For me the last few years have seen the music industry stagnate, and with the exception of one or two performers, there have not been many bands I would have taken the time to get out and see. Thankfully, I believe we have turned a corner. Old friends have returned, there is some fantastic new bands out there making everyone excited again and things are generally on the rise. That’s my opinion anyway and based on that, here’s my top ten albums of the year,
10. Morrissey – World Peace Is None Of Your Business
The world would be a duller place without old Moz causing a ruckus. To begin with the album is tremendous, his first album in five years does not disappoint. As his voice matures most are sung with a low, almost crooning and soothing lilt. Throw in a Spanish vibe to a couple of songs, and his huge Latino following are delighted. It may not hit the consistent heights of Vauxhall and I or Your Arsenal, but those are high peaks to reach.
But as usual, it’s not always about the music with Morrissey. Following his controversial autobiography, the album was to be a comeback of sorts – however wherever Morrissey goes, an argument usually follows and the spat was so bad with Harvest Records who released the album, that all digital media was deleted three weeks after release. So no iTunes or Spotify for this wonderful album; you will have to source a physical.
9. Jack White – Lazaretto
If any album gives off a false impression by its lead single, it’s this one. ‘Lazaretto’ the single is a thrashy, screechy wonder complimented by Jack’s angsty vocals reminiscent of The White Stripe’s hits ‘Icky Thump’ and ‘Blue Orchid’. But the rest of the album floats into a heady mixture of grunge, punk, blues and even country, which all adds to the wonder of this album. It all seems to fit, and White carries it off perfectly.
White is never shy in showing his influences in his records and he does so with such ease, accompanied with his quite incredible guitar playing. Lazaretto takes a couple of listens, but the warmth and the attention he gives each track is glorious. But then again, I am a fan.
8. Royal Blood – Royal Blood
The debut album from the Brighton duo was the most anticipated album of the year, due to a series of mesmerising festival performances and singles ‘Little Monster’ and ‘Figure It Out’. When the album finally made its debut it smashed into the charts with a bang.
For me the intriguing and appealing thing of the band and the album is “How the hell does me make that noise with a Bass guitar?”. However he does it, it is incredible. Pulsating guitar work combined with thunderous drumming combine to make a helluva sound. This is the band I have looked forward to seeing live the most, and despite missing out seeing them at the ABC in Glasgow and upcoming Barrowland show, I’m looking forward to Murrayfield in June where they will support the Foo Fighters.
7. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
The third album from the east coast American band captures the mood of 80’s rock mixed with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to create a fascinating sound which lives with you long after you’ve heard it. Singer and lead guitarist Adam Granduciel wrote the majority of the album and he has stated that the album reflected his own depression and paranoia.
The stand out track for me is ‘Red Eyes’, which genuinely sounds like a Dylan cover. The album swoons and sways, and at just over an hour for ten tracks what could be a chore is actually a pleasure. I saw them live in October this year, and the sound of the record effortlessly transfers to the live performance.
6. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology
The Manics are like an old friend – you might not hear from them in a while, although you know they have been up to something. But when they do come back into your life, it’s as if they have never been away.
Futurology is a trek back to the Manics of old. Loud, assertive lyrics from James Dean Bradfield, cutting bass lines from Nicky Wire, all set to a pounding drum beat from Sean Moore. On the theme of the album, which has a distinct European tinge, the band have stated that they have never been more positive about an album, and its reflected in the music. This is perfectly heard in ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ which is accompanied by German actress Nina Hoss, and literally translates as “Europe passes through me” and is one of the highlights of the album. A great album, an enormously successful festival season, and a tour to mark the 20th anniversary of their seminal The Holy Bible it has been a great year for the Manic Street Preachers.
5. George Ezra – Wanted on Voyage
Sometimes a singer just clicks with a debut single, never mind album, and everyone gets it straight away. This seems to be the case with George Ezra. I first heard of him when he was shortlisted in the BBC Sound of 2014, and the sound that this 19-year-old makes is incredible.
