Wednesday, 1 January 2020
Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Dear readers, welcome back to our annual review of the year 2019. Well that year was…destabilising wasn’t it? Protests here there and everywhere against everything from climate change to Brexit to Trump to right-wing Nazis (with more links between them all than I care to think – if we ever get to 2069 there will be one hell of a gloomy concept album written about this year). This all meant too that the fiftieth anniversary re-issues from 1969 all seem to be all the more timely (especially given that in this age and climate even the bands who were around in 1969 are a little too afraid of going political as record contracts are that much harder to come by). Is this an end of decade thing? (I don’t recall this happening in 2009 or 1989 and the albums in 1999 tended to be nostalgic rather than angry). Is this a cyclical thing that comes round every fifty years? (Although 1909 seemed a rather placid year by 20th century standards). Or is this because of a series of events peculiar to then and now? I’ve certainly noticed a growing sense of ‘us and them’ lately and generational divide, something that crops up rather a lot on the albums in this article in releases and re-released from both years. The good news, if true, was that 1970 was rather a decent year, folky and humble with the rise of the solo singer-songwriter. Are we due for a similar rise in fortunes in 2020? We will (hopefully) be there in another year to let you know! (and yes to the couple of you who wrote in, thankyou, I do plan to keep doing these every year even after the AAA books are out so you can add ‘attachments’ to your AAA books, though I’m not sure if I can keep the full-length reviews up).
As for Alan’s Album Archives it’s been another year of slow growth. We left you at the end of 2018 with seven books released and 107 book sales. We are here twelve months on with nineteen books released and 581 book sales, with an especially good run for The Kinks (though our first book on The Beach Boys is still fractionally ahead on total sales with The Beatles book in a close third. Buffalo Springfield, against all expectations, are in fourth). This despite Amazon’s decision to completely alter the app used to make e-books halfway through the year leading to a complete meltdown and a hurried re-think of layout! Hopefully one day – when I’ve had a long lie down – I will go back and alter all the old books so they all look the same, though no doubt by then Amazon will have changed their kindle app again. Twice. Still no luck on the physical editions which I hoped to work on once all the final drafts were done by the way – that Amazon app is impossible to work with! I have had a few potential readers come to me this year and ask if we could look at uploading the books in places other than Amazon though which I wasn’t expecting, so watch this space – hopefully we can do something about that next year. In the meantime it’s the website itself that seems to have done really well this year (just when I’d taken my eye off it!) as we’ve now shot up to over 850,000 views. Having just been through the website’s earliest days of News, Views and Music newsletters for the very final book in the AAA series (out this time next year I hope) that seems mind-boggling when the stat counter reaching double figures per month was a cause for celebration and it is great to see that we have readers from all over the world now (I haven’t given you an update for a couple of years now so for those interested the top ten now looks like this: America, France, Russia, UK, Germany, Canada, Ukraine, Poland, Netherlands and Argentina. The book sales are very different interestingly: the UK is way out in the lead, America is in a distant second with a handful of sales in Canada, Japan and Germany and one each in Austria, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Mexico. Amazingly we seem to have sold at least one book in each of the eligible Amazon territories by now!) It just goes to show that you should never ever give up. Unless you’re Noel Gallagher writing one-chord dance songs involving the use of scissors or Theresa May somehow trying to carve out a career as an inspirational speaker anyway. You can read more about the books out already and the ones due to come in the new year at the bottom of this article.
As for me, I’ve been celebrating getting to the end of the run of AAA books by taking it easy and putting my feet up…No of course I haven’t, it’s me, I’ve been busy writing an 80,000 word novel (which is after all only the length of eight AAA reviews!) Will I ever publish it? Not a clue, but it kept me out of mischief. Oh and in case you’re wondering about AAA mascot, you might not have heard from him for a while as my current laptop won’t do Youtube videos (alright, which one of you cheered?!) but he is still around. In fact he’s been going through something of a glam rock phase lately…
Oh and finally a warm hug and a big thankyou too to our supporters old and new: BB and Slack, The Face Of Bo, Paul, Kenny, Mervyn, Kevin, Joel, SharpEleven, Jamie Lynn, Bethany, Roger, cousin Kim, my aunty Julie (whose always the first to re-post when a new book is out, within seconds sometimes) and all the new friends I have been busy making in the Facebook forums. You’re amazing! For now though it’s back to the music…
(Best to Worst)
1) The Who “WHO”
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-who-who-2019.html)
Blimey, I wasn’t expecting that. Delayed twice, pushed back in the schedules to December 6th (dangerously close to the deadline for Christmas and this list) and thirteen years since the last album the new Who album finally saw the light of day. And it is fabulous! Despite only Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey being left, this album still sounds like everything The Who should in the 21st century: it’s angry, passionate, raw, energetic and self-deprecating. The album starts with a song taunting us that we won’t like it (‘All This Music Will Fade’), moves on to protest developments since the last record (‘Ball and Chain’, a protest at the political prisoners still enslaved in Guantanamo Bay’), celebrates what it is to be young with your life ahead of you (‘Hero Ground Zero’), takes to the streets in a message of solidarity and hope (the album’s majestic highlight amongst many ‘Street Song’), finds God (‘Strings On One Bead’), vows never to grow up (‘I’m Not Gonna Get Wise’) and even finds space to take the band places they have never been before (the album even ends with a song that’s, gulp jazz. And it sounds a lot better than it has any right to!) Roger’s recent vocal problems have tripped up both the tour and this album’s first release date but on record he sounds undimmed, a seventy-year-old who still has the fire and roar he did in his twenties as he takes on a mad world with a scream. He’s also joined, after a decade of re-issues and hibernation, by a revitalised Pete Townshend who still has so much he wants to say to us and ideas pouring out of him like the good old days. Ringo’s son Zak is as good a substitute for Keith Moon as you’re ever going to find and Pino Pallodino is ditto for John Entwistle too meaning that this album sounds more like The Who than anything the band have done since 1978. Yes the band are wiser and have learnt their life lessons, as mentioned a few times on the album’s lyrics, but mostly these narrators are still the troubled teens of yesteryear, touched by the angels so their need to grow up is ‘postponed’. We wouldn’t have them any other way. Yes a couple of tracks fall short (Pete’s only vocal – at least until the bonus tracks – really doesn’t fit and I’m not entirely sure about the sudden religious conversion halfway through). But a majority of this album sounds as great as we always dreamed it would and it feels, after the dead-end that was ‘Endless Wire’ in 2006, as if The Whoniverse is now complete. Download:’Street Song ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Wise’ ‘Ball and Chain’
2) Neil Young and Crazy Horse “Colorado”
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2019/10/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-colorado-2019.html )
The signs weren’t great I have to say: Crazy Horse rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro had retired in 2014. Perhaps Neil’s greatest muse, his ex-wife Pegi, died in January. The two weird films doing the rounds on Netflix with new missus Daryl Hannah directing and Neil as a space-age cowboy made even ‘Greendale’ look sane. The first single ‘Rainbow Of Colour’ was repellent, a faux-patriotic flag waver sea shanty at half-speed as well as half-mast. However the album itself is a really nice surprise and continues Neil’s recent solid run of albums in the 21st century. New-old-boy Nils Lofgren, whose been an honorary horse since Danny Whitten got sick in 1971, is a natural replacement for Frank on guitar and the songs pouring out of Neil mostly impress as he comes to term with his new marriage and returns to ecology and the environment as a favourite theme now the rest of the planet is slowly catching up to what he said back in 1968. The best of the album unites both of these themes: ‘Green Is Blue’ has Neil wondering how he missed the warning signs of his marriage to Pegi and the planet going sour, ‘I Do’ has Neil vowing to fight on to put things right in the company of his new wife (so says me anyway) and opening track ‘Think Of Me’ has Pegi reincarnated as a bird free of her earthly shackles at last. All these three songs are amongst Neil’s finest in years as Crazy Horse play beautifully and subtly as well as loud and if not quite Neil’s best album of the decade (‘Monsanto’ still wins for sheer chutzpah and ‘The Visitor’ was an under-rated gem full of brave, weird songs) then it may well be his most consistent with that first single the only weak song here. Download: ‘Green Is Blue’ ‘I Do’ ‘Think Of Me’
3) Liam Gallagher “Why Me? Why Not!”
