THE OLD GUARD SALUTE: THE UPSIDE NEWS TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2017 (BY ARTISTS WHO ACTUALLY MADE THEIR FIRST RECORDINGS WHEN MOST OF US WERE YET TO START SCHOOL!

Brian Eno once sang the immortal lines: ‘Some of them are old / Some of them are new / Some of them will turn up when you least expect them to…’ and in 2017, some old rock personalities did turn up again, and in many cases, unexpectedly!

Here are 20 excellent albums, released over the last twelve months, by people most would have quite reasonably have expected to have drifted off into our musical histories for good…

  1. Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock

(1st recordings 1977)

Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock’s prolific album output over the years has, thankfully, seen him retain his intriguing, amusing and surrealistic lyric-writing ability, but, too often, too many songs on his later albums have been rendered a little pedestrian due to his melodic muse having deserted him.

On this, the first eponymously titled album of his career, he finally finds the key to welding his words to tunes that compliment the quality of his wry observations of the world to create a wondrous melange of neo-psychedelic sound that will win over even the most fervent supporters of the Musical Temperance Movement. Years of abstinence from listening to anything outside of the repetitive dross determined by the algorithms created by the laptops of popular music programmers will be rendered nothing more than a bad dream, and liberation will be embraced as request lines jam with callers demanding to hear Hitchcockian masterpieces such as Mad Shelley’s Letterbox, 1970 In Aspic, Autumn Sunglasses  and Sayonara Judge.

Backed by the cream of Nashville’s musicians, Hitchcock has made the album he has been threatening to make for decades. A triumph from start to finish.

  1. Peter Perrett – How The West Was Won

(1st recordings 1973. Last studio album released 1996)

peter perrett how the west was won

In the late 1970’s the omnipresent sound of Peter Perrett’s voice dominated all discerning clubs and parties across the Western world. Another Girl, Another Planet was the most fantastic, addictive singalong ode to heroin addiction ever committed to a 7” record, and Perrett’s band, The Only Ones, released some of the greatest albums of the late seventies which still hold up remarkably well today.

The all-consuming energy needed to relentlessly chasing the dragon often takes away all productive urges, and Perrett personal battle with the drug has robbed him of a stellar career and, no doubt, of the opportunity to write and record a whole catalogue of classic rock songs.

2017’s How The West Was Won bestows a number of valuable gifts upon the listener: first and foremost of which is the transportative experience of hearing Perrett’s laconic drawl emanating crystal-clearly from the speakers once more. It has been much too long of a wait.

Poignantly, his survivor status is enhanced by the fact his backing band on this record is made up, for the most part, of his progeny. Sons, Jamie and Peter Jr., play guitars and bass on the record and it is clear that the gene pool has ensured that the boys are simpatico with their father’s sound and vision.

Opening with the title track, which initially sounds like the Velvet Underground playing ONJ’s If Not For You and has Perrett admitting his admiration for Kim Kardashian of all people, the album is chock-full of surprising delights.

Perrett’s romantic streak, always worn on his sleeve, is brought to the fore on tracks like Troika, Man Of Extremes and C. Voyeurger. The fact his voice has been preserved and sounds exact, in timbre, pitch and timing, as it did when he first committed his vocals to tape, is an astonishing thing and allows you to more readily accept the adolescent view of love being proffered here as being totally authentic. It is as if the singer has been asleep for years and has woken up a middle aged man with the mindset of a man in his youth.

In fact, listening to the album is actually akin to a form of time travel. Turn the volume up, lights off, close your eyes and I defy you not to think it is 1979 all over again. Maybe heroin suspends time in more ways than one?

Sweet Endeavour, however, does reflect on the cost of the chemically affected life decisions he has made, clearly evident when Perrett sings: ‘To live the life you must be fluid. / Don’t think about it, just do it, / then live in denial. / It doesn’t last forever, / it took you for a ride. / In life’s sweet endeavour / you never really tried. / You had to grab the moment, / you never crossed that bridge. / Every time a token attempt, / the journey made you sick…’

The album closes with Perrett offering up this final verse – ‘Sometimes I go walking in the dark / I’m waitig for fate to jump out at me / Feels like I’m walking in the shoes of another man / Someone who refused to ever follow the plan’ – before imploring us all to do something we should all consider doing – ‘Take me home’.

