brainwave that they would be much more comfortable in trousers that looked like jeans but were softer and more flexible, like leggings. One phone call to her niece, Tasmin Archer, who works as Head Of New Clothes in Primark and her invention was on the shop floor within a week. She has been able to retire to Bournemouth on the royalties and has vowed never to sing again.
- Bob Dylan has actually been dead for years. His fourteen wives and seventy-three children cannot survive without his income so, every night, they find a tramp on the street and pay him to pretend to be Bob, so he can stand there drunk in front of the microphone mumbling incoherently while his backing band do all the work. Thankfully, nobody can tell the difference. While he was alive, Bob made an album a week, so there is plenty in the archives to keep the impression of new releases going and his army of fans satisfied.
- Suede’s Brett Anderson is the world record holder for the number of Fox’s Glacier Mints held in his mouth at any one time. In his 2011 world-beating attempt, he managed to cram sixty three of the transparent boiled sweets into his mouth, beating Sir Bob Geldof’s previous record of fifty-four. Bob complained, “It’s not fucking fair, they’re smaller than they used to be. I’d like to see him do it back in nineteen-eighty-fucking-two like I did.”
- Craggy Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger claims that the secret of his youthful appearance yet being an octogenarian is sleeping nineteen hours a day. Jagger will often snooze away the whole day, either in bed or his favourite rocking chair. He only wakes to eat, use the bathroom, strut around like a chicken and fornicate. Apart from that, he sleeps the day away. “It’s true”, reported Stones drummer, Charlie Watts, “When we’re on tour, he’s a nightmare. He only gets fifteen hours sleep a day and becomes really cranky.”
- Famous vegetarian Morrissey loves prawns. He eats them all day long and won’t accept that he’s doing anything wrong. When it is pointed out to him that a prawn is an animal, he pouts and tells them that they’re wrong, it’s a vegetable, and that he’s never seen a prawn in a field. When they attempt to explain further, he puts his hands of his ears and shouts, “La la la la! I’m not listening, I’m not listening! La la la la la!”.
- Elton John’s hair is fashioned from the pubic hair of over a thousand Swedish virgins. It cost him over three million pounds and is personally transplanted into his scalp by artist Damien Hirst.
- Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker suffers from a rare medical affliction which means that whenever he sneezes, he has an orgasm. The young Cocker, son of Sheffield singer Joe, used to sit in class plucking out his nose hairs to make himself sneeze, until he was sent out of class, squirming with ecstasy. He wrote most of his best known songs in that school corridor, including the smash hit, “Help The Aged”.
- Brian Epstein, the manager of The Beatles, is alive, well and living in Scarborough. Racked with the guilt of discovering that he was actually heterosexual, he asked The Fab Four to announce his death so that he could marry his sweetheart, rotund Carry On actress Hattie Jacques, and moved to the seaside Yorkshire town to live a quiet life and to father six children. McCartney sang about Scarborough in his 1979 single, “Old Siam, Sir”. This was a secret reference to spending a happy week there, every year, in the summer holidays with his old friend and manager and their respective families.
- One Direction are the world’s first successful animatronic android band. Programmed to be irresistible to foolish, impressionable teenage girls but incredibly annoying to everybody else, One Direction have become the perfect pop band for evil mastermind Simon Cowell, because he can get them to do whatever he likes and doesn’t even have to pay them. Earlier attempts to form a robotic band failed because each member of Sugababes kept on exploding, with hastily assembled replacements losing them fans each time.
2012 has been a really great year for music. New acts have broken through, existing acts have returned with excellent albums and, despite many predicting the demise of the album thanks to the way music is now sold, the format seems to be as strong as ever. However, having said that, some artists who have released some very good work indeed have struggled to sell large quantities. The merchandise stalls at gigs seem to be more important to musicians, as do live gigs themselves, with most artists realising that they are the only real way to make a successful living out of music these days, without being completely and utterly mainstream. I’ve personally bought and listened to nearly a hundred new studio albums this year. From those, I have whittled it down to forty of my absolute favourites. I’ve discounted re-releases, such as compilations, re-mastered albums and archive recordings (such as Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram, George Harrison’s Early Takes Vol. 1, Manic Street Preachers’ Generation Terrorists and Gary Moore’s Blues For Jimi – all of which are superb and would have made my Top 40 on their own merit). I have also decided not to include where artists have re-interpreted their own work, such as Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra release, Mr. Blue Sky, and Tori Amos’ Gold Dust, the latter being extremely worthy, with some of Tori’s best songs being given the orchestral treatment, the former being an interesting project, but also slightly redundant, as the re-recordings were very similar to the originals.
So, enough of what I haven’t counted and I’ll get onto the ones I have. Naturally, all of these selections are based on my own, subjective, personal taste and opinion. I have no real time for music being a fashion statement, for popularity being an indicator of good or bad quality – I like what I like. Good music is good music, regardless of genre, popularity or the level of “coolness” liking an artist gives me. Without further ado, these are the forty albums which rocked my world this year.
40. A+E – Graham Coxon
2012 was a very good year for Blur. Performing the headline concert of the Olympics, releasing a wonderful single, Under The Westway, re-releasing all of their albums in a remastered and expanded form and generally being accepted as the legends of British music they are. 2012 also saw the release of Graham’s latest album, A+E. As far as I’m concerned, it’s far from the best album that Graham has ever released, but it has an experimental feel, a hard edge and a contemporary relevance to it without totally disregarding his talent for melody and creating irresistible hooks. Seven Naked Valleys could almost be early 70’s Alice Cooper band, Running For Your Life has elements of Blur’s spiky guitar mixed in with blues rock influenced artists such as Jack White or Band Of Skulls. Elsewhere on the album, there’s electronica, punk, classic indie flavours and something to both thrill (and probably also dismay) everyone. It’s far from a classic, but it’s an adventurous, mature piece of work that the majority of people who have enjoyed Graham’s work both solo and in Blur will hopefully enjoy. I certainly did.
39. Fables Of History – The Moons
This thoroughly enjoyable album, the fruits of Andy Crofts’ (better known as Paul Weller’s organ/keyboard player) labours, is one of those quintessentially English albums that harks back to the best of our classic pop/rock/mod bands of the last fifty years. Throughout Fables Of History, you can hear The Kinks (Jennifer Sits Alone), The Coral (Lights Out), Dodgy (Revolutionary Lovers) and a run-through of some of the best sounds, grooves and beats our country has had to offer over the last half-decade. The melodies and harmonies of The Beatles, the minor-key masterpieces of The Zombies, you can hear the love of all of these bands in The Moons’ music. The best thing about it, is that they manage to keep it fresh, new and without you feeling they’ve lifted anything lock, stock and barrel from other artists. A really cracking collection of songs and a superb live band to boot.
38. Dept. Of Disappearance – Jason Lytle
This, the second solo album from ex-Grandaddy songwriter and frontman, Jason Lytle, is a very grandiose affair. Beautiful, layered, lovingly-crafted music which rewards additional listening sessions, with spine-tingling, stress-melting vocals and a near-classical approach to composition. His first solo album, Yours Truly The Commuter, remains one of my favourite albums of all time and, although this doesn’t quite hit the heights of that superb album, it isn’t far behind. My favourite tracks on the album are Last Problem Of The Alps and Somewhere There’s A Someone, both absolutely gorgeous pieces of music, but there isn’t a bad piece of music to be found here. This album truly deserves to be heard be a lot of people. Those, especially, who enjoyed Grandaddy really shouldn’t hesitate to buy this one.