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2019/09/liam-gallagher-why-me-why-not-2019.html)
It was a rare week of AAA dominance in a year of dross when Liam topped the album charts back in August, only to be bumped off the number one slot by The Beatles a week later. Liam continues to be by far the more interesting of the two Gallaghers musically and while his second album is weaker than his first (the more adventurous ‘As You Were’) it is nevertheless another strong effort with several cracking tunes. Many of the best ones continue to deal with the fall-out from brother Noel with ‘Once’ the album’s lone masterpiece, as Liam accepts that Oasis are truly never getting back together again and how you can only ever have a ride like that once a lifetime anyway. His impending marriage to manager Debbie has though given him a stability and confidence he was missing throughout the Beady Eye years (wonderful as they were) and even though Liam is still writing with a whole team of songwriters around him somehow he pulls off the trick a second time of every line sounding like it could have been written by him. The closing trilogy too takes the album into weirder territory with the psychedelic lo-fi sound of ‘Meadow’, the trippiest Oasis-linked moment since ‘Be Here Now’. Yes the singles are again the weakest link here, sounding like lukewarm Oasis from a band who still don’t quite know yet how to rock and roll and the title track is a whole load of nothing. However far more works here than doesn’t and - together with a voice that is somehow defying the years - Liam comes up with another winner without seemingly breaking a sweat. Download: ‘Once’ ‘The River’ ‘Now That I’ve Found You’
4) Belle and Sebastian “Days Of Bagenold Summer”
This second B+S film soundtrack album slipped out so quietly even I didn’t know it was out for a month! Though the film itself is a limp replica of frontman Stuart Murdoch’s own superb film project ‘God Help The Girl’ (yet another coming-of-age tale, this time with a librarian mother and her wayward teenage son) and much of the soundtrack is simply B+S re-recordings (all of which sound oddly professional performed by the current ‘hipper’ line-up) there are some typically clever and beautiful songs sprinkled across the soundtrack and of course the music fits to a tee. The most substantial of these songs is ‘This Letter’, which works well in the context of the film and as the latest in a long line of gorgeous ‘farewell’ songs to one-time member (and girlfriend) Isobel Campbell. ‘Did The Day Go Just As You Want?’ is a pretty return to acoustic balladry too and ‘Another Day Another Night’ is one of Sarah Martin’s better songs. The rest though is more ordinary and insubstantial but never less than lovely and frequently beautiful, putting this semi-album a notch below the band’s last ‘proper’ album ‘Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance’ but one above 2017’s run of B+S EPs. Download: ‘This Letter’ ‘Did The Day Go Just As You Want?’ ‘Anoher Day Another Night’
5) Neil Young “Tonight’s The Night Live At The Roxy”
Neil’s had a great year this year – musically anyway! The best of the two ‘archive’ sets out this year by a nose (the ‘Tuscaloosa’ shows from the 1973 ‘Time Fades Away’ tour are worth checking out too), this was the tour I’d been waiting to hear for ever such a long time. The Tonight’s The Night shows are legendary: fans were expecting the hits from ‘After The Goldrush’ and ‘Harvest’ but Neil and what’s left of Crazy Horse are still in grief after the overdose of rhythm guitarist Danny Whitten. Like the album – recorded mere weeks before this live set in 1973 but shelved until 1975 – it’s a wake for Danny with a serious of angry, melancholy songs about the futility of fame and the fragility of being human. Many, if not all, of these songs are Neil’s finest as he pours his heart out for Danny, CSNY roadie Bruce Berry (another overdose victim) and unknown drug mules on such masterpieces as ‘World On A String’ ‘Tired Eyes’ ‘Albuquerque’ and ‘Tonight’s The Night’ itself (these songs are so new he still hasn’t written other album classic ‘Borrowed Tune’ yet!) Fans though haven’t heard any of these songs before and Crazy Horse play them one after the other from beginning to end without a pause for forty minutes. Finally there seems to be a breakthrough: ‘We’d like to play a song you’ve heard before!’ Neil calls out to the few brave fans still left. What does he play? ‘Tonight’s The Night’ again, the song the concert started with! Legend is of course always more fun than fact: from the descriptions of those that were there this was a drunken shambles performed by a band too wasted to know what key they were in (and guest Nils Lofgren, one of life’s most ‘up’ musicians, sewing lead weights into the hem of his trousers to keep his mood ‘heavy’). In actual fact the band sound far tighter than they did on record and they sound alarmingly sober for most of this show at least, all too aware at the price of fame. Even so, it’s a good show with some amazing songs and it’s a piece of history, one of the best releases in Neil’s ‘archive’ series to date. Download: ‘World On A String’ ‘Albuquerque’ ‘Tired Eyes’
6) Neil Young “Tuscaloosa”
Not all that far behind is this archives set for the previous tour, the one released as Neil’s first live album, the under-rated ‘Time Fades Away’. That tour ended up in chaos: Crazy Horse guitarist Od’d halfway through (the legend has always been that it was using money Neil leant him to fly home when rehearsals weren’t working out, though Danny’s sister has since disputed this), the musicians went on strike for better pay and the audience demanded to hear songs from Neil’s recent hit album ‘Harvest’, not all this new stuff. The tour has gone down in history as a disaster and ‘Time Fades Away’ was mixed for extra chaos it seems: breaking vocals, a guesting and usually polished Crosby and Nash trying to prop Neil up emotionally made to sound like croaking frogs and bands who hadn’t yet learnt how to play Neil’s new material. However the tour didn’t start off like that: this is one of the early dates from before Danny died and with original drummer Kenny Buttrey playing (replaced by Jefferson Airplane’s Johnny Barbata for the record). It has an entirely different feel: Neil’s in control, goofily joking with the audience the way he did on all the early archive sets taped in clubs and seemingly at home in these big stadiums. He’s attempting new material all the time including a pair of songs that will end up on ‘Tonight’s The Night’ where they sound even tighter than they did at the Roxy, with ‘Lookout Joe’ sounding more like a proper ‘song’ than it did on the record and ‘New Mama’ being sweet indeed. Neil has introduced noticeably few of the songs that will make the record, only the title track and the ever-great ‘Don’t Be Denied’ (which isn’t so raw or as exciting). Elsewhere it’s the hits again, Neil turning in professional polished performances of everything from ‘Old Man’ to ‘After The Goldrush’, although it’s a throwback to Neil’s 1968 debut album on ‘Here We Are In The Years’ that makes for the album’s prettiest moment. All in all perhaps the most dispensable of all the archive discs as almost all these songs are better performed elsewhere, but a fascinating parallel universe glimpse of a career that could have been so different. Download: 'Here We Are In The Years' 'Don't Be Denied' 'New Mama'
7) Allan Clarke “Resurgence”
Little did The Hollies singer know back in 1995, when The Hollies hooked back up with Graham Nash for a Buddy Holly tribute album after thirty-two years of almost constant recording, that his next release wouldn’t be for a whole twenty-four years. The most unexpected AAA comeback since, well, The Hollies (sans Clarke) back in 2006, it just feels so good to have one of our real talents making music again. An appearances at The Hollies’ Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame appearance and a cameo guest appearance at a Crosby-Nash gig put Allan back in the spotlight and led to a new interest in writing which ended up with Carla Olsen (one time Gene Clark and later Mick Taylor duettist) setting one of Allan’s poems to music. It was son Toby though (younger brother of Hollies classic ‘Lullaby To Tim’) who encouraged his dad to make more music and showed him that he could make it at home with the app ‘GarageBand’. That gives us a home-made sound we’ve never had from The Hollies before which together with Clarke’s lower voice makes him sound unrecognisable at times. There are signs of the old deft Clarke touches though: the Buddy Holly influences on opener ‘Journey Of Regret’, the guitar riffing on a ‘Long Cool Woman’ sequel and the re-recording of 1974 classic ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. It’s the ballads though that shine the most despite having a vulnerability and dark-night-of-the-soul feel unusual for Clarke: ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ worries about what will happen to his wife after he’s gone (he’s still married to one half of ‘Jennifer Eccles’) and closer ‘I’m Comin’ Home’ which is the album’s one true gem. Admittedly this isn’t classic Clarke: his retirement in 1999 came partly because he knew his voice was fading and the missing twenty years haven’t helped, while the material, low-fi production and the country elements (always The Hollies’ weakest suit) together means this is still arguably the weakest of all the eight solo records the singer has released, so the fairytale doesn’t quite come true. Like all his solo sets there’s a deliberate move away from the lush harmonies and production values of his former band – although this is to my ears the one set that really badly needs them. That said though have you heard how good those first seven solo albums were?!? Good on The Beat Goes On – one of our favourite AAA re-issue labels who have a fine set of Clarke albums from 1973-1976 on their roster too – for taking a chance on Allan. Hopefully this resurgence road will yet be long with many more winding turns that will build on this record’s promise and give us a truly great comeback. Really, though, it’s just nice to have the old boy back. Download: ‘Long Cool Woman’s Back In Town’ ‘I’m Comin’ Home’
8) Noel Gallagher “Black Star Dancing/This Is The Place” (EPs)
Somewhere about the time his backing singer asked to ‘play the scissors’ on stage (and did!) Noel announced to the press that his new music was divisive: fans who wanted the old rock and roll stuff with guitars would hate it but those who loved ‘pioneering’ music and didn’t want to be stuck in the past would love it. So far I have met lots of the former fans but not many of the latter as we tend to buy the elder Oasis Gallagher’s releases more out of duty than hope these days. The last album in 2017 ‘Who Built The Moon?’ was wretched, a gormless collection of dance beats, single note melodies and dull fragmented repetitive lyrics, saved by one sole decent song ‘Black and White Sunshine’ (notably the only one with any real guitar on it). This year Noel ducked out of direct comparisons with his brother by offering us not an album but two EPs of new music released either side of ‘Why Me? Why Not?’, almost all of which is equally hopeless. Of the first EP ‘Black Star Dancing’ goes on forever without doing much. ‘Rattle On Rose’ compares wife Sara to a drug trip, but one of those ‘unfinished music’ ones John wrote for Yoko rather than another ‘Dig A Pony’ or ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’. ‘Sail On’ is a sea shanty that’s even worse than Neil’s (who would have guessed this time last year that that would be the genre that would dominate this list this year?!?) The second EP is a little better, ‘This Is The Place’ straightforward and over-noisy but with a half-decent chorus, ‘Evil Flower’ at least deliberately weird and off-putting and ‘A Dream Is All I Need To Get By’ a rather sweet throwback to the naivety of the early 1960s. That’s not much, though really, for one of my generation’s best songwriters who was so full of winning material he could afford to throw quite a lot of it away on flipsides – where are the melodies, the lyrics that really meant something and the guitar-playing? Where is the directness and realness that would normally have cut through all this arty pomposity in seconds? Pop music is full of third-rate synth ideas like these; we need a hero with a guitar again, perhaps even more than we did in 1994 and there are very few of those about sadly.