 A beautiful affecting return to our turntables, How The West Was Won is, simultaneously a sad admission of wasted chances, whilst being a glorious celebration of the craft of song-writing.

  1. Steven Wilson – To The Bone

(1st recordings 1983)

steven wilson

Steven Wilson’s latest album has polarised opinion – some seeing it as a commercial sell-out, hypocritically seeking commercial chart success; whilst others seeing it as another example of Wilson’s impeccable skill as a musician, composer and lyricist.

There is no doubt that the album is not as intrinsically satisfying as his last solo album, and career highpoint, Hand.Cannot.Erase. But, when you are talking about an artist of this calibre, that initial mild sense of disappointment does not overrule the fact that this album is another beautifully recorded and played addition to Wilson’s canon of work.

The album did achieve levels of commercial success never seen before in Wilson’s long history of recording – making the UK top 5 on the album chart – and it does contain the closest thing to a hit single that he has ever recorded, Permanating, which was duly added to commercial radio playlists across Britain – fuelling the criticisms of those who selfishly wanted to keep Wilson’s music a closely held personal secret of the ‘knowing minority’.

There is a greater sense of musical diversity on this record than earlier efforts, and although it is hard to ascertain where the declared influence of Abba is evident (beyond the pristine production values), there is no doubt that the accessibility of the material to as broad an audience as possible was a critical criterion in the recording process.

The buoyant beat of the opening track, To The Bone, starts the journey, before we are taken into the Pink Floydish, Nowhere Now, beginning with the confessional line: ‘Six feet underground / we move backwards now / at the speed of sound…’ before the retro sounding, Pete Townshend influenced, guitar kicks us into a headspace above the clouds…

Duetting with Ninet Tayeb, Wilson presents us with a beautiful prog rock ballad, Pariah, which has some delightful Purple Rain rhythm echoes. Tayeb’s Bonnie Tyler-esque voice does compliment Wilson’s vocals here, but the raw Wilson solo demo version available on the deluxe version is, perversely, in many ways, superior.

Soaring rock guitar opens the album’s centrepiece, The Same Asylum As Before – a song which would have easily fit onto any of the Porcupine Tree albums released between 2000 and 2005. Despite featuring Wilson, at times, in falsetto voice (not his strongest mode), the song showcases Wilson’s exceptional guitar playing and is a future rock classic.

Refuge features harmonica playing – a Wilson first? – and serves as a fulsome sweep through neo-progressive rock signatures: soaring synth and guitar solos set to pounding rhythmical drum rolls before finishing with an introspective, delicate piano coda.

Permanating’s jauntiness comes as a shock initially. It does sound like a hybrid of a song you would expect to hear from bands such as Tears For Fears or other like-minded eighties new wave chart inhabitants, but who have borrowed a Mott The Hoople-ish ‘All The Way To Memphis’ piano riff as the tune’s foundation. Infectious and incessant, it is certainly guilty of being radio-friendly and of being most unlike the majority of Wilson’s other material. All power to him for taking the risk and declaring pop music is not the toxic genre many of his hard-nosed aficianados declare it to be.

Ninet Tayeb returns for the quietly reflective Blank Tapes – an effective metaphor for a dissolving relationship. A pensive short interlude before garage rock guitar blasts out to herald the arrival of the hardest rocking track on the album, People Who Eat Darkness, which demands all volume knobs be turned up to 11.

The last three tracks are a bit of a letdown after the consistent stream of highlights that listeners have enjoyed yup until this point. Whilst they have moments of beauty and sonic dexterity they suggest the album has plateaued and leave you simply pleased rather than exhilarated.

Nevertheless, To The Bone has served its purpose, taking Steven Wilson into the next league of stardom which will hopefully mean he can bring his show to all parts of Australia in venues suited to cope with the full audio-visual breadth of his live shows, instead of the small club venues of his last few East Coast visits.

Every song on this album will transfer brilliantly to the live experience and I, for one, cannot wait to see him bring this album to the stage

  1. Sparks – Hippopotamus

(1st recordings 1971)

sparks

I fell in love with Sparks as a second year high-school student back around the time they released Kimono My House, the album that featured their signature tune, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us – one of the songs that inspired Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (along with Mott’s Marionette) in the way the band built such an expansive narrative scope and so many stylistic deviations into the length of a pop single. This diversity of approach still drives the musical visions of Sparks today.