The single, ‘Budapest’ – based on a travelling experience around Europe to a city that he didn’t visit(!) was all over the radio in the summer, and the follow-up ‘Blame It On Me’, cemented the fact that this boy had a tune in him. The album is a pleasant romp where the main star is George’s baritone-esque voice. I have surprised myself by including this in my favourite albums of the year, but in my opinion it is well worth a few listens.
4. Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balcony
There is always room out there for radio friendly Indie, and Catfish and the Bottlemen fit that mould perfectly. Their story is one of guerrilla gigs, stealth promotion and bloody hard work and we are all reaping the rewards.
The Balcony is a fine debut album. If I was going to compare it to someone’s debut it may be The Kooks except with a good singer, and by that I mean catchy hooks, clever riffs and songs that stay in your head and demand repeat plays. I caught these guys live at Radio 1s Big Weekend and they can kick it live, and we may have a superstar in the making in singer Van McCann.
3. Johnny Marr – Playland
Morrissey’s former writing and playing partner from The Smiths followed up his 2013 album The Messenger with a belter of an album, Playland. This album has it all, swooning riffs, jangly guitars and catchy choruses all at a blistering pace. Highlights include the lead off track ‘Easy Money’, and the imperious ‘Dynamo’.
This is one of my most played albums of the year. There’s something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on that makes me love it all the more. I know Johnny will never re-create the magic of The Smiths, and with a stubborn ex-band partner who won’t consider anything other than his own career which will rule out them ever getting back together (It was Marr who left, remember), so I’m enjoying a return to form of a true legend.
2. The Black Keys – Turn Blue
How do you follow-up a global smash hit album that made you house-hold names, and in which your tracks are used in almost every film, tv show and advert going? By almost entirely changing your style, that’s how!
Dan and Patrick from Akron, Ohio, made their name as dynamic duo who could belt out bluesy angst ridden rock tracks which everyone could nod their head to. But as they have grown in stature the sound has become bigger, and so have the band. With this has come experimentation into more melancholy and psychedelic rock, ably guided and produced by Danger Mouse. The result is Turn Blue, the bands eighth album.
‘Fever’ set the tone prior to the album’s release that there was a change in the offing with a keyboard-laden track with a catchy hook that was a significant change from anything on El Camino. The other main highlight of the album is the last track ‘Gotta Get Away’, which, to be frank, is nothing like they have ever done! It sounds more like a pop song than a cool indie toe-tapper, but somehow works, with its mix of pop and country. Overall, a fine album.
1 – Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
This is a weird one. I love the Foo Fighters. I have seen them live several times, tickets booked for next year and Dave Grohl is a god-like genius, if I do say so myself.
The album Sonic Highways starts off with the peerless ‘Something from Nothing’, in my opinion the greatest song the band have recorded, followed up by ‘The Feast And The Famine’ – another incredible piece of work and reminiscent of the Foo’s in the mid 90’s. But from the mid-way point of the album, which is only track four (eight tracks on an album, more like a glorified EP), the songs go downhill.
So why is this my album of the year? Quite simply, to understand this album properly you have to understand the complete package.
Mr. Grohl came up with the novel idea that each track on the album would be recorded in a different city. But the twist was that each city would have an hour-long documentary accompanying the song showing how the music from each city influenced Dave, the rest of the band and most importantly, the songs on the album.
Each episode has the same format – the band setting up in a studio, interviews with influences from the area, clips of some of the classics performed, and the last few minutes we have the song they have worked on. And this is the killer – apparently when the band arrived in each city the music for each song was written, but the lyrics would be influenced by the interviews he carried out during the week. Hence we have the line “Jukebox Generation” on ‘Congregation’ after a line from Dolly Parton in the Nashville episode, “A button on a string” in ‘Something From Nothing’ came from Buddy Guy’s Chicago interview… you get the drift.
This makes this album special. There have been other concept albums before, and this could be technically called a soundtrack to a TV programme, but it’s more than that. It’s a band looking to do something different instead of pushing out a re-hash of the last album. Dave could easily walk away and laze by the pool, but he seems to be having so much fun impressing us all. And I for one, am thankful for that.