Sunday, 16 February 2020

Happy Mondays versus The Stone Roses

'Pills n Thrills and Bellyaches' vs 'The Stone Roses' (aka The Battle Of Madchester)

These albums may be separated by 18 months (Stone Roses appearing in May 89, Happy Mondays in Nov 90) but they are both probably the definitive articles of Madchester.

The mass-market introduction to Madchester came in Nov 89 when both bands appeared on Top Of The Pops - Stone Roses performing "Fools Gold" and Happy Mondays performing "Hallelujah".
Before recording, there was apparently discussions between the bands of mixing it up a bit so Ian Brown would've played drums for the Mondays and Shaun Ryder take the lead vocal for Stone Roses.  After all, outside of NME readers, no-one really knew these bands, and how would anyone know the wrong people were in the wrong band.
Unfortunately (fortunately?) it didn't happen, and what we did get was Ian Brown's bad miming (understated anarchy?) and an introduction to the Morecambe and Wise of Madchester - Shaun and Bez.
The Happy Mondays were 2 albums in by 1989 - both met with minor Indie Chart success, but had not crossed over to mass-market.
1987s 'Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)' introduced the world to the Mondays melange of indie-rock, psychedelia, funk and dance music, inspired by the burgeoning club culture in Manchester and one or two narcotic enhancements.
1988s 'Bummed' continued and refined the formula - featuring some of Shaun Ryder's most striking lyrics - and added a smoother (madder?) production job from Martin Hannett.
Soon after came the reinforcement of dance floor links with "Wrote For Luck" and "Lazyitis" (both form 'Bummed') being given the re-mix treatment by Vince Clarke and Paul Oakenfield.
And the Oakenfield influence continued (if not directly from the production chair) for their next realease - the EP that was to change their fortunes
Was the 'Madchester Rave On' EP a follow-on from debut album 'Bummed' or a clarion call/pre-cursor to Madchester madness and the genesis of 'Pills ...'?
I think the latter.  It's the same band, but a big jump forward in professionalism and presentation.  Still ragged round the edges, but smoothed enough to make an impact.

The Stone Roses appeared (to this southerner) to come from pretty much nowhere.  Their singles, prior to their debut album, had not scratched the Indie Charts but they were filling column inches in the music papers and attracting of strong following in and around Manchester.
"Made Of Stone" was released a couple of months before the album, and started to pick up airplay on Radio 1 (albeit in the evenings, but national airplay is national airplay), and the "buzz" continued.
By the time their debut arrived in May, the inky music papers were falling over themselves, and there was no disappointment with it's contents.  It really did deserve the rave critical reviews it received.
The debut album was rooted in indie rock guitar jangle (think early Primal Scream, or others from the C86 generation) with more of a debt to The Byrds than to Paul Oakenfield.
The dance beats were present, but not to the fore - these would become a lot more explicit on the stand-alone single that came in November.  "Fools Gold" was a floor-filler at clubs like The Hacienda, Cream or even various Ibizan clubs, as well as any self-respecting Indie-Disco.
"Fools Gold" may not have been on the debut album, but the exposure of the song and the band ensured that sales continued, and the Roses legend continued to grow.

Both The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses albums contain a similar arrogance and swagger.  Both are as tight as f*ck, and loose/baggy (to coin a phrase) at the same time.
In both cases, all is held together by the respective drummers - Reni (Stone Roses) and Gary Whelan (Happy Mondays).
And the supporting musicians have a part to play too - both bassists (Mani and Paul Ryder) add rock-solid under-pinning with the odd flourish ensuring that everything is spot on.
Where John Squire's guitar veers to rock (amply displayed on follow-up album 'Second Coming') it is not without jangle and massive melody, Mark Day keeps the Mondays in check and keeps the funky riffing coming.

There is no historical doubt of the musicianship of The Stone Roses, the one thing that is often forgotten is how tight as a band the Happy Mondays were.  Shaun and Bez could not have been Shaun and Bez of legend without the rest of the band being and staying at the very highest levels of commitment and capability.