The Brothers Mael have consistently continued making albums since their 1971 debut that have taken them through a rich myriad of musical genre experimentation and along the journey they have had a dalliance with most new musical fads and movements. Their latest album, Hippopotamus is their most direct return to the sound and approach of their ‘golden age’ they have attempted, and the results are simply magnificent.

Russell Mael is blessed with one of the most uniquely distinguishable voices in popular music, and his brother, Ron, with the most consistently bizarre knack for mining unexpected and unusual pockets of human behaviour for song ideas and lyrical hooks. Together they produce choruses, melodies and arrangements that consistently surprise, amuse and delight.

Songs on their new album centre on a diversity of unusual topics – IKEA furniture (Scandinavian Design); regret (Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)); Lincoln’s assassination (So Mrs. Lincoln, Aside From That, How Was The Play?); French cinema auteurs (When You’re A French Director); Shakespearean tragedy (Life With The Macbeths) sexual conservatism (Missionary Position); sexual endurance (The Amazing Mr. Repeat), and a raft of other equally unexpected subjects all embedded in infuriatingly catchy musical confections that induce a frolicsome rush of  positivity in the listener.

It is reassuring there are bands like Sparks still producing great music that avoids overly serious contemplation of their own mortality and that willingly embraces and revels in the absurdities of existence.

Long may the pages of their rhyming dictionaries randomly turn!

  1. Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here?

(1st recordings 1982 – last studio album released 1988)

Dream Syndicate

Pioneers of the Paisley Underground movement that germinated in Los Angeles in the early eighties, The Dream Syndicate’s combination of droning guitar assaults and Steve Wynn’s nasally delivered vocal ruminations proved to be a musical mix that people enthusiastically embraced, and their debut album, Days Of Wine And Roses, established them as an alternative radio station staple in 1984.

The band, with various line-ups, recorded four studio albums in total before disbanding in 1989.

Live recordings of the band in their heyday are revelatory – check out the incendiary version of John Coltrane Stereo Blues on This Is Not The New Dream Syndicate Album…Live for verification – as they were brimming with energy and a ‘just go for it’ attitude, factors that tend to diminish with age, a consideration that made me feel some reticence towards playing How Did I Find Myself Here?, the band’s first studio album in 29 years.

Original members, Wynn, drummer Dennis Duck, and bassist Kendra Smith, are all present on the latest album, along with Mark Walton (who first played with the band in 1984), and guitarist Jason Victor, from Steve Wynn’s solo career backing band, The Miracle 3. Also on hand to help out is Chris Cacavas from fellow Paisley Underground peers, Green On Red.

The surprise here is that the album does not sound like the old band, nor does it sound like a continuation of the sort of material Steve Wynn has been exploring on his solo outings. The new album marks a new sound for the  band – still powerful but not quite as abrasive; overall, less Neil Young influenced, it is a smoother, more aurally streamlined sound, but still distinctively retaining the guitar drone of prime era Dream Syndicate.

The album’s first song, Filter Me Through You is based around a terrific guitar riff, that soars over a wall-of-sound rhythm section and keyboard tsunami, with Wynn’s voice, controlled and incessant, encouraging the us to engage in active listening.

A similar approach is taken in Glide, where a chiming guitar repeats a simple riff at one pace, whilst Wynn sings at another and the rhythm section relentlessly pursues yet another. All come together in a transportive whole that demands repeat listening.

80 West starts with a dirty bassline, reminiscent of John Coltrane Stereo Blues, pulsing ominously before a guitar barrage readies us for whatever dark deed the ‘something [that] happened out on 80 West’ may have been. It’s a disconcertingly noirish journey into the darkness.

An improvisational jam, the title track is an eleven and a half minute jazzy, organ driven, raggedy guitar shuffle that sounds like The Stone Roses playing at The Fillmore in the late sixties. Crank it up, I dare you!

Some wise lady once informed us that ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’. Thankfully, if you live long enough, sometimes what you’ve lost and pined for comes back to you in better shape than when you last had contact with it.