The Top Three Re-Issues Of The Year:
1) The Searchers “When You Walk In The Room – The Complete Pye Recordings 1963-1967”
By far the worst musical news of the year is that, after fifty long years (plus a few more under different names) The Searchers are finally calling it a day. John McNally, the lone founding member, has been increasingly frail the past few years while his near-founding member bandmate Frank Allen probably need s along rest too after clocking up more gigs than almost any other AAA bandmembers between them. The good news is that their fiftieth anniversary has been celebrated in style with two really good sets. The one getting most of the attention and kudos is ‘The Farewell Album’, a half-decent two-disc greatest hits set which would have made this list in its own right had it included more from the band’s peak year of 1965 instead of 1963-1964. The masterpiece though is the six-album box featuring all five Pye albums as re-issued individually on Castle fifteen years or so ago (complete with juicy bonus tracks and mono/stereo copies together in all cases) and a ‘bonus’ disc featuring twenty-six A sides, B sides and EP tracks, almost all of which were superb (only The Hollies could match The Searchers as writers of the best flipsides of the 1960s, while the flop singles released after the band’s album contract ran out in 1965 are nearly all superb – a 1980s compilation of these ‘The Searchers Play The System’, was in fact one of our initial ‘101 core albums you should own’ they are that good!) Decent sound, great packaging, not a bad price and some superb music (give or take a dodgy debut) add up to one of the best AAA releases in years. If you’ve never tried The Searchers or only know the early screechier singles) and like 1960s pop in general you’ve just found your perfect Christmas present. Download: ‘He’s Got No Love’ ‘Til’ I Met You’ ‘Goodbye My Love’
2) John Renbourn “Unpentangling”
When Bert Jansch died Pentangle fans had a lot of great re-issues of his work to choose from including some pretty decent best-ofs and full box sets taken from practically all periods of Bert’s life (a shame they never got to the early 1980s, mind, which is my favourite era). When John died a few years later we were lucky to get a rather bland and boring best-of. Finally though, four years after his death, Renbourn gets the set he deserves and I hope it brings him out of Bert’s (admittedly deserved) shadow. This is a great set that gathers together every non-Pentangle album released by the much-loved Transatlantic label in the 1960s: three solo albums (‘Sir John A lot’ is the most famous, ‘John Renbourn’ my favourite with a classy mixture of originals and Medieval folk tunes and ‘Another Monday’ the most adventurous, a brave pre-Pentangle attempt to stretch the folk genre as wide as it will go without breaking), three incredibly rare collaborations with gospel-ish singer Dorris Hendersen (you only really need the first one with its mixture of Renbourn originals and Paul Simon covers but all three are nice to have) and the fantastic (if short!) collaboration credited to ‘Bert and John’. All of these albums are worth revisiting and most of them come with juicy bonus tracks. Pentangle fans will be fascinated too to hear collaborations with not just Bert but Jacqui, Terry and Danny back when they were all friends rather than bandmates. However most of the time John needs nothing more than a guitar and his playing, particularly here at his peak, is some of the best acoustic picking you will ever hear. Renbourn is a worthy talent and it is great to see his back catalogue get the treatment it deserves. Now how about some of his 1970s and 1980s albums out again and then I’ll be happy, pretty please? Download: ‘The Wildest Pig In Captivity’ ‘Song For William’ ‘The Waggoner’s Lad’
3) Grateful Dead “Ready Or Not”
Well ‘not’ if I’m honest. When the AAA Grateful Dead book came out in January I added a special chapter all about this album-that-never-was and all the tracks that might have been on it had Jerry Garcia not died in 1995 just as the band were beginning to gear up for a new LP. I’m going to look pretty silly now because I wondered out loud why, with over 200 archive Dead releases out now, nobody had put this lot together – and most of my choices didn’t make this final list. The book only came out in January and is already so out of date! Most fans probably aren’t that fussed anyway as none of the Dead’s 1990s originals went down that well with fans (‘So Many Roads’ being perhaps the exception). Back in the context of where the band were headed after 1989’s ‘Built To Last’ though it would have been a good move I think, away from pop and into something deeper and more complex. Jerry and Bob Hunter (much missed since his death a few months ago) came up with their last glorious masterpiece in the hugely poignant ‘Days Between’, Bob Weir got all bluesy with Willie Dixon collaboration ‘Eternity’ and most surprisingly of all new keyboard player Vince Welnick (also much missed in the Dead community since his suicide) comes up trumps with the set’s catchiest song ‘Long Way To Go Home’. Sadly only ‘Days Between’ ‘Lazy River Road’ and ‘Eternity’ ever made it to the studio and those versions aren’t here, replaced by a good-but-not-as-good rendition from Oakland in 1994, a Uni of North California in 1993 and a Pyramid Memphis gig from 1995 respectively. ‘Liberty’ sounds pretty hot though in a version from Madison Square Gardens in 1994 that sounds better to my ears than the ones released on the ‘So Many Roads’ box, while much-mocked ‘Samba In The Rain’ isn’t quite the turkey fans have long remembered. This set isn’t a must-have classic maybe and true Deadheads will no doubt have all this stuff already, while there’s lots I would have put here for sure (where are most of Phil’s songs? I’d take them over blues pastiche ‘Corrina’ anyday) But it’s a worthy testament to a creative roll that got cut off just as it was getting interesting again and it makes for a fine last long strange trip from a band who were far more interesting in their 30th year together than many fans gave them credit for and it’s nice to see this music get a proper home in the discography at last. I’m especially pleased the official Dead discography now ends with ‘Days Between’ too, one beautiful haunting last Garcia-Hunter song on any form. A shame ‘Ready Or Not’ has both that title and the modern packaging and garish skeletons that seems to go with all extra-curricular Dead CDs these days though rather than a period 1990s vibe. Download: ‘Liberty’ ‘Way To Go Home’ ‘Days Between’
The Worst Re-Issues Of The Year:
1) The Rolling Stones “Let It Bleed” (Deluxe Reissue)
Traditionally the Rolling Stones top these review of the year lists with their occasional deluxe re-issues. ‘Sticky Fingers’ with its definitive Stones live gig at Leeds Uni 1970 a few weeks after The Who’s famous gig there was superb, ‘Exile On Main Street’ featured some especially fine unreleased songs and ‘Some Girls’ wasn’t quite in the same league but was most enjoyable all the same. Even ‘Ya-Yas’ was ok. After that impressive triumvirate it looked as if the Rollings’ archives were set to roll on forever. Alas the50th birthday party for ‘Let It Bleed’ reveals just how little is left in the vaults after all. Decca and Allen Klein have of course famously mucked around with The Stones’ catalogue for years, refusing to allow their albums out on CD properly (i.e. most of them are pricey versions of the bastardised American editions). Even a decade after Klein’s death, though, we’re still in the same boat it seems and a chance to re-issue these albums properly has stalled already. There’s absolutely nothing in the way of unreleased material in this set and nothing even rare, not even an unreleased mix or the outtakes briefly available on ‘Metamorphosis’, just the original mono and stereo editions plus a 7” vinyl replica of period single ‘Honky Tonk Women’ (you don’t even get that on CD as a bonus track though, just the godawful ‘Country Honk’ rendition from the album). Admittedly the sound is better, losing the muddiness that goes hand-in-hand with Decca and there is an 80 page book full of some rare photos not to mention three glossy lithographs and a poster. Would that as much time had been spent researching the sound archives as the photographic ones though (mind you, knowing The Stones if they found something unfinished they’d probably stick it on a modern live record and claim it was ‘new’). Really, if you have nothing left and an album going off catalogue just re-release the thing as plain as possible and make it cheaper. You can’t always get what you want indeed – and this time you don’t even get what you might need!