37. Charmer – Aimee Mann
Simply put, another in a long line of quality albums from Aimee Mann. Melodic, chiming, piano and guitar-led, upbeat classic rock/pop with intelligent, amusing lyrics. My favourite tracks on this album are Labrador, Crazytown and Soon Enough which are, strangely enough, all sequenced one after the other in the middle of the album. Crazytown reminds me a little of the synth-augmented sound of Rilo Kiley’s last album, Under The Blacklight. That’s a good thing, by the way. Soon Enough, especially, is classic Aimee and has become one of my firm favourites in her catalogue. It builds up to a phenomenal ending with absolutely incredible guitar work and is worth the price of the album on its own. Thankfully, there’s plenty to love here and, with every listen, it simply sounds better and better.
36. Sonik Kicks – Paul Weller
Massive Weller fan, as I am, I have to give Paul a huge amount of credit for continuing to expand and explore the limits of his compositional ability and sound. This is a raw, uncompromising album and has divided fans and critics alike. It’s a challenging but rewarding album if you give it time and effort. If you’re expecting a Wild Wood or Stanley Road, however, you may be sorely disappointed. It’s a largely upbeat album, with lots of jarring guitars and attitude and combines much of the influences demonstrated in 22 Dreams and Wake Up The Nation in one roller-coaster package. My favourite tracks are the extremely catchy That Dangerous Age and the busy, frenetic, Spanish-flavoured rock waltz, Drifters. Not the best album Paul has ever released, but there’s something about his willingness to experiment and the bang up to date sound of this album that really appeals.
35. Long Wave – Jeff Lynne
I so wanted to love this album, I really did. Jeff Lynne is one of my personal musical heroes, not only for The Electric Light Orchestra, but for The Idle Race, the albums he made with The Move, his work with The Travelling Wilburys, Tom Petty, Del Shannon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, The Beatles and Regina Spektor… and I’m sure there’s more. I’ve pretty much loved the man’s songs and work since I was old enough to start appreciating music. His only solo album so far, “Armchair Theatre” was a fantastic record and contained three covers, two of which (“September Song” and “Stormy Weather”) were old standards and he, as well as his famous friends, made beautiful versions of those two songs. When I heard that Jeff’s new solo album was going to be covers of old standards, I wasn’t at all disappointed, thinking back to those little gems from Armchair Theatre.
I got a little buzz of excitement when the CD came through the post, which is unusual for me these days, I have to admit, but this wasn’t just any new release, this was Jeff. I pressed play and waited for the rapture. Unfortunately, I didn’t get quite what I was expecting. The opening track, “She” is a serious mistake. Not only is it vocally multi-tracked to death, it suffers very badly in comparison to the magnificent, emotive, stirring (and surely definitive) Elvis Costello cover. It improves quickly with the lovely “If I Loved You”, which has a genuine, touching and, thankfully, understated quality. “So Sad” and “Mercy, Mercy” are fairly enjoyable songs, although lack a certain spark. “Smile” is a bit twee – again, covered with much better results by Elvis Costello and doesn’t compare well. “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing”, although melodically pleasing, is pedestrian, almost disappointingly ordinary, as is “Let It Rock”, which is competent enough, but lacks passion.
There are some wonderful moments on this album, though. To hear Jeff tackling “Running Scared” and hitting the final note of that masterful Orbison crescendo, it’s a truly thrilling experience. It’s not a surprise that, given Jeff’s love of Roy, he did one of his songs real justice. “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered” is another corker and has the same laid-back, dreamy quality as the beautiful “Stormy Weather” on Armchair Theatre. “At Last” is great, too – Jeff’s vocals are magnificent and the whole treatment of the song is simply superb. “Beyond The Sea” is superb too, great fun, and makes sure that the listener ends the album with a smile on his or her face.
On the whole, although it appears that Long Wave contains more misses than hits, I do find this quite an enjoyable album to listen to and repeated plays have been favourable, with some tracks growing on me much more than they did on my initial listening session. No, it’s not quite the work of genius I was hoping it’d be, but I have gotten over the disappointment of not being dazzled by it’s brilliance. It’s a good album with some excellent moments and some not so great moments – it’s far from an essential purchase for anyone other than the most dedicated Jeff Lynne fan, but I’m sure those who do buy it will find much to enjoy here. Given his fantastic rendition of “Running Scared”, I wonder whether he’d have been more successful doing an album full of “Big O” covers – but maybe I shouldn’t give him ideas… I’d much rather he came back with an album full of original Jeff Lynne songs, because I’d rather hear those than covers any day.
34. I See Cathedrals – Folks
I first saw Folks supporting Band Of Skulls at Brixton Academy earlier this month and was impressed with their blend of dirty, riff-based, bluesy guitar rock, psychedelic leanings and melodic, acoustic compositions. Unusually, I went to the merchandise stand and bought their album right after the gig. Unusual, because I go to dozens of gigs a year, sit/stand through countless support acts and rarely feel the urge to part with my money afterwards. The scintillating album opener, My Mother, has a superb Black Keys meets The Beatles vibe to it. My other choice cuts on the album are the maddeningly catchy Do The Right Thing, the gorgeous Say Something and Anywhere You Want To Go. The whole endeavour is extremely good, though, and their broad spectrum of influences on display here will mean that they will appeal to people with varying tastes in rock. A thoroughly enjoyable, satisfying listen.
33. Psychedelic Pill – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
I have to admit, I didn’t care for Neil Young’s last album Americana at all, so wasn’t exactly looking forward to this one. Thankfully, it’s a corker. A new classic album to add to Neil’s impressive and varied catalogue. It has a pleasing mix of ballads and rockers and the powerful, uncompromising sound… just takes me back to his 70’s best. The distinctive Young solos, the harmonies and vocals, they’re all musical manna to this particular fan.
Yes, there is a little self-indulgence here and even the most avid Young fan may start to get a little bored somewhere during the twenty seven minutes of the album opener, Driftin’ Back or during the second half of the sixteen minute epic, Walk Like A Giant – but it’s unashamedly Neil Young and, if you’re a long-time fan such as myself, you’ll get it completely. With Neil, you get the extended live performances that many rockers treat you to on the stage on the album itself.
My favourite Neil Young album since Chrome Dreams II. Quite honestly, I believe that whilst it doesn’t quite hit the compositional heights of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or After The Gold Rush, this album is obviously a very different beast (it’s more on a par with 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps) and deserves to be considered as amongst his best work. It’s certainly a while since I’ve felt so invigorated and excited by one of Neil’s albums. Is it perfect? No, but it’s undoubtedly brilliant and one of the best releases you’ll hear this year.
32. Juggling Dynamite – WT Feaster Band
One of the best gigs I went to this year was a performance by master bluesman Walter Trout (in picturesque Wolverhampton) and the support act was a band I’d never heard of before that day, the WT Feaster Band, a rock/blues trio from Indianapolis. They left me calling out for more after their blistering set, which included dazzling guitar work from Feaster, a superb cover of Bob Marley’s Is This Love and plenty of excellent originals. They had a couple of albums on the merchandise stand and one of them was this brand new release, Juggling Dynamite. I didn’t regret the purchase at all as the album was an eclectic mix of rock, blues and soul, sounding very much like a much better, harder-edged John Mayer. Apart from the adorable, toe-tapping Marley cover, my favourite tracks on this release are the classic blues of About Time and the funky Make It All Right. However, there isn’t a bad song on this album and it wouldn’t surprise me if these guys, especially WT Feaster himself, made it really big very soon.