  1. Slowdive – Slowdive

(1st recordings 1990 – last studio album released 1995)

slowdive-s-t-lp

The swathe of dream pop acts (or more pejoratively, shoe-gazing acts) that saturated the musical landscape of indie music in the early nineties seemed to have long since disbanded, as their droning sonic soundscapes and subliminally delivered lyrics lost favour for the more raucous guitar noise of those in thrall of the Seattle sound. At least that seemed to be the case until this year’s re-emergence of two of the shoe-gazing scene’s prime movers, Ride and Slowdive.

Slowdive’s self-titled album is a hypnotic reminder of what we’ve missed in the ensuing years as we floated adrift in a musical ocean of pop pap and self-confessionally indulgent indie singer-songwriters.

The album layers washes of guitars and keyboards over vocals that provide colour and mood rather than demand to be heard as lyrical imperatives, and cocoons the listener in an atmospheric trance that lasts for the duration of the record.

It is a beautiful experience, culminating in the wistful emotional exorcism that is Falling Ashes, the track which closes the album.

The sequencing of tracks here allows the mood to change subtly and almost imperceptibly, from the relatively upbeat opener, ironically entitled Slomo, to the cathartic highs of tracks like Don’t Know Why and No Longer Making Time, and through to the more introspectively oriented tracks, such as Sugar For The Pill.

It may have taken 22 years to come to fruition but Slowdive’s return to the new release album racks has been worth the wait.

  1. Chuck Prophet – Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

(1st recordings [with Green On Red] 1985; 1st solo album 1990)

Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet has been producing excellent solo albums since 1990, the year after Green On Red disbanded, and Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins now makes it a neat baker’s dozen’s worth of masterworks that the has released since then.

Prophet describes his most recent work as ‘Californian Noir’, and whilst there are a couple of songs on this album that neatly fit this description, it seems more like a love letter to rock and roll culture more so than a sojourn into the dark underbelly of his sunny home state.

Sure the title track works both ways, after all Bobby Fuller was murdered mysteriously after his brief meteoric career in rock which had produced one of the genre’s most loved and timeless tunes, I Fought The Law. Prophet’s ode to Fuller is gloriously upbeat and catchy, complete with hand claps and infectious backing vocals, hardly noirish – unless he is intending to be particularly ironic.

More in tune with his descriptive claim is Your Skin, a song about one man’s unhealthy fixation on the person he desires. ‘Your gonna need some protection baby’ he utters before singing the ominous lines:

I like the skin on your thigh / I like the skin on your nose / But it’s that skin around your wrist
That makes me want you most / Don’t want to take you over / I just want to crawl inside /
Your skin…

 Prophet has one of the coolest voices in rock, so a ballad such as Open Up Your Heart, that may have sounded flat, mawkish or overly saccharin in another’s hands, actually carries sufficient emotional clout in its delivery to be convincing.

Elsewhere on this consistently impressive record, Prophet focuses his songwriting lens upon a diverse list of subjects: Bad Year For Rock And Roll reflects on the annus horribilis that was 2016. (To get an idea of whose loss hit Chuck most, the opening lines are, ‘Well, the Thin White Duke took a final bow / There’s one more star in the heavens now…); If I Was Connie Britton, a tongue in cheek exploration of what it would be like to be in the shoes of the actress who plays Rayna James on the hit series Nashville; In The Mausoleum (For Alan Vega) is a great track that borrows heavily from Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream’s repetitive metronomic style; and Alex Nieto, a protest song which crystallizes Prophet’s anger at the needless police shooting of Nieto in a park in San Francisco whilst he was eating his dinner, back in 2014.

Chuck Prophet has hovered on the margins of rock stardom for decades now. Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, in a perfect world, should be the album to release him from the purgatory of near-anonymity, and offer him entry into the paradise of popular recognition.

  1. Randy Newman – Dark Matter

 (1st recordings 1962)

randy newman

OK, let’s say it straight out…yes, all Randy Newman albums do tend to sound just a little bit similar. So, given that fact, what makes his new album worth listening to?

Well, Newman continues to be one of the wittiest and most incisive lyricists in popular music, and Dark Matter lines up a few worthy targets and blasts them into clearer perspective in the way that only Randy Newman can.