2) The Beatles “Abbey Road”
It’s a sad sign of the times that old Beatles v Stones rivalry is rearing its head again for the ‘most miserly AAA re-issues’ award. At least ‘Abbey Road’ has some new (albeit oft-bootlegged) items on its pricey four discs (one a Blu-Ray) though, amongst them Macca’s truly harming demo of ‘Goodbye’ for Apple signing Mary Hopkin (why the hell wasn’t this on Anthology?!?), an abandoned guitar solo for ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and an intense series of tracking sessions for ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ which are all must-hears. However there’s an interminable replay of the entire ‘Long Medley’ in poor sound just to hear ‘Her Majesty’ back in its original (and rather weird) setting in between ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ and ‘Polythene Pam’. There’s so much more that could have been here, from Paul tackling ‘She’s So Heavy’ the day John had a cold (and a mighty fine job he does of it too) to the dreamy bootlegger vocals-only mix of ‘Because’ to the outtake of ‘Something’ that somehow turns on a thread from The Beatles’ most romantic number into an intense and angry jamming session. The packaging is every bit as good as last year’s White Album set but there’s also the feeling that again we’ve been whitewashed: the 1968 album was a trial to make with good bits but if anything ‘Abbey Road’ was far more miserable with John at one stage demanding his songs be on a separate side of vinyl to Paul’s before George Martin made him see sense. The true hero/ine of the set turns out to be…Linda McCartney, by now fully ensconced as Pau’s other half and capturing far more shots of the fab four at work than we realised. Nice to look at then and listen to in bursts, but £83 worth? For that they should have thrown in a replica of the ‘beetle’ car on the front and some Beatle figures to run over at least! Fans of both these albums will lap them up of course but for me both ‘Let It Bleed’ and ‘Abbey Road’ (out just a few weeks apart at the end of 1969) are their creator’s 1960s nadirs not their highlights as a quick listen to ‘Monkey Man’ and ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ will attest, particularly given Giles Martin’s inferior remix.
3) Pink Floyd “The Later Years 1987-2019”
Have a spare £300 dear readers? Our advice is to keep it in the bank, or maybe donate it to the homeless, or buy two copies of each of our reasonably priced Alan’s Album Archives e-books, anything but give Pink Floyd yet more money they haven’t earnt. Three box sets in 2010 were joined by another seven in 2016 and now an epic eighteen disc set. What do you get for your money? Why the worst Pink Floyd albums, messed around with of course: the band’s weakest LP by far ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ sounds no better even with new Nick Mason drum parts (pointless if all those 1980s synths are still there), two so-so live records (though ‘Delicate Sound Of Thunder’ does have six cut songs edited back in), the admittedly rather good but already recently remixed ‘Division Bell’ and 2014’s ‘The Endless River’. There are also DVD and Blu Rays (both naturally, to bulk out the set and add to the expense even though they include the same things!) of the two major tours, the Floyd live in Knebworth 1990 complete for the first time (though it’s a truly woeful gig, perhaps the worst they ever played), an unreleased concert in Venice from 1987 (which is rather good actually!) and two whole discs made up of music videos (none of which feature the band), the film clips shown on screen during the tours (none of which feature the band, though you do get to see a flying bed!), a ballet (which sadly doesn’t feature the Floyd, just their music – that would have been hilarious) and behind the scenes footage (which barely features the Floyd). There are some good moments here – yet more rehearsals from ‘Division Bell’ that didn’t end up on ‘The Endless River’ and sound rather good not mucked around with, the full ‘Marooned’ jam that turned into one of the greatest moments on ‘Division Bell’ and some 1994 tour rehearsals that are the best the modern-day Floyd ever sounded in the post-Roger Waters era. Truly, though, most of this set is ridiculous and no amount of posters, tour programmes and photographs can make up for the emptiness at the heart of this cash-racking set. Usually the Floyd are right to think big but this is ridiculous and at least £250 too much for the actual content on offer. One of these days I’m going to stop buying Pink Floyd box sets and cut my banker’s card up into little pieces!
4) The Rolling Stones “Honk!”
Well, at least fans weren’t expecting anything new from yet another Stones best-of so this wasn’t quite the same level of disappointing as the ‘Bleed’ set, but seriously guys – this is getting silly. Once again the Stones only have access to their post 1970 material, so that means no ‘Satisfaction’ ‘Honky Tonk Women’ ‘The Last Time’ et al, a black mark for a start given that the last set managed to do so with no problems. Another black mark for including just the singles again, not the period Stones song that really are them at their best (no ‘Heaven’ ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ or ‘100 Years Ago’ to name just three). Nice as last year’s ‘Blue and Lonesome’ covers album from last year was, it really was just a covers album and including so many songs from it seems just a lazy way to recap money from a record that didn’t quite sell as well as some had hoped. Finally, including an exclusive live disc at the end with ‘special guests’ (for special read Godawaful: Ed Sheeran busks along to ‘Beast Of Burden’, Florence loses her machine long enough to mess up ‘Wild Horses’ and Dave Grohl turns ‘Bitch’ from a compact rocker into a pompous Nirvana tribute act) is a stupid idea. We are getting to the stage where we’ve had nearly every Stones song re-recorded for a live album by now and most of this lot are on their 15th time round. To quote the last Stones compilation (released just seven years ago) Grrrrr!
5) The Kinks “Arthur”
Forget ‘Abbey Road’ and ‘Let It Bleed’ then, what were the real masterpieces being released in 1969? For our money it’s CSN’s debut and Pentangle’s ‘basket Of Light’ (both of which are far more deserving of the box set treatment) and sitting above them all one of the greatest albums ever made, The Kinks’ koncept album ‘Arthur Or The Decline and Fall Of The British Empire’. A truly moving look at how those who risked their lives in WW2 returned uncomplainingly to their small station in life in the 1950s becomes in Ray Davies’ hands a polemic of how the cogs of society work, how all of us who refuse to toe the party line are screwed and the ordinary man is anything but. His real Uncle Arthur was effectively a second dad when the Davies’ family home got too full and Ray was closer to his nephew Terry than he was his brother Dave for years and their emigration to Australia in search of a better life away from the drabness, misery and rules of Britain is deeply powerful. The album features eleven of the greatest Kinks songs ever (I was never that sure about ‘Drivin’) and in the end gives Arthur, the figure that everybody else ignores and mistreats, love and redemption. Everyone should know it and I’ve always yearned for this record to get the deluxe treatment over yet another version of (the admittedly great but far less profound) ‘Village Green Preservation Society’. So why is it in this lost and not the other? Well, The Kinks don’t leave their history alone. The ‘new’ songs here really are new (well, of 1998 vintage just after The Kinks had disbanded and Ray was a bit lost) and feature he older Kink returning to his old theme thirty years on with a shaky voice and a theatre group named after 1983 Kinks hit ‘Come Dancing’. Where the 1969 material still feels alive and powerful the new stuff sounds hokey and faintly ridiculous, particularly the title track re-done as a doo-wop number. Dave’s solo stuff from 1967-1969 is vastly superior and yet sounds identical to no end of other Kinks re-issues down the years, including every previous version of ‘Arthur’ and an entire 2011 retrospective ‘Hidden Treasures’. Oh and the band’s BBC recordings yet again (the fourth time round for many of these recordings). This is also the wrong set to give so many flashy unnecessary extras too: ‘Arthur’ as an album is bold and spare, a colliery band brass section the only light and shade in a crushing oppressive world. The packaging here is bold and garish and bright, full of stickers of kangaroos with boxing gloves and The Kinks’ faces in faux Victoriana. Oddly there’s no sign of the radio 4 play (see below) but there is at least a fascinating essay from screenwriter Julian Mitchell whose 1969 TV adaptation of Arthur was already to go before Granada pulled it at the eleventh hour. That leaves the interested collector just three things of true interest: a brief home demo medley of six songs, a genuinely interesting remix of ‘Australia’ that’s clearly the same take but very very different and a much-bootlegged period novelty, the moody instrumental title song for the film ‘The Ballad Of The Virgin Soldiers’, which is somehow as Ray Davies as you can get despite not featuring any of The Kinks at all. In an odd move that seems typical of the whole box, though, these are available only on vinyl and not the CDs. Arthur yet another re-issue frenzy has passed you by – but this reviewer still loves you don’tchaknowit?