Whilst the Happy Mondays album is closer the the Dance floor than most indie-rockers felt (initially) comfortable with, The Stone Roses album was much more a straight indie-rocker with psychedelic overtones.
By appropriating the sounds and rhythms in their immediate lives, they both evoke a similar culture, and it is only right for someone to pit each album (track by track) against each other.

So let's do it ...

"Kinky Afro" vs "I Wanna Be Adored"
Right, two absolute bangers to start with.
Some of Shaun's best lyrical couplets over a loose rhythm - I can't dance to save my life, but this makes me feel I want a bit of a strut (OK, more of a Shaun "dance" whereby you just sort of sway).
"I Wanna Be Adored" is a slow builder - there's 40 seconds before the bass rumbles in, 1 minute before the guitar starts chiming, and the song doesn't properly fill out until 1 minute 30 seconds.  Ian Brown's vocal may not be the greatest, but it's perfect for the Stone Roses - he is just sounding so convincing.
Happy Mondays 0 Stone Roses 1

"God's Cop" vs "She Bangs the Drums
Blues-y squealing slide guitar heralds the arrival of Gods Cop before it settles into a groove.  You feel there's more tune than Shaun is letting on here, and then the chorus kicks in and briefly the song rises, before settling back to where it came from.
"She Bangs The Drum" is just joyous from the tinkling hi-hat , the rumbling bass and the sppiky trebly guitar.  Ian Brown's voice is low in the mix.  Like the Mondays track, the chorus just lift's the whole thing, but the verse part is stronger than the Mondays offering.
Happy Mondays 0 Stone Roses 2

"Donovan" vs "Waterfall"
Apparently inspired by the actual Donovan - Shaun Ryder even gave Donovan a grand-daughter.  But the song itself is a bit of a wig-out that never really goes anywhere.
"Waterfall" on the other hand just chimes away - it's bouncing and laid back at the same time.  And that incessant riff has the ability to stick in your head long after you've turned the CD off.
Happy Mondays 0 Stone Roses 3

"Grandbag's Funeral" vs "Don't Stop"
"Don't Stop" is just "Waterfall" played backwards, isn't it?  Yes it is, but it is literally played backwards (not just reversed in the tape machine) but with new vocals over the top. The effect is a weird one, because you feel the vocals are backwards too (which they aren't).
I want to enthuse about "Grandbag's Funeral" - it is a great track, and in the flow of 'Pills ...' one of the stronger tracks here.  But up against "Don't Stop" you just want a bit more invention and surprise.
Happy Mondays 0 Stone Roses 4

"Loose Fit" vs "Bye Bye Badman"
Maybe "Grandbag's Funeral" is a turning point - here the Mondays employ a Roses-esque chiming riff, and stay in line with the title - the groove here is really loose, but as tight as anything they've ever done.  Shaun's voice is stoned down too, ably supported by Rowetta's vocal.
"Bye Bye Badman" is good, but can sound like 2 songs bolted together.  It works, but it just jars a bit when they move from one to another.  .
Happy Mondays 1 Stone Roses 4

"Dennis and Lois" vs "Elizabeth My Dear"
Happy Mondays go funky NY Disco - and it works (eventually).
Initially, I'm not convinced, but by the end it is definitely one of the high points
It is clear that with "Elizabeth My Dear", the Stone Roses want to make a statement of belief, but it just feels clumsy. Truly the inverse of The Beatles "Her Majesty", but does it really deserve a place on this album?
Happy Mondays 2 Stone Roses 4