If you discount his film soundtrack work, Newman’s new album is his first album of original songs in nearly a decade, so he can hardly be accused of wearing out his welcome either.

The album actually starts with an eight-minute debate. A debate in which Newman, confidently representing himself, plays devil’s advocate as he tackles the big questions from the worlds of religion and science, such as the existence of dark matter, the existence of faith and God, and the validity of the theory of evolution. Newman gleefully takes on all-comers:

‘…We have here gathered some of the most expensive scientists in the world—eminent scientists, that is. We got biologists, biometricians, got a quantum mechanic and astrophysicians. Got a cosmologist and a cosmetician, got an astronaut, we got Astro Boy! We got he-doctors, she-doctors, knee doctors, tree doctors! We a got a lumberjack and a life coach!

On the other side, we have the true believers. We got the Baptists, the Methodists, Presbyterians. The Episcopalians are here, pass the hat! We got the Shakers, the Quakers, the anti-innoculators, the Big Boss Line from Madison Town! The Six Blind Boys, Five Tons of Joy, give ’em room, get out of the way! We got a Bible Belter from the Mississippi Delta. Have them all arranged…’

To a riotous blend of stylistic twists and turns, the track is an intellectually exhausting, but highly amusing opening salvo which sets the tone for what follows.

Perhaps the greatest track here is his terrific satirical evisceration of the current Russian President, Vladimir Putin. The second verse, for example, drips with sarcasm:

He can drive his giant tractor
Across the Trans-Siberian plain!
He can power a nuclear reactor
With the left side of his brain!
And when he takes his shirt off
He drive the ladies crazy!
And when he take his shirt off
Make me wanna be a lady!

This ‘admiration’ is balanced by the final coda, where Newman perceptively attacks the man’s ego when he has the meglomaniacal Putin say:

 Sometimes a people is greater than their leader:
Germany, Kentucky, and France.
Sometimes, a leader towers over his country:
One shot at glory, they won’t get a second chance.

I’ll drag these peasants kicking and screaming
Into the 21st century.
I thought we’d make it, I must’ve been dreaming,
These chicken farmers and fire clerks gonna be the death of me…

 Not all of the album is steeped in cynicism and sarcasm however, the final track, Wandering Boy, is a heartbreaking song, written from the point of view of a father who is overcome by an emotional yearning for his long estranged son, hoping he’s somewhere safe: ‘I hope he’s warm and I hope he’s dry / And that a stranger’s eye is a friendly eye…’. Heart wrenching stuff.

With Dark Matter, Randy Newman shows he has lost none of his wit and that his compositional skills are still exceptional.

Let’s hope it is less than a decade before he shares his thoughts with us all once again.

  1. Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Adios Senor Pussycat

(1st recordings [Head, as leader of The Pale Fountains] 1982)

michael head

Michael Head has made many fantastic records in his time – for example, 1984’s Pale Fountains’ album, ‘From Across The Kitchen Table’, and Shack’s supreme H.M.S. Fable from 1999 – but has made very few forays into recording in recent years.

Rumour has it he has been wrestling with some personal and chemical demons. It seems, however, that he has come through to the other side though and with his latest group of compadres The Red Elastic Band has now released their first album after an earlier EP.

Adios Senor Pussycat is a largely gentle acoustic album of refined gems.

Some of these songs sound a little like lost Tim Hardin songs, steeped in sixties style gently orchestrated production, whilst others favour a return to a jangling folk rock vibe, but all are rich in sweeping melodies and uplifting choral harmonies, and all feature Head’s distinctive Liverpudlian lilt. And all are memorable.

These songs lie in wait to be discovered, and, no doubt, once they have been they will quickly take their place in the hearts of those that have taken the time to listen.

  1. Black Star Riders – Heavy Fire

 (1st recordings [as Thin Lizzy] 1970)

black star riders

Planet Rock just yesterday held a public vote on the best albums of the last year. Heavy Fire came in at number three. The album was also the highest chart entry the band has achieved since they changed their name from Thin Lizzy, ultimately proving they are anything but a spent force.

Closely following the template of classic Thin Lizzy at their fieriest, Black Star Riders know that the power of their twin guitar attack is their prime weapon, and this album is full of instantly appealing riffs and classic rock signature moves.