The Top Five Songs Of The Year:
1) The Who “Street Song”
This whole year, perhaps this whole decade, I’ve dreamt of one of the AAA bands coming forward with the perfect song of unity to heal our troubled, broken, divided world. I would never ever have guessed that song would have come from The Who. Their hippiest song ever picks up on the old Who trick of reflecting their audience, as Pete takes up the challenge to walk out in the streets and see what the mood is. He encourages us to share our feelings, to make the ‘surpremos’ who think they can rule over us quake in their boots and gives us back the ‘strength to wail’. This street belongs to no one but the people who live and work there and we may yet get the life we long for if we come together and demand it, the fire still raging that won’t be put out even after all these years of mistakes, lies and broken promises. And if Roger Daltrey is screaming at us then maybe we will finally believe it?
2) Neil Young and Crazy Horse “Green Is Blue”
‘We fought each other while we lost our coveted prize’. The true song of the year, not only because it’s surely the most beautiful but because in many ways it’s so fitting too. Neil regrets not paying more attention when Mother Nature was crying out for help and wishes his baby boomer generation had gone forward in trying to break big business and save the planet. He also wishes that he could have seen the storms ahead in his marriage and done something to rescue them in time. There were too many distractions and now what was fertile is empty and what was land is now under, with so much we didn’t do. Neil’s quivering voice hasn’t been put to a use this good since the 1970s and his sad slow aching descending piano chords might be simple but they are a highly effective trick. Hauntingly beautiful.
3) Liam Gallagher “Once” (Demo)
‘You only get to do it once!’ Liam has been writing about his struggles to come to terms with being in the best band, certainly of the 1990s, for the best part of a decade now. This is one of his best songs on the subject, remembering the early days of Oasis when the brothers were ‘uncool’ and ‘damaged’ before music set them free. He admired how much his brother ‘used to shine’ back then and would give anything to turn back the clock and do it all again – but at the same time in his heart of hearts Liam knows how lucky he was to do that even once, something few people are ever lucky enough to do. The final ‘hit’ version is strong anyway, though I could have done without the plodding tempo and syrupy strings. The definitive take though is Liam singing over his own simple plucked guitar on a vocal that’s full of such feeling and need you could well believe it dated back to the time when he was ‘damaged’ and about to be the rock and roll star to end them all.
4) Belle and Sebastian “This Letter”
‘Teenage dreams never do what they’re meant to do’ Equally one-time B+S band member Isobel Campbell, one-time girlfriend and always muse of Stuart Murdoch, still dominates his work a full fifteen years after they split. A simpler production number than many songs of late, this one has Stuart singing alone to some flamenco picked guitar for the most part as he uses the old Stephen Stills trick of writing a letter to an ex he can’t contact anymore (‘but sending it in a song rather than through the mail’). Though he has another life now Stuart still dreams of what they had together, longs to meet ‘in another life’ and feels bad about the parts he messed up. Stuart wishes he had the ‘boundless energy’ he used to have in his youth and realises that it was wasted on him then – it’s now he’s paralysed and sloth-like he needs the energy to move on with his life. Mick Cooke’s gorgeous trumpet plays the perfect solo in the middle too.
5) Allan Clarke “I’m Comin’ Home”
‘Finally got my thing together, I couldn’t let this moment pass by, no more standing on the edge, I’m going to jump and hope to fly!’ Though much of Clarkey’s new album is, in truth, a bit patchy and his growly voice a tad alarming, his new album’s closing number is a true masterpiece as he gets everything right. ‘I’ve been away too long’ he sings ‘I’m coming home’ as he vows to ‘move away from the crossroads’ and ‘into the start of a new day’. A strong production adds the instruments in one by one until they build up into a true singalong and the reflective melody could have been straight off one of those gorgeous late-1970s Hollies albums.
The Top Two TV/Radio Documentaries Of The Year:
1) “Reel Stories” (Noel Gallagher, Channel 4, July 2019)
Even though his new music sucks big time, Noel remains one of rock’s wittiest raconteurs. ‘Reel Stories’ is an occasional series that has Mark Lawson showing celebrities clips from their past and those of their heroes on a giant cinema screen and gets them to expand on them a little more. You would have thought after Noel’s laugh-out-loud director’s commentary for the ‘Time Flies’ collection of Oasis promos there would be nothing left to say, but there is. You get to see Noel talking about his first experience of live music (‘five Irish guys up on stage singing ‘Catch me If You Can’ while drinking lemonade and eating crisps’), laugh at Oasis’ TV debut on ‘The Word’ (‘When I watch footage of those days and see what ‘m wearing it looks like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes – someone two stone heavier than me and four foot taller!’), fame (‘It’s an amazing feeling that you’re the same age as your audience and there’s about a year when you make your name’), the rivalry with Blur (Mark very bravely shows the clip of the band beating them to #1 on TOTP), the band’s Manchester homecoming (where Noel went back later to sit on an empty stage remembering the gig), a NorthWest Tonight local news item at the Gallagher’s mam’s house he didn’t even see and Sadly none of his horrific appearance on The Big Breakfast makes the list though (I’d love to know what he’d make of that now!), doesn’t even recognise the first line-up of his backing band The High Flying Birds (my wife said after I’d been hanging round the house for a while ‘are you making another record then? I think you should…’) and looks visibly moved at the shots of the crowd at the Manchester Arena Bombings tribute spontaneously breaking out into a chorus of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. Best line: ‘Warm-up before I go on? No way – that’s what the first song’s for!’ Classic stuff with Noel on top form, I just wish more people had seen it –as far as I know the show was only on in a mid-afternoon slot and wasn’t repeated.
2) Noisey: Liam Gallagher (Online 2019)
Not to be outdone, this clip of the younger Gallagher is less revealing but the most hysterically funny thing I’ve seen in a long time. Liam faces the toughest crowd he’s ever had to face: a bunch of no-bullshitting children from a primary school who really keep him on his toes. Liam gets asked by the cutest ‘rosy-cheeked’ five-year old how he deals with his anger management issues (!) and gets asked ‘do you work for The Sun?!’, what his favourite Disney film is (‘Finding Nemo’) and whether he gets sweets after a good gig (‘sort of’ is Liam’s shifty response). Liam manages to get in that his brother is ‘dead naughty’ and ‘about as tall as you!’ A good question that I’ve always wanted to know gets asked by a kid at the front and Liam says the first song he ever sang in front of a crowd was his own song ‘Take Me’ and – against all the odds remembering not to swear – he tells the kids ‘it was rubbish!’ Other strong questions include his favourite city (Paris, surprisingly) and his favourite song (‘Live Forever’ because ‘it reminds me of my mam’). Liam inevitably gets asked – as anybody will when they spend enough time around the five-year-old market - what his favourite fart is and after looking confused admits to liking them loud, much to the amusement of the class. When asked a follow-up question about what he did at school when he was their age Liam replies, no doubt honestly, that he ‘used to look out the window, stare at the clouds and do loud farts’, urging the class that this is what they want to do if they want to become a big rockstar like him. The teacher was no doubt fainting at this point but the interview turns nasty just as this point where Liam admits to being a fan of Manchester City and is then royally teased by the surprisingly high amount of United fans that his team’s well rubbish. ‘You want me to kick off don’t you!’ Liam jests, ‘you kids are evil!’ You can tell though that he hasn’t had this much fun in years – especially when he gets a gift of a card featuring his favourite football player - and neither has the class. Will they all grow up to be future rockstars and have their own AAA book written about them in twenty years’ time? Let’s see…
3)“Arthur” (Ray Davies Play, Radio 4, November 2019)
‘Well, I mean it’s not like I’m grumpy or anything but I waited bleeding fifty years for that? Seventy minutes that was twenty minutes of plot and fifty of sinagalong? Rather than stick to the unscreened Julian Mitchell TV play that Granada cancelled at the eleventh hour in 1969 instead this was a different bleeding script that was less a fascinating expose about the decline and fall of the British Empire that led a hard-working ex-soldier to up sticks and move out and more about the impact my immigration had on the Davies family (especially that young Raymond who used to live with me and my Rosie). Very fun and all that and the bits of me son Terry and me nephews Raymond and David making up fake radio broadcasts for their fictional group was very meta and all that, but mostly this was an excuse for the cast to sing along to the soundtrack badly. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the cast a lot who did the best they could with the material. That Lee Ross is a decent bloke and a mighty fine actor and I liked him a lot in ‘Press Gang’, one of the greatest TV series of them all. I was pleased he was playing me. But even I don’t sing that badly! Also just stick with the records if you need background music; Raymond’s obsession with The Crouch End Chorus all but ruined some bleeding lovely material too. And why they suddenly stuck some random modern songs in there and some bits and pieces like 1968 Kinks outtake ‘Pictures In The Sand’ and old classic ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is anyone’s guess. I mean we moved to bleeding Australia to get away from London or at least I did and yeah they have a lot of sand in Oz Ray I get it alright son, but there are lots of far more suitable Kinks Klassiks that would have worked better there: ‘Long Way From Home’ and ‘This Time Tomorrow’ from the point of view of a family on a bleeding plane for two. Admittedly some of the plot points worked a treat. I liked it when the Davies’ family turned up on an Australian Kinks tour and we never thought we’d see each other again and we had a shouting match and a good cry and a sing song, the way families do. I liked the hints at political events in 2019 too with Britain joining the European Union in the 1970s and all. But the emotional plotbeats were all wrong, especially the bits about me sister-in-law Rene dying he night after giving Ray a guitar for his birthday which belonged in another bleeding play entirely. Where was the war? I know I mentioned losing me brother but there was more in the war that shaped me than that. I thought I was fighting for the good of all of us, not the chance to be passed over by men younger and fitter than me come Armistice Day. And making me out to be a Brexiteer? Me? I mean the Arthur I know from the record is worn-down and cynical enough to see through the eyes of bleeding Boris Johnson, I can tell you that much. I’d have been for Corbyn and his belated promise of a post-war world where the ordinary working man that always gets overlooked like me are given a bleeding chance! Plus I’m not that bleeding grumpy all the time am I? Well am I? And it was all worth it wasn’t it? Well, wasn’t it?!? Let’s just say Arthur we love you as an album and all that but it never quite worked as a play. Oh and one last mystery, where was bleeding Princess Marina? It was the only one of the album tracks absent without leave and I like that bleeding song! Nice try though kid – there’s a great play in here somewhere’.