31. Love and Work – Graham Gouldman
Being a long-time admirer of 10CC, I was interested to see that Graham Gouldman was releasing a solo album, but knowing that success, both commercial and critical, had been elusive for any of the ex-10CC members for many years, I wasn’t sure how good this album would be. Anyone who knows anything about Graham knows what a superb songwriter he has been throughout his life, penning such classics as For Your Love, Bus Stop, No Milk Today and, of course, a considerable amount of 10CC’s almost peerless hits. One of the best things about this album is that it demonstrates the quality and craft of Graham’s art and, in fact, it’s an absolute gem. Admittedly, it doesn’t break any new ground, it is simply an album full of lovely sounding, intelligent pop/rock songs. Daylight, written for his former, sadly departed, Wax collaborator, Andrew Gold, is a gorgeous, breezy, feel-good composition and Let Me Dream Again, another one of my favourites from the album, is a jangly slice of intelligent pop which could have been taken from George Harrison’s Cloud Nine album. The acoustic guitar and string quartet-led Lost In The Shadows Of Love is a truly beautiful ballad, as is the touching Memory Lane, and the instrumental, Black Gold, is a truly pleasing Shadows-esque toe-tapper. Graham is in fine voice throughout the album, with his vocals sounding like a mix of Gerry Rafferty and Edwyn Collins, strong, yet with a tiny hint of frailty. The glory days of 10CC may be long gone, but this album really does depict a classic songwriter in one of the richest veins of form of his life.
30. Write It On Your Skin – Newton Faulkner
This album is one of the biggest surprises of the year, for me. I really loved Newton’s début album with the mix of quirky, yet heart-warming pieces and its many examples of his prodigious guitar playing talent, but his follow-up, that difficult “second album” was a bit of a disappointment, lacking the spark, inventiveness and originality of the first. I hadn’t quite written off Newton, but suspected that he’d probably joined the vast club of many artists who have one great début, but never quite manage to repeat the magic. Thankfully, Newton Faulkner has proved me wrong and this, his third album, is extremely good indeed. It’s a much more mature effort than his previous work and is the sound of a songwriter who has found his groove and is writing accomplished, meaningful songs without seeming trying too hard – the impression that his second album always left me with. The beautiful, crystal-clear voice and the masterful guitar are both present and correct here and, while not every track hits the spot, with songs such as Clouds, Pick Up Your Broken Heart, Against The Grain and, especially, the incredible In The Morning, there are enough high quality tracks to leave the lasting impression that the album, as a whole, is something quite special.
29. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind – Ben Folds Five
I have been a massive fan of Ben Folds Five (and Ben Folds’ solo work) since they burst onto the scene with their eponymous début in 1995 (still one of my favourite albums of all time) and, not only was I looking forward to their first album since re-forming, I was one of the many hundreds of people who helped fund the making and production of the album via internet pledging. I will be honest, when I first heard this album, I was disappointed. Not bitterly so, but I was expecting something a little more spectacular than I heard during the first play. Thing is, this isn’t a particularly instant album, it is absolutely packed full of slow-burners. There are a couple of extremely catchy tracks, such as the brilliant Michael Praytor, Five Years Later and the commercial, yet quirky, Draw A Crowd, but the majority of the songs have a greater subtlety and require a bit more attention and listening to a few times before they really start to sink in. Erase Me, for example,is a portion of sardonic genius and Do It Anyway features classic Folds piano brilliance. In reality, this is probably the “worst” Ben Folds Five studio album you can buy, but considering the brilliance of the other three, that isn’t such a terrible thing – it’s certainly head and shoulders above Ben Folds’ last couple of albums (Way To Normal and Lonely Avenue). It’s great to have the “five” back together and I look forward to hearing their next album greatly.
28. The Olympus Sound – Pugwash
I first became aware of Thomas Walsh, the singer/songwriter of Irish band Pugwash when he released a cricket-themed album with Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) under the guise of The Duckworth-Lewis Method. It raised many eyebrows at the time, but it was such a fun, melodic, brilliant piece of work, it became a critically-acclaimed, much loved favourite of the year. Although there is another Duckworth-Lewis Method album in the pipeline, The Olympus Sound has proved to be another inventive album, packed full of beautiful melodies and harmonies inspired by some of the greatest composers of grandiose, full music such as the Electric Light Orchestra, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and, of course, The Divine Comedy. Admirers of such groups will find much to fall in love with on this album, the lovingly-crafted warmth of the whole endeavour being near-irresistible to anyone who appreciates musicians who can wear their influences on their sleeves whilst avoiding simply replicating and re-writing music they have heard before. The absolutely magnificent Be My Friend Awhile, for example, could be a undiscovered Jeff Lynne classic, but it doesn’t sound like any other songs he has written. Other highlights, in my opinion, are To The Warmth Of You, Fall Down, Dear Belinda and Here We Go ‘Round Again. However, the whole album is a sheer pleasure to listen to, with plenty of “wow” moments and, if this was to be your first Pugwash purchase, I very much doubt that it would be your last.
27. Baby – Tribes
The very first time I heard this album, I loved it. There was something about it that set it apart from so many albums I listen to which sound fairly good, but fail to leave a lasting impact. Baby is a big, brash, catchy, loud indie album with plenty of purposely written anthems which, like it or not, definitely stick in your mind. Thankfully, I like it. This Camden foursome have managed to produce a very strong début which, although not many people are going to list amongst the best first albums of all time, manages to stand out as one of the most enjoyable indie albums of the year. Not bad for your first attempt. There are a handful of stone-clad classics here as well – Sappho has a big Nirvana/Pixies sound, superb lyrics and could have been a guaranteed top ten hit in either the 70s or the 90s, Himalaya has a sound as big as its name suggests and Bad Apple packs a powerful punch to close the album on a very high note. I think Tribes have to raise their game to seriously become a major success, but this is an extremely promising start and an album I’ve enjoyed coming back to time and time again this year.
26. The Golden Age Of Song – Jools Holland & Friends
I don’t think there is a such a thing as a bad Jools Holland album. The guy oozes musical nous from every pore and both his shows and albums are all largely brilliant. The Golden Age Of Song, a loosely-themed celebration of classic music from the last century, is no exception and, although there are certainly some songs and collaborations which work better than others, the album, as a whole, is extremely enjoyable. As well as new recordings, there are a selection of performances from previous New Year’s Eve “Hootenanny” shows which thankfully include Cee-Lo Green’s version of Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite from 2010. My other favourite tracks are Acc-Cen-Tu-Ate The Positive (sung with gusto by Rumer), James Morrison’s excellent rendition of A Place In The Sun, Don’t Go To Strangers, featuring Amy Winehouse and Paul Weller (from the 2006 “Hootenanny” and worth the price of the album itself), Florence Welch’s playful run through Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me and Caro Emerald’s smouldering Mad About The Boy. Least favourite are Jessie J’s over-baked delivery of Oleta Adams’ Get Here, Lily Rose Cooper’s attempt at a ska-flavoured The Lady Is A Tramp which sadly finds her out of her musical depth and Ruby Turner’s Get Away Jordan which is a bit repetitive and gets a little boring quickly. Having said that, the negatives on this album are few and far between and there’s much more gold here than anything less precious.