The title track jumps out at you from the first second you hit the play button with all guitars firing, before singer, Ricky Warwick begins snarling the lyrics. Warwick’s vocal quality is not miles removed from the late lamented Phil Lynott’s, so he compliments the overall sound very well and Lizzy fans can rest assured that this album is a worthy addition to the band’s legendary and revered discography.

The only ‘original’ Thin Lizzy member still in the band, however, is guitar supremo, Scott Goreham, who still plays with his usual chiming clarity, speedy fretwork and a consistent ear for melody.

The frenetic energy of When The Night Comes In never fails to get this old croc leaping around the room, as does Testify Or Say Goodbye – a magnificent song that stands alongside any classic rock tune ever laid to tape –  which you can imagine dominating classic rock station playlists twenty years from now.

Whilst the album could be described as being a little monospaced – relentless rocking out  is the order of the day – which is a bit overwhelming if you play it through in one sitting, every song, when played on its own, has a surprising freshness and vitality that demonstrates that the Lizzy gene has been passed on in all its purity and power.

A superb hard rocking album made the way they always used to make ‘em!

Let’s hope that Black Star Riders make it to our shores soon.

 

And briefly rounding out the Top 20:

 

  1. Ride – Weather Diaries

 (1st recordings 1990 – last studio album 1996)

rideweatherdiaries

The shoegazing revival begins here. Reformed and re-energised, Ride deliver a set of songs that is not quite to the quality of Going Blank Again, but is miles better than their last studio album, Tarantula.

Andy Bell has incorporated his years of being a foil for the Gallagher brothers as well as his experiences in other diverse musical projects to broaden the band’s musical palette, and has produced a strong cohesive record that will please Ride acolytes everywhere.

  1. Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir

(1st recordings 1991)

magnetic fields

 In the spirit of their major opus, 69 Love Songs, Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields put together a glorious meandering set of observations and revelations that cover his feelings about his first 50 years on the planet. Ambitious, sometimes awkward, but always interesting.

  1. The Waterboys – Out Of All This Blue

 (1st recordings [Mike Scott as leader of Another Pretty Face] 1979)

waterboys

A disappointingly small crowd turned out at Thebby Theatre when Mike Scott and The Waterboys made their first Adelaide appearance in 2013. That was particularly sad because the band’s later albums, whilst only sporadic these days, had been deliciously diverse, steeped in traditional instrumentation  whilst simultaneously sounding very contemporary. Out Of All This Blue, which sprawls over two discs, continues the trend with its moments of raw emotion, earthy folk, and barroom rock.

Whilst stylistically all over the place, which is part of its charm really, there are many gems to be discovered here

  1. Steve Hackett – The Night Siren

 (1st recordings [as a member of Quiet World] 1970)

steve hackett

Always being referred to as ‘the former guitarist for Genesis’ often means that people overlook the fact that he has made close to 50 albums since he departed that band after making some of the most seminal music of the early seventies with them.

Touring Australia for the first time this year, primarily to revisit some of the classic Genesis tracks he composed or significantly contributed to, he also found time in the set to play some tracks from his latest album The Night Siren, which were magnificent live.

The album is a showcase for his musical genius and stretches over a myriad of styles and genres befitting a performer whose career has seen him record rock, prog, classical and blues albums. From the opening Tea Party-esque, Behind The Smoke, through the middle easterm flavoured In The Skelton Gallery, to the closing orchestral beauty of The Gift, this album has more than enough musical highpoints to keep old fans happy as well as impress the curious newcomer. Recommended.

  1. Neil Young & The Promise Of The Real – The Visitor

 (1st recording [as member of The Squires] 1963)

neil young

Neil Young tosses of so many albums these days on a whim, that it has become a game of Russian roulette as to whether any particular album is going to bring joy or dismay to the listener. The second album to hit the racks this year after the earlier archival release, Hitchhiker, The Visitor sees Young with his youngish band The Promise Of The Real, take the gloves off and lash out at the current state of the world (read: ‘America’).

Whilst some of the tunes could be criticised by some for their predictable structures, the energy and the sentiment cannot be faulted.

Neil Young may now be old, but long may he run!