The (Only?) Two DVDs Of The Year:
1) David Crosby “I Remember My Name”
Fifty years ago Crosby Stills and Nash were the coolest band on the planet. They had everything: the looks, the talent, the harmonies, the songs, the rock credentials, the political nous and a ready-made following after stints in The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies. Nobody but nobody around in 1969 would have put money on, well, firstly the four of them still being around a half-century later but also releasing a DVD like this one. Croz and director friend Cameron Crowe got together to make what is effectively a visual rendition of Crosby’s no-hold-barred autobiography ‘Long Time Gone’ with what they called a no bullshit tell-the-truth warts-and-all documentary that not only didn’t shy away from the bad bits but focussed on them. All of Crosby’s past bandmates were encouraged to take part and as Croz himself says he pissed off every single one of them at some stage. ‘The sad truth’ David wrote on the single most unmissable twitter musician profile out there, ‘is that all of them hate me’. What happened next speaks volume about both the magnetism and the man: Roger MGuinn got in touch to say ‘I don’t hate you! We’re buddies aren’t we?’ to which Crosby eagerly asked about meeting up to go on the road. ‘Ah’ said his fellow Byrd, ‘David I might love you dearly but that doesn’t mean I could ever work with you again!’ The result is clearly meant to be brave and courageous and everything the 1969 CSN were. But alas mostly it just seems really sad as Crosby spends an hour apologising for being an asshole and wonders why nobody will play with him any more while he sadly wanders around the ghosts of Mama Cass’ flat remembering her parties where Crosby was the person everyone made a beeline for and staring up at the outside of the house Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell lived in. The footage of Crosby as he lives now, in a tiny house with a cheap car still trying to make art that will last that few people seem to listen to and even less bother to pay him for, is frustratingly agonisingly sad especially when seen back to back with footage of his heyday. Even the moving ending, when Crosby talks about death only to get one of the greatest on-camera hugs of the silver screen from his wife Jan isn’t quite enough to cheer you up. But you know the darkest hour is always just before the dawn. Maybe we will get a happier follow-up when things roll around and all of Crosby’s buddies come round with guitars again? Till then is this DVD worth getting? Yes, but for reasons other than the ones you probably bought it for.
2) Neil Young and Crazy Horse “Mountaintop”
Not yet out on DVD but screened in cinemas and I don’t have a column for that, so here it goes. Oh dear. While the album it’s meant to be promoting (‘Colorado’) sees Neil re-discovering how to communicate with his audience in songs they might understand the attendant documentary finds him in oddly uncommunicative form even for him. Crazy Horse are back with Nils Lofgren replacing Frank Sampedro after forty odd years and Neil is back in the barn on his ‘Broken Arrow’ ranch where many of his best albums were made. It sounds like a recipe for a decent documentary, but isn’t as mostly Neil gets crotchety at his bandmates, engineers and with himself. I’m not sure ‘fun’ is quite the word that springs to mind for any Neil Young sessions (except ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ and ‘Zuma’ maybe) but this album looks like hard work and the music is much nicer to listen to than it is to watch.
The Top Ten AAA Releases Of The Decade 2010-2019:
We said in our review that this year’s overall AAA winner ‘WHO’ was a candidate for one of the top ten albums of the decade and so it is, coming in at #5 on this list I would say (though rather than simply talk about it here again, think of this list as a ‘best ten other AAA albums of the decade’ although we have added them to our playlist). As another ten years closes though what were the best AAA albums of the twenty-teens according to us? Interestingly not the albums that gained the critical plaudits at large at all – the top three all but disappeared, the fourth was actively hated and only the eight and tenth entries sold all that well. Oh well, maybe that’s just us but for my money these are the albums that really showed a growth spurt this year as AAA bands found new ways of expressing what it means to be alive in the 21st century. It’s interesting to compare to our list from ten years when there were two Beach Boys at the top of the list (Brian Wilson finally releasing ‘Smile’ and the issuing – at last – of Dennis Wilson’s unfinished ‘Bambu’ set in a double-disc pack along with ‘Pacific Ocean Blues’ plus Paul McCartney reinventing himself; by comparison ‘New’ makes this list because it was Paul finally going back to the sort of thing he does best). Note too that for the purposes of variation we’ve only included one album per artists in this list, although I don’t think there would have been too much difference even with multiple entries in the end. I do worry about whether we’ll have many entries at all in a decade’s time, now that our acts are getting older and retiring en masse but, well, that’s next decade’s problem – this one might not have had quantity on its side either but it had plenty of quality and the best of this list is as good as anything these acts were releasing in their heyday.
1) Belle and Sebastian “Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance” (2015)
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/belle-and-sebastian-girls-in-peacetime.html )
The last few years has been a difficult time to be at least a ‘purist’ B and S fan as the band switch their charming inventive amateurishness to become a more streamlined pop band. This has backfired more often than it has worked: both 2006’s ‘The Life Pursuit’ and 2010’s ‘Write About Love’ were largely empty pop albums with only a few touches of the band’s charm and personality sticking out behind the production fog. This comeback album tough is inspired more or less from beginning to end, with songwriter Stuart Murdoch finding a new way to move his delightful characters from the margins into the glaring spotlight of pop. A flare-up of m.e. like the one that led (eventually) to the band’s creation in the mid 1990s saw Stuart briefly back into the same mindset as he returned to bed, mission half-accomplished, marvelling at the changes that have happened between then and ‘now’ twenty years later. This results in the most gorgeous and devastatingly honest song about his/our illness ever (‘Nobody’s Empire’ – few songs have made me cry this hard and for this long), ‘The Cat That Got The Cream’ which damns the Conservative-Lib Dem austerity cuts to hell, the promise that things will be better if we just hold on that is ‘Ever Had A Little Faith’ and ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ (which starts off as a typical B and S song about a sad lonely mixed-up kid before Stuart realises that isn’t him anymore and he breaks the fourth wall to reach out and give his narrator a ‘faith’ she doesn’t have that things will get better but which the writer now does). It is, in short, an album that both begins and ends up in bed, the narrator’s soul desperate for peace, but in between he’s been on one hell of a journey of learning and the return there isn’t quite the tragedy it might have been with so much achieved and understood to ponder. Yes the tunes are also top-notch with several singalong moments and a quite dazzling array of instrumental styles too (‘The Everlasting Muse’ is an eastern Europe Eurovision song!) while the production somehow allows everything room to breathe and glow, accentuating the Belle and Sebastian-ness rather than overshadowing it. However it’s the spot-on lyrics and the great big heart at the centre that makes ‘Peacetime’ the overlooked gem it is, an album that does everything a great album should: shine a light in the darkness and make our agonies easier to bear.
2) Beady Eye “Different Gear, Still Speeding” (2011)
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/news-views-and-music-issue-93-beady-eye.html )
When Oasis blew up big time in 2008 (involving a backstage fracas, flying guitars and fruit) Noel Gallagher split with a new band in ‘High Flying Birds’ (a name nicked from Jefferson Airplane), most of the band’s songwriting chops, a sizeable collection of classy band outtakes to pick from and pretty much all the momentum. However it was the rest of the band who made the must-have Oasis album of the decade, even if it was a commercial failure on release. There’s a wigged-out, sleepy confused vibe to ‘Still Speeding’ as Liam, Andy and Gem tried to come to terms with this sudden lurch in their fortunes. Presumably the album did so badly because, compared to Oasis, not much happens – but not much happens in a quite mesmerizingly beautiful way. The best of the album also blew all those cobwebs away: the sneeringly retro ‘Beatles and Stones’ that out-boasts anything Oasis ever did, the Noel-baiting ‘Three-Ring Circus’, the aching ‘Kill For A Dream’ and best of all the epic ‘Wigwam’ which starts as a song of defeat and depression and somehow claws it’s way bloodied back into the fight again, ‘coming up’ to try what life has to offer again. There’s a real 1960s psychedelia shine too which might be one of the reasons I love it, while the Beatle references are kept to a minimum – instead it sounds, fittingly, like a combination of what Lennon and McCartney got up to when The Beatles split (with Liam admitting that he’d been listening to the deluxe McCartney archive re-issues of ‘McCartney’ ‘Ram’ and ‘Band On The Run’, while the album recalls the Lennon/Plastic Ono Band ‘primal scream’ album too). However what I love most about this album is how much it plays with what had become something of an Oasis template by 2011 and this is an album that is always trying to do something new and bold (interestingly its only the two true Oasis soundalike songs that don’t work that well). More fans should have taken advantage of that offer but, alas, after a confidence-dented experimental sequel ‘Be’ Beady Eye disbanded and called it a day. As great as Liam’s two solo albums have been, this is the album that stretched him and pushed him to greatness this decade and brought out new layers in his voice and songwriting we’d never heard before, with Andy and Gem also reaching a creative peak.