25. Tempest – Bob Dylan
Dylan seems to be a very divisive musician – people seem to either love him or hate him. I’m in the former camp, but with reservations. His output over the years has varied greatly in quality and enjoyability, but you’ll rarely find two Dylan fans who agree on which song is treasure and which is trash. Such a beast was his last album, Together Through Life (apart from the Christmas album, which I try not to count). I found it to be tired, lacking in ideas and, musically, redundant. Other Dylan fans will disagree, as it received its fair share of critical praise. This did mean that I wasn’t exactly salivating with anticipation when I saw that Bob was releasing a new album this year, but, thankfully, Tempest is one of the best Dylan albums of the last couple of decades, certainly up there with Love & Theft, Modern Times and Time Out Of Mind. Unlike his last studio album of original material, Tempest sounds fresh, urgent and the lyrics have a sense of purpose and creativity. Of course, Bob’s voice isn’t getting any more youthful and the way he growls his way through the album will probably only ever appeal to Dylan fans, much in the same way Cohen or Waits polarise music lovers with their delivery. My favourite tracks include Roll On John, a tribute to John Lennon which starts with his assassination and then goes on to reference so much of his remarkable life, the title track, Tempest, a fourteen minute long epic poem set to music about the Titanic and the chugging, 1920s-influenced Duquesne Whistle. It’s all good, though – not the best thing he has ever done, but certainly enough to restore my faith in his songwriting ability.
24. The 2nd Law – Muse
I’m really torn about this one. Muse are one of my favourite bands of all time and their outlandish and overblown creativity has resulted in some of the greatest albums ever made. Their willingness to evolve and embrace new directions have kept them relevant, consistently attracting new fans and has given their back catalogue a character and depth that some bands simply don’t have. However, The 2nd Law, a bit like Black Holes & Revelations, has a pop sensibility running through the album which makes a fan like me slightly unsure about whether I truly like where they’re headed. Although the “dubstep” moments have been the most contentious and widely debated elements of the album, their full embrace of 1980s Queen (my least favourite Queen era), as can be heard on Madness and Panic Station where guitar sounds, bass-lines and hooks are lifted, wholesale, from Freddie, Brian, Roger and John’s catalogue. Even Panic Station‘s guitar solo is reminiscent of Billy Idol’s White Wedding. I have to admit, it’s terrific pop music, but it’s not what I like about Muse, that’s for sure. Still, it’s never anything less than enjoyable and they provide decent distractions before the truly great songs of the album Prelude/Survival, Explorers and Big Freeze. The album opener, Supremacy is almost frighteningly good too. Unfortunately the album really tails off with the 2nd Law duo of songs which start off brilliantly but then it ends with a whimper rather than a bang. To surmise. this album is a bit of a disappointment to me, if I’m completely honest, but it’s still extremely good. Just goes to show that it’s all relative – my least favourite Muse album ever with a higher than average tally of average songs still manages to be one of my favourites of the year. If you could just stop channelling that inner Freddie you’re embracing at the moment, Matt, that’d be great – oh, and stop letting Chris sing too. He’s just not as good as you.
23. Boys & Girls – Alabama Shakes
Once in a while, an album that justifies all the hype comes along. Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes’ first album, is such a beast. A mixture of soulful, understated, echo-laden rock with singer Brittany Howard’s timeless vocals providing the spellbinding focus of the music, this Alabama foursome are the real McCoy. Delivering her lyrics with passion, a world-weariness that one in her early twenties has no right to possess and the ballsy confidence of someone with utter belief in her material, she really does, rightly or wrongly, steal the show. This is far from a perfect début, but there are enough top quality songs to stamp their mark on the music scene and make the album, as a whole, a thoroughly enjoyable and frequently thrilling experience. Without a doubt, Hold On is the best thing on offer here and, although it’s absolutely brilliant, you have to question the wisdom of putting their most astonishing song on first. However, perseverance rewards and tracks such as I Found You, Hang Loose, You Ain’t Alone, Heartbreaker and Be Mine reveal themselves to be strong contenders for everybody’s second favourite cut on the album. I’d recommend Boys & Girls for any lovers of passionate, heart-felt soul with a rougher edge.
22. Sounds That Can’t Be Made – Marillion
I’d just about given up on Marillion. Not since the wonderful Marbles had I heard an album from them I really loved, but I’ve kept buying the albums like someone in a long marriage persevering, hoping to catch a glimpse of what made them love their spouse in the first place. Well, thankfully, Marillion seem to have lost weight, regained their libido and started taking much better care of their appearance, because I seem to be head over heels in love with them again, thanks to the magnificent Sounds That Can’t Be Made. It seems as if the lyrics and music finally again match the ambition of the band and there are more than a couple of truly astonishing tracks here. Gaza, for example, the remarkable seventeen-and-a-half minute opener told from the perspective of ones living in that troubled area, their hopes and frustrations told in brutally honest, hard-hitting words. The title track is powerful, full and magnificent, like the melodic sensibilities of Tears For Fears meeting the guitar-led soundscapes of Pink Floyd. Pour My Love is a beautiful, gently optimistic song of looking to love again after heartbreak, Montreal an incredible piece of music, fourteen minutes long, written like a journal entry whilst travelling, missing home, having experiences both surreal and deeply ordinary – it takes the listener on a journey too. Other favourites on the album are Lucky Man which features a striking guitar riff and is the closest to a power ballad Marillion will come to these days and with The Sky Above The Rain, a heartbreaking story of a crumbling, painful, awkward relationship, they have arguably saved the best until last. This is, in my opinion, one of the very best pieces of work latter-day Marillion have ever produced and it gets better each time you listen to it. A masterpiece – or very close to it… call off the divorce!
21. Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springsteen
Make no mistake, Wrecking Ball is one of the finest of Springsteen’s career. This is an immense, angry, powerhouse of an album that, whilst packing a punch, also remains brilliantly catchy and accessible. It is a true testament to Bruce’s character, songwriting ability, passion and politics that he remains at the very top of his game. He has, arguably, lost his way a couple of times during his career and, given that he enjoys the comfortable life his wealth affords him, it is all the more remarkable that he has managed to keep his lyrics grounded, heartfelt and genuine and has continued to be a true voice of the people, singing for the working classes, with their (our) ordinary and very real struggles highlighted and celebrated. Jack Of All Trades is a perfect example of his “everyman” voice, humble, but proud and uncompromising. If you can listen to it without brushing away a tear from your eye at the end, then you’re a harder person than I. The theme of economic hardship and fury against those who have unjustly brought hard times onto the people run deep throughout this release and never is the message more effective than on the brilliant Death To My Hometown. There are no dull moments on this, one of the most outstanding and urgent of Bruce’s catalogue, in fact it is an uplifting and enjoyable listening experience, perhaps surprisingly so given the subject matter of the majority of Wrecking Ball. Indeed, this is an album perfectly representative of these difficult times and Bruce is a true American hero and patriot for making it.
20. Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg
This is a really astonishing album. A record released in 2012 which could have easily come from fifty years earlier, both in the way the songs are composed and the overall sound and feel of the music and even more remarkable is the fact that Nottingham-born Bugg was just eighteen years old when this album was released. There are echoes of early Dylan here and Jake’s slightly nasal but beautifully clear voice rings out over stripped-down guitar, bass and drums. It’s not all Dylan, though. Think skiffle, think Everly Brothers without the harmonies, think Simon & Garfunkel’s more raucous moments (yes, they had them!)… there are elements of all these great musicians in Jake’s music and yet he manages to keep his own, distinctive, voice throughout. The simplicity, purity and integrity of the music is what really draws me in and it’s a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. I could pick out favourites from the album, but I would end up listing the majority of the tracks – it needs to be listened to as a whole and the mixture of songs and styles enjoyed alongside each other to get the true flavour of the album. There isn’t a bad track on it. Everything about Bugg’s début suggests that there are great things to come, providing success as such an early age doesn’t ruin him. Fingers crossed.
19. When I’m President – Ian Hunter & The Rant Band
73-year old Ian Hunter, former frontman of Mott The Hoople has no right sounding this good at his age. While his contemporaries croon their way through standards album, Hunter has turned his nose up at that kind of nonsense and released a powerful, swaggering, energetic album a man half his age would be proud of. Indeed, if The Rolling Stones had released this very album, the press would be falling over themselves to lavish it with praise, but – seeing as it’s Ian – it seems to have passed all but fans and people who go out of their way to seek out the best music by. This truly is rock ‘n’ roll at its very best, the kind of album that, when it has finished, you feel as if you’ve been picked up and shaken. With grooves to make your body involuntarily move along and guitar lines that make you grin appreciatively, When I’m President is a sheer pleasure to listen to, from start to finish. There is such a rich mix of harder and softer edged songs, but they all share sharp lyrics and great melody, making it such a winning album. I’m not going to pick out favourite tracks, they’re all superb, from ballsy opening statement Comfortable to the gently philosophical epilogue, Life. There haven’t been many better than this one this year, that’s for sure.
18. Driving Towards The Daylight – Joe Bonamassa
Another year, another top-drawer blues/rock album from Joe Bonamassa. It’s almost becoming boring, just how great this man is. Actually, in all seriousness, it’d be good if he slowed his release schedule down and worked on something truly special and game changing – I’m pretty sure he has it in him. Still, such is his talent, nearly every single album of his mercurial career is excellent and Driving Towards The Daylight is no exception. If you’re reading this and have never heard of Joe, then you’re probably not a fan of blues/rock, but – if for any reason you love the genre and haven’t yet listened to Joe Bonamassa, then you really, really need to and this album is a good a place to start as any. Driving Towards The Daylight is an excellent example of all the different styles Joe has made his own – hard rock, ballads, blues – with a decent mixture of cover versions (by artists such as Robert Johnson, Bill Withers and Howlin’ Wolf) and his own compositions, all glued together by that guitar – and he’s a pretty decent singer, too. He released a live album in 2012 as well (Beacon Theatre – Live From New York) which is just as good, if not better, than this studio album and I was lucky enough to see him during that absolutely immense tour. If you need any more convincing, check out I Got All You Need and, especially, the guitar solo. Magnificent stuff. If you know what’s good for you, buy it.
17. Hello Cruel World – Gretchen Peters
I bought this album because there was a good chance that I was going to see Gretchen Peters at a festival I was attending in the summer. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see her live, but the more than adequate compensation is owning one of the best albums I’ve heard all year, Hello Cruel World. Right from the start, this album just oozes class, with witty, intelligent lyrics right from the off and beguiling instrumentation, all beautiful cellos and gently expressive pianos, on the excellent shuffling title track. Peters’ voice is one of the strengths on the album; slightly world-weary, but a definite thing of beauty. I suppose I couldn’t argue with this album being filed under “country”, but it has more of a singer/songwriter character to it and much wider musical influences than most releases in that genre. If you’re not a fan of country music, don’t be put off – there aren’t any cowboys, dying pets or hoe-downs here. However, saying that, I wouldn’t listen to this album too much if life is dragging you down as there’s a lot of heavy lyrical content here and much of it is based on unhappiness and dissatisfaction. There’s an honesty, integrity and candour to it that I find irresistible, though. Five Minutes is one of the jewels of this collection, deeply personal storytelling at its best – absolutely captivating. Camille, a gently jazz-tinted ballad,is just as good, as is the remarkable Idlewild and the album closer, Little World. Why this album is so special, why it works so very well, is the way Peters is able to draw us into her world, painting pictures with emotional observation and imagery in the way the authors of the very best books do, binding it all together with captivating, gorgeous music. Essential.
16. Sweet Sour – Band Of Skulls
I first checked out Band Of Skulls when I saw they were going to be at the Isle Of Wight festival this year and, upon reading some very positive things about them, decided to take a punt of their latest album, Sweet Sour. It probably speaks volumes that, upon the first listen of their this album, I immediately ordered their début album – it is that good. Given the obvious influences, it’s almost a surprise that they’re from Hampshire rather than somewhere like Alabama. There are definitely echoes of The White Stripes (albeit with a fuller sound), with plenty of punchy, bluesy, riff-driven tracks and lots of brilliantly dirty guitar solos. The first two tracks, Sweet Sour and Bruises are such animals, being bold, dramatic statements of intent. There are some gentler moments too, such as the tender Lay My Head Down, to add texture and dimension to proceedings which work just as well. Other highlights include The Devil Takes Care Of His Own, You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On and Lies. It’s such an immensely enjoyable album, it’s over way too soon.
15. Apocalyptic Love – Slash ft. Myles Kennedy
I have to admit that I haven’t been the biggest fan of Slash since he departed from Guns ‘n’ Roses. His talent is indisputable, but the vehicles for it (Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver) haven’t been anything other than merely above average at best. His collaborations album was hit and miss, but showed a lot of promise, so I gave this new album a go. Quite simply, I believe that Apocalyptic Love is the best thing that Slash has put his name to since departing from Guns ‘n’ Roses nearly two decades ago. Having a superb singer like Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy on board is a massive bonus as Slash has someone who can really give his work the vocal power it deserves. My favourite track, by far, is Anastasia. It’s a real show stopper which, even on the first preview of the album, demands your immediate attention and appreciation. Other highlights include No More Heroes, We Will Roam and Far and Away, but the sum of this album is greater than its individual parts – it’s quite simply a top class, good old-fashioned rock album. Nothing more, nothing less. Enjoy it for what it is.
14. Corner Green – Christopher Holland
I had only ever heard of Christopher Holland before as Jools’ musician brother and occasional collaborator with Squeeze and Paul Weller. I’m almost ashamed to say that I didn’t know he was a singer/songwriter in his own right who had released quite a few albums until earlier this year, when I saw that he was going to be appearing at a gig in East Sussex in September, together with Chris Difford and Boo Hewerdine. Seeing as I have tickets for said gig, I decided to investigate Christopher further. I then saw that he had a new album coming out and decided to give it a go, knowing that he would probably be doing a fair bit of material from it during his set. I have to be honest – when I pressed play, I really wasn’t prepared for just how brilliant Corner Green is. This album is simply gorgeous! The songs are soulful, summery, beautifully written and brilliantly performed, all the more remarkable when you consider that nearly everything is played by Christopher himself. The style of the music – well, unsurprisingly, I hear elements of Squeeze, but some songs remind me a little of Roddy Frame, some of Stevie Wonder. The musicianship is top notch and the vocals – simply lovely; I’m sure Jools wishes he had the vocal talent of his brother. I really enjoyed Christopher’s live set and invested in a couple of his other albums, however, in my opinion, Corner Green sounds as if it is the best thing that Christopher has ever released and is the sound of an artist at the height of his songwriting form. Highly recommended.