"Bob's Yer Uncle" vs "(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister"
Happy Mondays sit in loose funky tones, with a touch of salsa going on.  The almost hushed vocal adds to the air of mystery about the track.  Yes, they have done better tracks, but this one is not far from their prime cuts.
Meanwhile The Stone Roses are in deep psychedelic-jangle territory - the sound is pretty dense, but triumphant at the same time.  A minor criticism, but I always feel it just needs a little lift (truck-drivers gear change perhaps?) to make it truly brilliant.  But it's still great enough to secure another point.
Happy Mondays 2 Stone Roses 5

"Step On" vs "Made of Stone"
Another collision moment of two fantastic tracks.  Two tracks which stand as (possibly) the most representative of each bands sound and attitude.
The "twisting my melon man" lyric is almost quintessential Shaun Ryder, and the whole construct of "Made Of Stone" is ripe for shorthand of a Manchester Indie band in the late 80s/early 90s.
In line with the lyrics, sometimes I fantasise that this task is easy and it doesn't twist my melon as much as this.
All I can do is declare a score draw
Happy Mondays 2.5 Stone Roses 5.5

"Holiday" vs "Shoot You Down"
"Shoot You Down" is brilliantly effortless, relaxing and withdrawn.  Not filler, but maybe sequenced wrong.  Maybe swap places with "Elizabeth My Dear" (or even replace) would be a better place for this track.
"Holiday" - swaggeringly superb, with lyrics to match.  Sounds very much like it was written from direct experience.
There is a very good chance that this track is the most under-rated and unrecognised the Mondays ever threw out.
Are the Roses slipping up?  The Mondays are fighting back.
Happy Mondays 3.5 Stone Roses 5.5

"Harmony" vs "This Is the One"
No, they're not.  "This Is The One" is the forgotten classic of this album (maybe not forgotten, but not as regularly trotted out as "Adored", "Resurrection" or "Waterfall").
This track takes all that is expected of The Stone Roses so far, and bounds it up inside an almost prefect package (even with a slight Abba-esque guitar trill).
"Harmony" by comparison just can't compete.  "Harmony" is the actual closer of the album (but not here where I had to lever in an extra track).
And it's got everything it should have - arpeggio indie guitar, funky bass, blissed out vocals.  There's even a touch of Velvet Underground about it.  The track builds to a virtual fight between instruments to be heard, and then just stops - no fade, no meandering to a close, just a dead stop..  It may not be the most focussed of tracks, but it is a fine closer to the album.
It just had the misfortune to come up against "This Is The One"
Happy Mondays 3.5 Stone Roses 6.5

"Hallelujah" vs "I Am the Resurrection"
This is the track that probably brought the Happy Mondays to national (or partially national) attention.  And deservedly so.  Built around another loose funking dance riff with Shauns' pert sung/part chanted vocal over the top.  Anthemic?  Yes it was.  Instantly recognisable and instantly repeatable.
The Stone Roses closed their debut album with an 8 minute track (were they going all Prog?).  The track may be 8 minutes, but the majority of proceedings is an instrumental whig out.
Pounding drums and ominous bass with a slight background vocal building to a crescendo in the chorus.  And then there is that breakdown and instrumental section, and the euphoric moment when they just stop and come back in all together - who knew one and a half seconds of silence could be a defining moment of the record?
"Resurrection" takes this one (just)
Happy Mondays 3.5 Stone Roses 7.5

One question remains: are these truly great albums, or a perfect moment in time?
Of the two, 'Pills n Thrills and Bellyaches' is probably the most "of it's time" offering, whilst the Stone Roses debut has a certain timelessness about it.
'Pills ...' is one you have to be in a certain mood for, whereas the opening notes of "I Wanna Be Adored" just set the mood and get you ready for 50 minutes of aural enjoyment.