  1. St. Etienne – Home Counties

 (1st recordings 1991)

saint etienne

There is always a place in my record collection for British observational pop, and St. Etienne have long proven to be incisive commentators on the idiosyncrasies of British life.

Bob Stanley and Sarah Cracknell’s revivification of the band after a five year hiatus  brings us new classics that are worthy additions to the band’s canon. Something New, Train Drivers In Eyeliner, Magpie Eyes and Unopened Fan Mai, are all destined to appear on all future ‘best ofs’, and the gorgeous short instrumental, Church Pew Furniture Restorer is a diamond of a tune.

The random facts about crime in the Home Counties that are outlined in the sleeve-notes are fun to read too.

Lovely. 

  1. Ray Davies – Americana

 (1st recordings [with The Kinks] 1964)

ray davies

He sounds old and a little out of sorts with all this new fandangled recording equipment. He was so much more at home with the raw monaural world of the studios The Kinks first used back in their heyday, but maybe that is part of the point here.

Davies is looking back and reflecting on his love-hate relationship he has had with all things America, and, as a historical document experienced in that context, this album is a fascinating addition to Davies’ body of recorded work. 

  1. Carole King – Tapestry: Live In Hyde Park

 (1st official recordings 1958)

Carole King Hyde Park

The CD version of this album comes with an accompanying DVD, so you can actually see and experience the sincere waves of love and affection her adoring crowd is sending out to her during this performance, as well as hear them.

And the performance is certainly terrific and emotionally affecting. And how could it be possible to criticise these amazing songs that have stood the test of time so well?

This package is worth obtaining just to hear King declare ‘This is what 70 looks like!’ as she energetically plays her electric guitar to a crowd of tens of thousands.

  1. Lucinda Williams – This Sweet Old World

 (1st recordings 1978)

This Sweet Old World

Lucinda Williams gnarly, croaky old voice is a hard thing to bear when you see her perform live, as many who attended her last Adelaide performance would attest to. But on record, where the roughest edges can be smoothed over, she still delivers consistently.

This release sees her revisiting her earlier album ‘Sweet Old World’, originally released in 1992, in order to reimagine all of the album’s songs and release the inherent power of these moving songs more fully.

The original album, whilst containing some of her best songs – such as the title track and Something About What Happens When We Talk – did suffer from a somewhat flat production and that has certainly been remedied here.

Put into the context of Lucinda’s 2017 world, the songs achieve a new relevance and power. The Byrdsian jangle that opens the album as an introduction to Six Blocks Away signals to the listener that these songs really deserve to be embraced as the classics they should be.

The lived-in quality of Williams voice gives the songs a poignancy that was missing in the originals – the longing, the regret, the lost chances sound much more authentic in this newest guise.

Perfect music for a hot, languid summer’s night. 

  1. Blondie – Pollinator

  (1st recordings [Deborah Harry as member of The Wind In The Willows] 1968)

Pollinator

Blondie is still a band – as if we needed any reminder.

Here, the seventies punk icons invite a number of contemporary artists and songwriters, such as Sia, to help them put together their latest instalment of casual pop chic and punky disco tunes.

Deborah Harry still sounds vital and vibrant throughout, as well as righteously angry when she feels the need, and the rest of the band all sound like they are still having fun, which is so important.

It is also fair to say, the official video for Doom Or Destiny, featuring Joan Jett, wins hands down as the best video of the year.

Plus….21. Overend Watts – He’s Real Gone

(1st recordings [with The Doc Thomas Group] 1967)

overend watts

50 years in the making, and then it was released after the legendary baseman expired…

Watts asked, with admirable black humour, that the working title of this record be changed from Real Gone to He’s Real Gone when it became inevitable that he would not live to see his first solo album make it out of the pressing plant and into the shops.

The album is full of Watts’ humour and whilst it will not make anybody’s lists of the greatest record of all time, it is a good thing that it finally sees the light.

He’d Be A Diamond is a cracking tune and bizarre experimental pieces such as Prawn Fire On Uncle Sheep Funnel prove that there was a lot more to Overhand Watts than simply being the bass player for Mott The Hoople.

A hobby project, for sure – but one that will be listened to fondly for years to come by Mott fans around the world.

 

One thing is for sure, 2017 certainly proved there is absolutely no room for ageism in rock and roll!

 

Bring on 2018!

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