13. Crossing The Line – Simon McBride
Crossing The Line is the third studio album from Simon McBride, but he’s hardly new to the music business, having been in the music industry for nearly two decades as a member of metal band Sweet Savage and, later, backing up Andrew Strong (who is best known for his starring role in The Commitments). This was, however, my first McBride purchase and I was blown away by his masterful, passionate rock/blues and scintillating guitar work. There are many pretenders to the blues throne, but only a select few who come close to Joe Bonamassa – and Simon is one of them. This is an album absolutely packed full of gutsy electric blues classics and will impress even the most sceptical hard blues fan. One of the best characteristics of Crossing The Line is the way the blistering riffs are executed, in that you can get almost as much pleasure from listening to McBride’s little improvisations as you do from the solo. There’s a decent mix of styles, slower burning blues and rockers as well, so it’s not a one-dimensional collection of songs. There are too many choice cuts here to really pick out highlights, although, if pushed, my personal favourites are Lead Us Away, Alcatraz, One More Try and Heartbreaker. Breathtakingly good and absolutely outstanding.
12. Babel – Mumford and Sons
“Can they really follow Sigh No More?” That was the question that every person who loved Mumford & Sons’ début album wanted answered. My answer is a resounding yes; Babel is nothing less than brilliant. Musically, there is no departure at all. The sound is very similar to their first album, but the songs are different enough to feel like a brand new collection of compositions, the vocal delivery is so incredibly passionate, the music so powerful and driving, with so many different dynamics being manipulated to fantastic effect, it feels every bit the equal to its predecessor. This is one of those albums that sounds better and better with every listen and every track on this album has something special to offer. If I had to pick one track as a favourite, it would be Lover Of The Light, which is absolutely superb, but right behind it, vying for attention, are at least half a dozen of the other tracks. Holland Road, for example, is sensational, as is I Will Wait. The highlights are numerous and joyous and I can’t recommend this album highly enough, especially to those who loved their excellent first release. The difficult second album has been tackled and it’s a triumph – the third may be a little more tricky as I’m not sure another album sounding exactly the same will satisfy the fan base.
11. The Years That Slid – White Star Liners
You’re probably looking at this and thinking, “Who are the White Star Liners?”, which, frankly, is a real shame. Had these Sussex-based musicians been plying their trade, say, twenty years earlier, I’d be extremely surprised if they weren’t either household names or held in very high regard amongst indie-loving music fans. The Years That Slid is a top-notch, intelligent slice of Britpop which brings to mind underrated bands such as The Bluetones and The Supernaturals and not-so-underrated legends Blur. It’s not difficult to imagine thousands of adoring fans packed into Wembley Arena pogo-ing along to the magnificent Tent Vs. Blizzard and, if there’s any justice in the world, it could still happen (they supported Grandaddy in June 2012 and Jason Lytle’s vocals can be found on the excellent Practising Goodbyes).
There are so many highlights on this, their second full album, I could cite the whole thing as a highlight, but my own personal favourites are the album opener, On And On, which sounds like a particularly commercial Graham Coxon solo effort, About To Stall, a mellow groove with a very beautiful string interlude in the middle and Barefoot At The Ice Rink, a beautiful song featuring a gorgeous trombone motif which has the feel of what Mark “E” Everett (Eels) would sound like if he was English. I love the way the song ends too, such an ingenious arrangement. The pathos of the album closer, 2am Improvements, is truly endearing and Stars Spell Your Name is also too good not to mention. The whole endeavour is such a satisfying listening experience too, because not only are the compositions superb, the clever inventiveness of the bass and guitar lines augment the songs perfectly. Although it’s always very cool to have a favourite band who are a cult success, I’d be more than happy to forego that particular pleasure and wish White Star Liners all the success they deserve, because they’re a bloody fantastic band. I love it – and so should you.
10. Blunderbuss – Jack White
I admit, I was very sad when The White Stripes split up. I’d loved much of their output over the years and wondered what musical direction Jack White would wander in now he had the creative freedom to release whatever he liked under his name. It was with great relief and pleasure that I heard Blunderbuss for the first time and found the kind of music I’d come to know and love from him shaking the speakers. With a fuller sound, almost like a cross between The White Stripes and The Raconteurs, Jack’s solo début easily stands alongside the very best of his output. The beautifully raucous bluster of Sixteen Saltines is an instant classic, Freedom At 21, with its squealing, duelling guitars is irresistible and Hypocritical Kiss, one of my favourite tracks on the album is resplendent with shuffling beats and tinkling, cascading bar room piano. In fact, the piano plays almost as big a part as the guitar on this album, probably the biggest change of focus from the White Stripes sound you could put your finger on. This is a seriously good album and Jack White’s army of fans surely can’t be disappointed. He was right, though – The concept of The White Stripes had to go, Meg had to go, everything had to go apart from Jack. This is the only way he could have gone forward as an artist and, as statements of artistic freedom go, this is one of the most profoundly brilliant and enjoyable you will ever hear.
9. Blues For The Modern Daze – Walter Trout
Known solely within circles of true blues aficionados, Walter Trout is one of the finest rock/blues guitarist and songwriter in the world today. Every album I have of his is a real treat, but he has really excelled himself with the massive Blues For The Modern Daze, which largely finds him writing and testifying for, us, the people, in these tough economic times. Simply put, Walter has produced a classic, an eighty minute monster of an album which barely fits onto a CD and yet never once gets dull nor repetitive. His guitar work is absolutely phenomenal, with the excellent mix of songs meaning his full range of talents are showcased beautifully. There is a wry humour evident here, especially on Turn Off Your TV, a song that anyone who bemoans our over commercialised society will appreciate and it is clear that Walter doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which is, literally, music to the ears of grumpy old men like me. There are so many great tracks on this album, it makes it difficult to choose favourites, but mine are the stunning opener, Saw My Mama Crying, the heart-wrenching blues of Lonely, the wah-wah soaked rock of Money Rules The World and the superb title track. This is my pick for blues/rock album of the year; even though it has been a very good year for the genre, there hasn’t been a finer album than this.
8. What We Saw From The Cheap Seats – Regina Spektor
In recent years, Regina Spektor has become one of my favourite artists, her creativity, artistic integrity and individual voice making each of her albums a real treasure amongst so much homogenised pop. The comparisons between her and Tori Amos are inevitable, but Regina has a far more developed sense of musical fun than Tori (as wonderful as she is) and she is certainly no copyist. She can write beautiful, stark, emotionally stripped pieces (Firewood) and insanely catchy, jaunty pop masterpieces (Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)) and yet they can sit happily next to each other on her truly eclectic albums. It’s albums such as this which restores my faith in human artistic endeavour – if only this was the kind of crafted, intelligent music the majority of people wanted to listen to instead of the mainstream pap on commercial radio, I can’t help feeling that the world would be a better place. Music to be savoured and celebrated.