3) Graham Nash “This Path Tonight” (2016)
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/graham-nash-this-path-tonight-2016.html )
CSN/Y have had a truly wretched decade. We left them in 2010 still licking the wounds from a Rick Rubins-produced covers album that fell apart while later years have seen them bruised from the publication of autobiographies and fallings-out over each other’s various divorces and new marriages. It has all been very dysfunctional even for this family. However some of the music has been great, better than anything since the late 1990s. Graham’s sixth solo album for instance is a true gem that’s gloriously consistent, a ten-track discussion of what it’s like to suddenly change and uproot your life in your seventies as he ends nearly forty years of marriage to take up with a younger wife in a new home and living in a new state while trying to accept that it might be the last chapter his story has. There are several beautiful new songs dealing with the need to express yourself (‘Myself At Last’), of becoming irrelevent (‘Golden Days’), of death (‘Encore’ and the ghostly album highlight ‘Back Home’) and I can even forgive Nash the need to stop propping up the good ship CSN, watching it disintegrate as he walks away from the mast (‘Beneath The Waves’). We may or may not get another CSN/Y record: things are softening between these old friends, even if this the longest they have I think ever been openly mad at each other in their history. Our world nearly needs it in this fractured and confused day and age and a little of their hippie hope would go a long way to giving us healing in the decade to come. Even if that never comes, however, we got at least two of the best CSN solo albums in years which still makes this a very fine path to walk indeed. A hauntingly beautiful album about change and growth that also makes as a fine companion to debut masterpiece ‘Songs For Beginners’ – Nash may be older and a little bit wiser, but starting over again reminds him that he’s really still a beginner working out how to do things and so, it often feels listening to this album, are we.
4) Neil Young “The Visitor” (2017)
(Reviewed in full https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/neil-young-and-promise-of-real-visitor.html )
Choosing my favourite album by the man whose still the AAA’s most prolific writer was surprisingly hard this decade (unlike last time, when ‘Prairie Wind’ was the only album of Neil’s that could truly be called great). I was torn between the clever GMO hectoring of ‘The Monsanto Years’ (2012), the album of guilt and loss for wife Pegi just before their divorce (‘Storytone’ 2014) and the protest songs to sing in the streets (2016’s ‘Peace Trail’) and this year’s ‘Colorado’, all of which would be worthy entries on this list. However the album I keep going back to is ‘The Visitor’, our generation’s ‘On The Beach’ (but, controversially, an album I like rather better). Many people before me have compared Donald Trump to Richard Nixon (‘I never knew a man who could tell so many lies’) and without saying so directly Neil delivers a damning testimonial to where our world is at in 2019, everyone packed up with bags ready to leave but no longer with a safe destination to leave for. Along the way Neil protests that his adopted home country is ‘Already Great’, laughs at the tightrope act his love-life has become on the surreal, terrifying ‘Carnival’ (with creepier laughs than any horror movie) and ties the whole thing together with the rambling ten minute epic ‘Forever’, a song that despite the name is very much about today. The album’s masterpiece though is ‘Change Of Heart’, a song that tries to do just that as a young Neil learns that it’s better to be kind than angry and to look for peace not war, wishing that the world around him would one day learn those lessons too. Neil’s stripped-down first-thought last-thought sound has torpedoed more albums than it’s raised lately but here even the rough edges work, with backing band The Promise Of The Real overcoming a shaky performance on ‘Monsanto’ to really deliver the goods here. All in all a most glorious decade music-wise for Neil after a bit of a hiccup last decade, whatever the downturn in sales might suggest.
5) Paul Simon “So Beautiful Or So What?” (2011)
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/news-views-and-music-issue-107-paul.html )
Paul has, as per usual, only released two albums of new material this decade and both were patchy. This one just edges out ‘Stranger To Stranger’ courtesy of it’s unusual free-flowing form and the backing band who for the first time unites Paul’s American, African and Brazilian interests. Much of the album is a grand debate about what it means to grow older and be close to death, something that’s long been a hypothetical discussion on albums since Paul was young but now treated with real purpose and concern now that Paul is reaching his twilight years. He comes to many different conclusions: that life is short, too short to stay mad at people (‘Getting Ready For Christmas day’), what life is for when stripped down to its essence (‘Love Is Eternal, Scared Light’) and whether anybody really cares what you did in your life when you’re gone (the title track). There’s even a comedy interlude on ‘The Afterlife’ when Paul imagines himself in Heaven filling in paperwork, his riches and fame stripped away until all that’s left of him to carry on into the next life is ‘the snatch of a song’ as he goes back to his doo-wop roots. The real answer though, you sense, is the love song to wife Edie Brickell ‘Dazzling Blue’ which even after all these years is probably the best romantic song Paul ever wrote, married life a painting that’s magically come to life. There are as ever some really dodgy tracks but the good stuff here is truly great and overall this is one of the more carefully plotted and formulated AAA CDs, one that really hangs together track by track as every song more or less asks the same question but gets some very different answers. Paul sounds great too, more invested in these songs than some of his other albums.
6) Cat Stevens “The Laughing Apple” (2017)
(Reviewed in full at https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/cat-stevens-laughing-apple-2017.html )
On paper this sounds like a stupid idea: Yusuf Islam reverts back to his ‘Cat Stevens’ name for the first time since 1978 on an album of songs from the old days he considered unfinished – some of it we got and it sounded pretty great to me (four songs from 1968’s ‘New Masters’, released outtake ‘I’ve Got A Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old’) and others that were abandoned partway through (such as ‘Tillerman’ outtake ‘Mary’s Little Lamb’ or ‘You Can Do’ dropped for being too close to ‘If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out!’) Somehow this works: Cat was always an old soul and wrote songs that his teenage self could never quite pull off, but now here he is in his seventies at the age he once wrote about still largely the same person. What other artist could leave so much of his old material untouched and still have it sound like it was written today not fifty years ago? The best of it is when Cat’s youthful fears and angst get answered: he no longer has to worry about living to see his grandchildren grow old – he’s there now at that age and it all came true. The best songs though are two I’ve never heard reference to before and which are so utterly utterly Cat Stevens, the children playing song ‘Mighty Peace’ and the pained song about prejudice ‘Don’t Blame Them’. Against all odds this hodgepodge collection of leftovers ended up becoming exactly the tonic the world needed at the start of Brexit and during the first stirrings of Trump, a triumph to match even ‘Roadsinger’ (the second ‘comeback’ album that scored mighty highly on last decade’s list).
7) David Crosby and Friends “Here If You Listen” (2018)
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2018/10/david-crosby-and-friends-here-if-you.html )
One of the biggest surprises since our last list a decade ago is that David Crosby has come from nowhere to be the decade’s second most prolific AAA artist (behind old colleague Neil, naturally). He’s delivered four albums this decade as the passing of time, ill health and the bust-ups with old friends drive him to make the most of what time he has left. While the first three albums (2012’s ‘Croz’ 2016’s ‘Lighthouse’ and 2017’s ‘Sky Trails’) are sporadically brilliant with some career highs sprinkled through them the one that really got to me is the latest, an album that sounds nothing like anything else in Croz’s career and yet the album it seemed inevitable he would make one day. A near-enough live acoustic album, it’s thoughtful and mellow, full of jazz tunings and sumptuous vocals from colleagues Michael league, Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. It’s nothing like CSN in feel or style and yet somehow it all makes perfect sense as the album slowly unfurls like a flower. The best songs deal with mortality, Crosby ‘thinking about dying and how to do it good’ on ‘Your Own Ride’ or feeling fragile like a balloon ‘Balanced On A Pin’ that could go pop at any moment. However he doesn’t sound on the edge of death and has rarely sung so well across a whole CD – even the two dips back into the archives (for the demo tapes ‘1967’ and ‘1974’) sound amazingly like the current Croz, still marching to the beat of his own detuned drum and delivering thoughtful music like nobody else.