What happened next?
Happy Mondays contributed to bankrupting Factory with the aborted, drawn-out and chaotic sessions for the follow-up 'Yes Please' (despite the promise, it was not the monumental album that was promised/suggested).  As a band they limped to a close.  Shaun and Bez returned a year later with Black Grape, and delivered an album that would've been a more fitting epitaph for the Mondays.
The Stone Roses initially capitalised on their fame/notoriety and organised an open air festival at Spike Island.  Hailed as "The Baggy Woodstock", the legend of the event outweighs the weather, the organisation, and the reported experience.
They thaen ahd one or two legal disputes with their record company to attend to - the follow-up album 'Second Coming' did not appear for until 1994, by which time they had upped the Led Zeppelin quotient and guitar histrionics of their songs.  To this day, 'Second Coming' still divides the bands fans.
(Personally, I prefer 'Second Coming', but I believe I am in the minority)

Kinky Afro

This Is The One

Monday, 10 February 2020

Green Day - Father Of All ...

(the full title is 'Father Of All Motherfuckers', but I didn't put it in the header just in case Blogger got upset and deleted my account)

Green Day may well have peaked with 2004s 'American Idiot'.
In truth, the preceding albums contained some moments of greatness, but when'American Idiot' came out, it really was a case of "where the f**k did that come from?".
It was a sort of Robert Johnson at the Crossroads moment, and it (for a time) made Green Day on of the biggest bands in the world.
And then they tried the political comment in a rock-opera thing again with '21st Century Breakdown', and all started to come unstuck.
The triple set - '¡Uno!', '¡Dos!', '¡Tré!' was an attempt to get back to basics.  As it turned out, it was more an attempt to turn back the clock, and songs of angsty rebellion just don't work as well when delivered by three blokes knocking on the door of 40.  2016s 'Revolution Radio' was just a bit limp by all accounts.
So, 4 years on, are they just trying to milk the old cow again?  I really think they've tried to a bit a bit more thoughtful about this album, and tried to do something a bit different with their sound and approach, but still unmistakably Green Day.
Opener "Father Of All" is a bluesy-rock stomper owing a debt to the White Stripes, and 'Fire, Ready, Aim' adds The Hives into the mix - on first hearing the production treatment on the voice sounds wrong, but subsequent listens reveal it to be a worthwhile effect (if not essential) give a slightly ethereal feeling to proceedings.
"Oh Yeah" sounds like it could be a left over from 'American Idiot' and samples Joan Jet / Gary Glitter for the shout along chorus.
There are a couple of "Green Day by numbers" tracks here - not a bad thing, but not exactly mould breaking - these include "Meet Me On The Roof", "Sugar Youth" and "Junkies On A High".
"I Was a Teenage Teenager" is almost a reflective apology (if that's the right term) and the nearest to the teenage angst, I hate everything stock they once traded in.  And further re-visiting the old days of being a garage band, "Stab You in the Heart" is a thinly veiled re-tread of "Hippy Hippy Shake" with their own lyrics over the top
(And anyone who's been in a band will agree that one's earliest songwriting attempts are usually "nick someone else tune, change a couple of notes, and throw some other words over the top (or at least that's my experience)).
"Take the Money and Crawl" starts like a Spaghetti Western theme before the fuzz guitar and pounding drums get the album back on track after a slight lull, with events rounded off by "Graffitia".
I'm sure they tried, but couldn't leave out some form of comment backed with Ramones-esque drumming and a proper shout along anthemic chorus.  Probably the most Green Day moment in the album.

10 songs done and dusted in 26 minutes - it's fair to day they may be back to their old selves, and finally breaking from the shadow of 'American Idiot'.

Fire, Ready, Aim


Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Albums Of Influence

I recently did another of those Facebook challenges
This was the challenge:

I've been nominated by xxx to choose 10 vinyl era albums that greatly influenced my taste in music. One per day. 10 consecutive days. No explanations. No reviews. Just covers.

What no explanations?  That's OK, I'll just use my other presence on the interweb (ie here) to do the explaining (because I think I should).
And I've changed the posting order to try and create a chronological flow to my listening habits

Day 1
This is a double album (quadruple album?) really.
Introduced via nicking the Red one it out of my parents record cupboard, and playing it to death.  The Blue album arrived a couple of years later.  And that one got just as much record player time
Still today, if you want a hit of those Beatle-y blokes, these 2 are the perfect entry point.
And one still marvels at how far they'd travelled in 8 short years.
It's basically the singles, plus choice album tracks (but not always the best album tracks from their parent albums) - and it's always surprising just how many great were left off.