7. Go Fly A Kite – Ben Kweller
I’ve been a fan of Ben’s for many years now. He’s a genuinely great, criminally underrated songwriter who has amassed an impressive catalogue of excellent songs. Go Fly A Kite is amongst the best of his work, containing more melodic, punchy, maddeningly catchy, Americana-tinted indie gems than you could shake a proverbial stick at. Changing Horses, his previous album, was a more gentle country affair which, although respectable, didn’t quite float my boat, so I am extremely happy that Ben has returned to the style of music he excels in writing. This particular album is so good, it’s approaching genius level of composition, with only a handful of songs merely good instead of excellent. It’s one of those records where you can listen to it first time and understand that you’re listening to something really rather good, but it’s only during subsequent listening sessions do you realise just how brilliant it is. My favourites on the album are numerous – the opening quartet of songs, Mean To Me, Out The Door, Jealous Girl and Gossip are superb slices of perfect indie pop, Full Circle is a beautifully gentle country piece it is nearly impossible not to sing along to, Justify Me thunders along irresistibly, The Rainbow is a sublime ballad and the penultimate song on the album, I Miss You, is a heartfelt, powerful ballad to lost love. This may, just may, be his best yet, if not, then certainly up there with his best. Either way, it’s an exceptional album and it comes with my highest praise and recommendation.
6. Bang Bang Boom Boom – Beth Hart
I was first introduced to Beth Hart when she released a fabulous album with blues genius Joe Bonamassa and instantly loved her voice. I’ve since checked out a lot of her other work and have come to the conclusion that she has simply got better and better the longer she has been in the music business. Her voice certainly has. Whilst I’m not sure that this album has bettered the album she made with Joe, it’s definitely a closely run thing and the work that she did with him has made a lasting impression on her. Straight from the off, Baddest Blues takes the listener into a state of bliss, being a soulful, passionate torch ballad. As one of the outstanding tracks on the album, it’s a difficult act to follow, but there are so many superb songs on this release, it becomes immediately clear very soon that it’s a classy album in its entirety. You know, even if these weren’t great songs, her voice – that voice – would make them worth listening to. Thankfully, this is a complete package here, great songs and a exceptional voice to deliver them. I’m not going to go delving into individual songs here, each song is superb in its own right. Only buy this if you want to be transported into smoky, soulful, bluesy heaven – otherwise feel free to pass it by.
5. State Of The Union – State Of The Union
Anybody who knows me well will, at some point, have been on the receiving end of a soliloquy about how much I love Boo Hewerdine’s music. Whether it is with The Bible, on his solo albums or the songs he has written for or collaborated with other musicians/performers, he is one of the best unsung musical greats of our time. Even on the State Of The Union website, it describes Boo as a “cult British singer-songwriter”. As a member of this particular cult, I think it is fair to say that I have been looking forward to this album ever since it was announced – and it really hasn’t disappointed. In fact, it’s even better than I’d hoped, being a beautiful blend of London-born, Cambridgeshire-based Boo Hewerdine and Georgia, United States-born Brooks Williams’ styles and voices, backed simply by acoustic and slide guitars, giving the music a rootsy, bluesy, folky, honest, genuine feeling.
With songs written together in Boo’s living room and then subsequently recorded and produced by Mark Freegard (Del Amitri, Marillion) in his Glasgow studio, the songs are warm and intimate and a lovely mix of collaborations, solo compositions and a couple of covers thrown in for good measure. It’s a truly lovely listening experience from start to finish, with particular gems being “State Of The Union” a toe-tapping bluesy, jazzy instrumental, the unlikely brilliance of “Rent”, a sublime cover of one of the Pet Shop Boys’ deeper songs, the wistful, gentle nostalgia of “Distant Memory”, Boo’s beautiful “Cicadas” and Brooks’ heartfelt “Three Little Words”. The only slight mis-step of the album, for me, are the lyrics of “Union Jack”, written by Williams, which have a bit of a touristy slant which possibly aren’t as enjoyable as a native. The music is great, though. Sadly, the whole album is over way too soon – the mark of a really good record, I think, one which makes you want to put it back on, right after it has finished.
In short, it’s absolutely superb. Buy it. That is all.
4. The Defenestration Of Saint Martin – Martin Rossiter
Back in the days of Britpop, there were a band called Gene who were loved by many, hated by plenty for, supposedly, being a rip-off of The Smiths but largely ignored or treated with indifference by most. The biggest problem about Gene is that not enough people actually listened to them, which is a crying shame, because they were actually a brilliant bunch of musicians with some killer songs. They faded away at the very start of the 21st century and became little more than the occasional feature in music magazines’ “Whatever happened to…” column. I was one of the people who loved Gene. This is why the announcement of a solo album by Martin Rossiter, the distinctive singer of Gene really piqued my interest and I bought it, blindly, without knowing anything about it, other than the title. I’m so glad I did.
Without any hyperbole, this album really is one of the very best things I have heard all year. With nine out of the ten tracks featuring little more than Rossiter’s voice and a piano, this could have quite easily been dull and samey. The usually brilliant Rufus Wainwright, for example, sorely tested my patience with his 2010 piano and voice album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. However, Martin’s songs – all of them – are absolutely magnificent, meaningful, personal, emotional pieces with the music and lyrics allowed the space to express their meaning and each track being a thing of shimmering beauty. It’s very difficult to choose between the tracks, the opening track Three Points On A Compass is remarkable, the piano work on Where There Are Pixels is simply gorgeous and the bit where the band kick into life on the last track Let The Waves Carry You is a truly great moment, but each and every song on this album is superb. Gene certainly were a great band, but this album has become the singularly greatest thing that Rossiter has put his name to – and I don’t think anyone saw that coming, apart from Martin himself, maybe.
3. One Day I’m Going To Soar – Dexy’s
A new album by Dexy’s Midnight Runners? Now that was surprising. An absolutely brilliant new album from Dexy’s? An absolute shocker. I can’t state strongly enough just how much I love and appreciate this brilliant release which tells a loose narrative story throughout. Kevin Rowland’s vocals are as distinctive and expressive as ever, the hooks, the brass, the soul, the witty lyrics, the heart, they’re all present and correct. The tales of love, lust, fear of commitment, self-identity and loss are made even more profound by Rowland’s advancing years and songs and statements which may have sounded arrogant and clichéd from a younger band have a sad sense of pathos from a world-weary someone who is simply never going to change their ways. This is an emotionally powerful piece of work, a collection of songs which form their very best work since 1982’s Too Rye Ay, but it never loses its sense of humour and humanity. Although the mid-album pair of songs I’m Always Going To Love You and Incapable Of Love are particularly delicious, this is a brilliantly accomplished album from start to finish and, without hyperbole, a modern classic.
2. Like Comedy – The Proclaimers
So, The Proclaimers. Surely a band you either love or hate? Or maybe a group you’ve only ever heard a couple of songs from. You know, that one from Shrek and the Comic Relief single. Well, if you love them, you’re going to love “Like Comedy”. If you hate them, this album probably isn’t going to change your mind. If you’ve only heard a couple of singles from their career, it’s about time you discovered just how brilliant Craig and Charlie Reid really are. This, their ninth album, is a cracking collection of passionate, heartfelt ballads and foot-tapping, folk-rock stompers, all delivered with those gorgeous, spine-tingling harmonies soaring above the powerful, moving, melodic music.