8) Paul McCartney “New” (2013)
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/paul-mccartney-new-2013-album-review.html )
By contrast, this is Macca going back to doing what he was put on this Earth to do and doing it right, after a full seven years of dabbling with romantic crooning and (the admittedly quite brilliant) third album as ‘The Fireman’. Four different producers led to four different ways of making this album and not all of them worked – if I never get to hear the likes of playground chant ‘Queenie Eye’ again then that will be fine by me. However the best of this album is as good as anything in that great songbook and for the first time in a long time the love songs sparkle the shiniest, with Paul’s third wife Nancy Shevell bringing out a whole new sense of joy and wonder in The Beatle’s work. ‘Hosanna’ is the album’s masterpiece’, a ‘Revolver’ style collage of tape loops and backward riffs that underpins a very simple song about love and faith and makes it sound like the most profound thing in the universe. It’s closely matched by a track about even he being ‘Scared’ to admit his feelings of love for his new wife in case he’s rejected, hidden away as an unlisted album track because Pau’s too embarrassed for ‘us’ to hear it too. It is, though, a triumph: a moment of such realness and rawness in an otherwise typical lush production number. Add in the scarier ‘Long and Winding’ sequel named simply ‘Road’, the Beatle memory ‘Early Days’ messing about as nobodies in Liverpool and the funky modern pastiche ‘Looking At Her’ that makes fun of the paparazzi while paying tribute again to Nancy and you have a real winner, light years ahead of the other often awful albums Paul has been making lately (what on earth happened with ‘Egypt Station’? That was unlistenable!)
9) Mark Knopfler “Tracker” (2015)
(Reviewed at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/dire-straits-livesolocompilation-albums_25.html )
Ever since Dire Straits were officially disbanded and Mark went solo in 1996 fans have known what to expect: laidback acoustic folk songs about rural life in the North of England of any century Mark chooses, sometimes with blues, rock or country hybrids just to shake things up. ‘Tracker’ is no different to the five albums before it and yet it is slowly growing its way to become my favourite of all his solo works. Though the album barely breaks a sweat there’s plenty of pathos in the lyrics as Mark mythologizes the common man, from the Northern drop-outs of ‘River Town’ to his old journalist buddies on ‘Beryl’ and his own pre-Straits past on ‘Laughs and Drinks and Smokes and Jokes’. Best of all, though, is when Mark remembers where he is in his newly stable life in America and pays tribute to his wife, with ‘Long Cool Girl’ my candidate for Knopfler’s greatest love song since ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Beautiful, tranquil and moving, ‘Tracker’ is one of those albums to get quietly lost in with nothing much to break the mood.
10) The Monkees “Good Times” (2016)
(Reviewed in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-monkees-good-times-2016-or-are-they.html )
Perhaps the greatest surprise of the last ten years has been the rehabilitation of The Monkees from TV boyband cash-in to pioneering artists ahead of their time. About time too: like many fans I groaned during the run-up to the reunions in 1986 and 196 when the world started up the ‘but they don’t play their own instruments’ thing again, even though so many bands don’t play nowadays and don’t actually do anything bar appear on the covers of their albums (without having a weekly TV series to make in their ‘spare time’). Maybe it was the sad loss of Davy Jones in 2012 and Peter Tork earlier this year, or the release of several excellent books pointing out how daring The Monkees really were, or maybe everybody just caught up to what they were all about. Anyways, ‘Good Times’ – the first Monkee record in twenty years – was one of the biggest AAA sellers of all this decade and for several good reasons. The dips into the vaults were well handled, allowing Davy, writers Boyce and Hart, friend Harry Nilsson and producer Chip Douglas to join in the party, whilst a whole host of new friends were invited to write the new songs (including Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher who skipped the pre-teen friendly fare of most of the record and went straight for the ‘Pisces Aquarius’ heavy psychedelia era with album highlight ‘Birth Of An Accidental Hipster’). I’m not sure I quite got as caught up into the whole thing as some fans – it is, after all, basically a Micky Dolenz solo album with a couple of guest parts and with only two original songs it’s not the most creative project the band ever worked on. However at its best – usually when Micky is blending his voice with Mike Nesmith in a blend that’s still infinitely powerful considering they hadn’t even met until the last run of auditions (‘Me and Magdelena’ is just gorgeous) – this is still a powerful record full of pretty pop and just enough songs that dig that bit deeper.
What will we be choosing in another decade? Will we even still be here in another decade?!? Come join us for flipping News, Views and Music Issue 7042 or whatever we’re up to by then and we’ll see!
The Alan's Album Archives E-Books
Released In 2019:
In January 2019: ‘High Time – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Grateful Dead’ 16 In-Depth Reviews, 200 Archive sets, 279 Songs, 815 Pages
In February 2019: ‘Unknown Delight – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…George Harrison’ 11 In-Depth Reviews, 155 Songs, 383 Pages
In March 2019: ‘Reflections Of A Time Long Past – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Hollies’ 21 In-Depth Reviews, 360 Songs, 743 Pages
In April 2019: ‘Wild Thyme – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship’ 21 In-Depth Reviews, 238 Songs, 667 Pages
In May 2019: ‘Little Girl Blue – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Janis Joplin’ 4 In-Depth Reviews, 104 Songs, 262 Pages
In June 2019: ‘Maximum Consumption – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Kinks’ 23 In-Depth Reviews, 370 Songs, 860 Pages
In July 2019: ‘Remember – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…John Lennon’ 7 In-Depth Reviews, 116 Songs, 173 Pages
In August 2019: ‘Passing Ghosts – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Lindisfarne’ 19 In-Depth Reviews, 279 Songs, 540 Pages
In September 2019: ‘Smile Away – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Paul McCartney and Wings’ 22 In-Depth Reviews, 408 Songs, 932 Pages
In October 2019: ‘Every Step Of The Way – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of….The Monkees’ 13 In-Depth Reviews, 266 Songs, 60 TV Episodes+Specials, 1014 Pages
In November 2019: ‘New Horizons – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Moody Blues’ 18 In-Depth Reviews, 228 Songs, 659 Pages
In December 2019: ‘Little By Little – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Oasis’ 14 In-Depth Reviews, 240 Songs, 570 Pages
‘Add Some Music To Your Day – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Beach Boys’ 29 In-Depth Reviews, 419 Songs, 918 Pages
‘Every Little Thing – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Beatles’ 13 In-Depth Reviews, 300 Songs, 799 Pages
‘Rollercoaster Ride – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Belle and Sebastian’ 10 In-Depth Reviews, 178 Songs, 398 Pages
‘Flying On The Ground Is Wrong – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Buffalo Springfield’ 3 In-Depth Reviews, 61 Songs, 289 Pages
‘All The Things – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Byrds’ 12 In-Depth Reviews, 194 Songs, 627 Pages
‘Change Partners – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Crosby Stills and Nash’ 37 In-Depth Reviews, 489 Songs, 978 Pages
‘Solid Rock – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Dire Straits’ 6 In-Depth Reviews, 60 Songs, 342 Pages
‘Music Arcade – An Alan’s Album Archives Selection Box’ Includes Extracts From All 31 Books, Endless Quantities Of Songs, 646 Pages
AAA Books Due In 2020:
In January 2020: ‘Watch The Stars – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Pentangle’ 11 In-Depth Reviews, 131 Songs, 472 Pages
In February 2020: ‘Remember A Day – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Pink Floyd’ 14 In-Depth Reviews, 176 Songs, 690 Pages
In March 2020 ‘A Change Gonna Come – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Otis Redding’ 6 In-Depth Reviews, 141 Songs, 296 Pages
In April 2020: ‘Yesterday’s Papers – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Rolling Stones’ 22 In-Depth Reviews, 389 Songs, 836 Pages
In May 2020: ‘Once Upon A Time – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Searchers’ 8 In-Depth Reviews, 179 Songs, 355 Pages
In June 2020: ‘Patterns – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Simon and Garfunkel’ 26 In-Depth Reviews, 389 Songs, 715 Pages
In July 2020: ‘All Our Yesterdays – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Small Faces’ 6 In-Depth Reviews, 101 Songs, 462 Pages
In August 2020: ‘One Day At A Time – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Cat Stevens’ 15 In-Depth Reviews, 135 Songs, 434 Pages
In September 2020: ‘Memories– The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…10cc’ 12 In-Depth Reviews, 145 Songs, 400 Pages
In October 2020: ‘Getting’ In Tune – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Who’ 12 In-Depth Reviews, 225 Songs, 615 Pages
In November 2020: ‘Here We Are In The Years – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Neil Young’ 40 In-Depth Reviews, 438 Songs, 1036 Pages
In December 2020: ‘A Scrapbook Of Madness – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Alan’s Album Archives’ 11 Time-Travelling April Fool’s Day Issues, 250 News, Views and Music Newsletters, 1600 Pages
See you next year for more news, views, music and e-books!