Day 2

The Jam split in 1982 - being 12 I owned a few of their singles, but surviving on a paper boys wages (I'd just got my first paper round), albums generally remained out of reach (unless it was a birthday or Christmas).
When this arrived in early 1983, it rounded up the singles, many B-sides and some album tracks (like the Red and Blue albums above).  Plus and added bonus - the inner sleeve contained extracts from Paolo Hewitt's A Beat Concerto book.  I read this, learnt it, bought the book, and became a Jam expert by the end of 1983.

Day 3

I heard "Fields Of Fire" on Top Of The Pops, and it was one of those moments where everything stops and concentration is focused in only one direction.
The album did not disappoint.  I went forwards with Big Country, and backwards to The Skids - I'm happy to say I own just about everything commercially released by Stuart Adamson's bands (and a couple of bootlegs).  The 16th of December is still marked by the wearing of a tartan shirt.

Day 4

Albums were out of reach in early teenage years (see above), but I did get a copy of Iron Maiden's 'Number Of The Beast' in early 1982.
I'm a Heavy Metal Mod with a major appreciation of The Beatles - jeez, I was confused.
This Live album arrived in 1985, and my listening habits changed again (as did my attire and hair length)

Day 5

Which came first - the album or the film?
The album (obviously), but in my world I'd seen the film first, and I very quickly wanted to get hold of the album.
One problem: it was either nowhere to be found in Our Price, or hellishly expensive.
Solution: "Hello mate.  You like The Who, can you record that Quadrophenia album for me.  Here's a TDK D90".
I played it so much I wore the tape out

Day 6

The same person who gave me 'Quadrophenia' also supplied (of his own volition) a tape copy of this 1976 live album (recorded in Mono, trivia fans).
The sheer energy (and danger) of the performance remains a yard-stick for how I want a sweaty live show to be.

Day 7

Their first couple of albums were Goth focussed, but no-one can deny "She Sells Sanctuary" is one hell of a track.  Being Goth, it didn't really figure on my radar at the time, but by the time they got to 1987, Rick Rubin and some re-cycled AC/DC riffs changed my whole view of the band (and the genre).
And what's so wrong with re-cycled AC/DC riffs?  I like re-cycled AC/DC riffs

Day 8

Being 7 doesn't really get you entry to Punk - however, 10 years later I was bitten by the music (and the attitude).  I can keep doing the Heavy Metal Mod thing (with a bit of Goth thrown in), but now I can revel in the joy of amphetamine-fueled high energy noise.
In truth, it was a compilation called 'Burning Ambitions' that was my entry to Punk, but this album surely defines my listening.

Day 9

I want to own as much Punk music as possible, and a compilation called 'The Vinyl Alternative' presented a band that sounded as urgent, tuneful and aware as any I'd found (plus that rasping vocal sold it again).
On the strength of one track ("At The Edge") I bought this singles collection, played it once, and the S section of my vinyl collection expanded rapidly.
My absolute favourite band of all time.  I own everything they've released, a fair amount of stuff they haven't (officially) released, see them at least once a year, and even use their record label name to hide behind when writing stuff here, there and everywhere.

Day 10

When you've exhausted UK Punk, where do you go?  US Punk obviously - although tread carefully, not all of it is great.  But this lot are one of the original influences on the UK Punk scene - their debut album is an artefact of great significance, and their Roundhouse and Dingwalls shows in July 1976 were attended by just about anyone who had anything to do with the original UK Punk movement.
Surf music, bubble-gum, and buzzsaw guitar, all topped off with a fantastic vocal (one of the greatest rock vocalists ever?).  What more do these ears want.
I can even forgive the non-chronological running order - this album is that good and that important.