It is very difficult to pick favourites from this album – in fact, “Like Comedy” is as near to a perfect Proclaimers album you’re ever likely to hear. It’s genuinely superb from the first song right through to the last. It’s a record you could play to somebody to introduce them to just how good the band are – and then suggest their greatest hits afterwards. If you twist my arm, I’d say that my favourite cuts are the excellent opener, “Whatever You’ve Got”, the beautifully romantic “Simple Things”, the moving, simple eye-moistening truth of “After You’re Gone”, the magnificently powerful “There’s”, the emotional “The Thought Of You” and the tear-inducing sentimental “Wherever You Roam”. However, the whole album is just a joy to listen to and singling out tracks seems unfair to the other songs, it’s that good. It’s certainly a contender for the best Proclaimers album, as a whole, and fans of the Reid brothers will definitely find some new favourites here.
One of the things I have always loved about The Proclaimers is their unashamed romanticism and sentimentality. They always write and sing about the subjects closest to the heart, making their work easy to connect with and enjoy on a deeper level than mere pop music. There’s always either genuine, affecting emotion behind the lyrics or a tongue-in-cheek cynicism where real life pricks the bubble of the romantic ideal. They always sing with conviction, heart, belief and passion and, quite honestly, I can’t remember them sounding as good as they do on this album.
1. Out Of The Game – Rufus Wainwright
I have to admit that, prior to this album, my faith in Rufus Wainwright had been shaken a little. His previous studio album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, an album for piano and vocals proved to be very difficult to get into and, in the end, left me a little cold. I haven’t heard or seen his opera Prima Donna, but was starting to get concerned that the Rufus Wainwright I fell in love with had gone forever, leaving an artist solely concerned with the highbrow artistic pursuits. Very noble and all that, but I honestly believe that his contemporary albums, with all of the literary and musical influences in tact, truly play to all of his strengths. It was, then, with great relief that I heard that his latest album was going to be a “pop” album, although my heart sank a little when I also heard that he was working with Mark Ronson. How good could a Mark Ronson-produced Rufus album possibly be?
It turns out that it’s utterly magnificent and quite simply the best thing he’s done since 2007’s Release The Stars – perhaps even better. The whole album certainly does have a popular sheen to it, but Ronson’s slick production values, coupled with Wainwright’s artistic integrity proves to be a brilliantly winning combination. The songs are extremely strong with one stunner following another. The opening trio of songs, Out Of The Game, Jericho and Rachida are perfect, intelligent alternative pop, with the latter two having a few moments so great that the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in appreciation. Montauk is a beautiful insight into Rufus’ family life, Bitter Tears virtually invents a new genre: baroque disco, Respectable Dive reminds me of something Rufus’ friend and band mate, Teddy Thompson would write and Perfect Man is one of the catchiest compositions Rufus has ever penned. He saves two of the best for last, as Song For You is a heavenly song with a magnificent vocal to match and Candles, an absolutely gorgeous song, finishes Out Of The Game on a real high.
This may very well be the most mainstream album Rufus Wainwright puts his name to, but it’s not too far away from the Want or Release The Stars albums so you won’t feel as if it’s a massive change of direction or, perish the thought, that he’s sold out. This album will move you, bring tears to your eyes, make you smile, make you move your body, make you fall in love with Rufus Wainwright all over again. I’m just sorry I ever doubted him.
The best album of 2012.
Very Good Albums Which Just Failed To Make The Top 40 (still very much recommended)
Stranger – Balmorhea
That’s Why God Made The Radio – The Beach Boys
What Kind Of World – Brendan Benson
Break It Yourself – Andrew Bird
Hands Of Glory – Andrew Bird
Afterglow – Black Country Communion
On The Air Tonight – Colin Blunstone
Oh No, I Love You – Tim Burgess
Algiers/Spiritoso – Calexico
Summer Special – Euros Childs
Stand Upright In A Cool Place – Dodgy
Shields – Grizzly Bear
Hello Land! – Guillemots
Mystic Pinball – John Hiatt
Static On The Airwaves – Levellers
Concerto For Group and Orchestra – Jon Lord
Out Along The Wire – Tristan Mackay
Carry On – Willy Mason
Life In A Beautiful Light – Amy McDonald
Born To Sing: No Plan B – Van Morrison
City Awakenings – Mull Historical Society
Clockwork Angels – Rush
Amaryllis – Shinedown
Come Home To Mama – Martha Wainwright
I Was A Cat From A Book – James Yorkston
Above Average Albums Which Failed To Trouble The Top 40 (worth buying for fans only)
Music From Another Dimension – Aerosmith
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser… – Fiona Apple
Mirage Rock – Band Of Horses
Here I Am – Oli Brown
Here Come The Bombs – Gaz Coombes
Almighty Love – Damien Dempsey
Hot Cakes – The Darkness
The Hipsters – Deacon Blue
Born To Die – Lana Del Ray
Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit
Oh Pioneer – Duke Special
Room Filled With Light – Fanfarlo
Uno/Dos/Tre – Green Day
The Time The Hour – Hal
Privateering – Mark Knopfler
I Know What Love Isn’t – Jens Lekman
Given To The Wild – The Maccabees
Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da – Madness
The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy – Nada Surf
Walking In The Green Corn – Grant-Lee Phillips
Researching The Blues – Red Kross
Head Down – Rival Sons
Port Of Morrow – The Shins
King Animal – Soundgarden
Ringo 2012 – Ringo Starr
Lonerism – Tame Impala
A Different Kind Of Truth – Van Halen
Analog Man – Joe Walsh
Bones – Young Guns
Disappointments (avoid like the plague)
PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone – John Frusciante
Born and Raised – John Mayer
Kisses On The Bottom – Paul McCartney
Lullaby – James Walsh
Frozen in time, held captive by the wilderness, looking like an icicle in a bakery, the legendary Bob Dylan takes another bite of his banana and tomato bagel whilst subconsciously grinning, crumbs cascading down his whiskery, powder-ridden chin, settling like snowflakes on his T-Shirt emblazoned with the logo, “Too cool for school, but I went anyway”. He had it all, he had written some of the greatest songs in history, but could not beat his addiction to salted, buttered, frozen popcorn. The Betty Ford clinic had thrown everything they knew at him, including socks, rocks, frocks and clocks – but he blocks, absorbs the shocks and takes all the knocks… the wily old fox.
Beer and pretzels rained down on the aging songsmith and he poked his tongue out lazily, catching splashes of the amber fluid whilst the pretzels bounced on the wooden floor as if jiving to some invisible music played on a fiddle by the devil himself. Naturally, there was nothing Bob could do apart from fade in and out of view repeatedly except to those looking at him through windows of their souls. He opened his grimy mouth, as if to speak, and twenty-thousand ears craned skyward, listening intently for any wisdom Bob may choose to deliver, but all they heard was the sound of a mosquito scratching its arse intently, a grasshopper humming ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ in its sleep and a small, silent, pronounced belch from the great man himself, which smelled of Feta cheese… and that was it. The show was over before it had even begun. The crowd were disappointed, naturally, but everyone agreed that it was distinctly preferable to most of the other live performances Bob had given in 2011.
Bob Dylan will be appearing at a venue near YOU! But I honestly wouldn’t bother. He’s a bit shit live. But infinitely better than dead.