But wait - that only takes me to about 1988/89?
My Vinyl Era runs from the ages of 12 to 19 - after then, purchasing was a mixture of both Vinyl and CD.  Also, I was now working full-time and had disposable income.  Even more albums would be purchased, but maybe the deep influence, or seismic changes didn't occur as often.
Yes, there were moments where listening habits were broadened (rather than changed) - Richard & Linda Thompson's 'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight' for example - or reinforcing habits like the first Oasis album.
They may cause similar flurries of excitement, enjoyment and expenditure, but do they have the same "influence" as those first heard moments by a moody teenager with bad hair?

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Def Leppard versus Guns n Roses

Two albums that sold by the bucket-load and introduced many - previously naysayers - to the world of RAWK.
Such was their spread, they picked up fans who'd never knowingly listen to anything with a guitar ... or big hair.
(side note: Bon Jovi had a part to play in this commercialisation of Metal too - but I was never a big fan of the boys from New Jersey led by a bloke with an Italian name.  "Shot through the heart and you're to blame, you give Metal a bad name")
Albums that graced the pages of Kerrang and/or Metal Hammer just didn't ship in these sort of numbers, and certainly not over a long period of time ('Hysteria' and 'Appetite For Destruction' have now clocked sales in excess of 25 million each)
Was it the production values?  Was it the hype?  Was it the back-story?  Was it that they were actually good albums stuffed with good songs?
Well, it is probably all of that, and if we focus on the songs there was just enough reined in danger to make them palatable to both Monsters Of Rock Festival go-ers and listeners to mass-market radio.

'Hysteria' started in early 1984 following Def Leppard's US breakthrough album 'Pyromania'.  Mutt Lange was engaged at the start (as he was for their two previous albums) but dropped out during pre-production and Jim Steinman was approached.  The Steinman sessions yielded little,and the band decided to have a go at producing it themselves.
And then on New Years Eve 1984, drummer Rick Allen had a car accident and lost his left arm.  Sessions were suspended whilst Allen got back to health and developed an electronic kit where his feet triggered midi pals replacing his left arm beats.
And then more illness happened - Joe Elliott got mumps.  Would the new album ever see the light of day?
By mid-1986, Rick Allen was back up to speed (his first solo live show (ie without a back-up drummer) was the Monsters Of Rock Festival at Donnington in August 1986), and Mutt Lange returned to knock the recordings into shape.
He applied the polish, pushed the "Mutt Lange magic button" and the album hit the streets in August 1987 (preceded by the single "Animal" in July 1987)

Guns n Roses formed in 1985 and comprised members of the bands Hollywood Rose and LA Guns (hence the name).  Near constant gigging around the LA clubs brought a following and the attention of major record companies.  Inside a year they were signed to Geffen and released their first EP.
This EP - 'Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide' - was released in a limited number on an independent label (Uzi Suicide - which wasn't really independent, it was a small, sometimes dormant, label owned by Geffen).
The EP pretty much sold out and a buzz continued in LA, but not many other areas of the US.  They did get some interest from an intigued UK press - who are these Guns n Roses chappies?
Very soon after this release they were straight back in the studio to assemble their debut album - 'Appetite For Destruction'.
This album was released in mid-1987 and was a catalogue of Punk-inflected Glam Metal, telling stories of the under-belly of LA with a dollop of sleaze and debauchery, and an image just right for MTV.
However, outside of LA the album fell relatively flat initially, and it was only the second single ("Welcome To The Jungle") and more seismically third single "Sweet Child O Mine" received attention, that the album started to shift major units

"Women" vs "Welcome to the Jungle"
Bass and drum thumping away, reined in guitar, and an almost narrative lyric (with a Sheffield-infused US accent), the track builds to a call and response type affair.  Not a bad start.
But it's up against a chiming, and then chugging, riffing onslaught with pained vocals.  "Welcome To The Jungle" wins it for sheer abandon.  And the melodic middle-eight (which is literally 8 bars smack in the middle of the song) provides the win assurance.
Def Leppard 0 Guns n Roses 1

"Rocket" vs "It's So Easy"
The Lepps are still thudding away, but also using every production processing trick in the book to drive the song along.  The chorus opening may not be all that (just a repeat of the title) but Joe Elliott's soaring vocal at the end of it is darn fine.
"It's So Easy" suffers by following "Jungle" - it just can't keep up with it.  It starts in fine fettle - almost like a Western theme, and continues to gallop along nicely.  Good track, but feels a bit flat after that opener.
Def Leppard 1 Guns n Roses 1

"Animal" vs "Nightrain"
"Animal" was the song longest in gestation when recording the album - I reckon they must've laboured over this one to make sure it was damn near note perfect - everything about it just works.  It bounds along with some abandon - who knew Hair Metal could be this good?
"Nightrain" has a bluesy swagger and even some cowbell going on (maybe not enough?).  Problem is, it still sounds like it needs a bit of a lift.  There are moments when Axl Roses's vocal screeching starts to grate, and "Nightrain" just falls short because of that.
Def Leppard 2 Guns n Roses 1

"Love Bites" vs "Out ta Get Me"
He's not shrieking (as much) on this one - which is a bonus.  You sense he's pretty angry though (all that effing and jeffing in the chorus).  It very nearly takes it, but this track finds itself up against the obligatory ballad which filled a lot of Hard Rock albums around the time, and often found themselves peeled off as singles.
"Love Bites" is a technical masterpiece of construction - everything reined in and the emotion laid bare.  As Rock ballads go, this is up there with the best.
Def Leppard 3 Guns n Roses 1

"Pour Some Sugar on Me" vs "Mr. Brownstone"
The last song to be written and recorded for 'Hysteria' and the second single lifted.  "Pour Some Sugar On Me" is (almost) the equal of "Animal" in swagger, professionalism in the delivery, but with added raunch.
"Mr Brownstone" is a thinly veiled reference to the drug of choice for certain members of the band, and describes a typical day in the life.  Fine chorus, fine guitar solo, but like the last couple of tracks, just missing that certain "something".
Def Leppard 4 Guns n Roses 1

"Armageddon It" vs "Paradise City"
4 singles form a 12 track album might be pushing the bounds of acceptability, but that didn't stop this song - complete with terrible punning title - reaching the 7" format.  OK, maybe it was the singles that pulled in the new crowd, kept the album selling, and kept the band on tour for nigh on 18 months.
"Paradise City" is that longed for "something else" on this album.  From it's electric/acoustic introduction, pounding drums, and chanted introduction, it then gradually builds with trebly guitars and wobbling bass into a riffing monster with an arena pleasing chorus.  Them Buns n Toasties boys can do a bit more than riffing and squawking.  And the 2 minute crazy bat-shit play-out wins the point easily.
Def Leppard 4 Guns n Roses 2

"Gods of War" vs "My Michelle"
"Gods Of War" tries hard to be an epic, but just seems to fall back to the tried and trusted.  It's almost lumpen it it's delivery, offering nothing new.  A bit filler-y really.
Guns n Roses seem to have got the hang of an earworm-y chorus (short and sweet, not always fitting perfectly, but an earworm over 2 lines).  It repeats the acoustic intro trick before going all heavy riffology.
Def Leppard 4 Guns n Roses 3

"Don't Shoot Shotgun" vs "Think About You"
Sometimes the Def Leppard tried and trusted, mixed with a bit of posturing just works - like here for example.  This track is the closest to a left-over from 'Pyromania', but with more processing.  It may not be mould breaking, but it just works.
"Think About You" is a fine track - a bit filler-y, but a fine track nonetheless.  More cowbell?
I think it might actually be a draw, but there's just enough about "Shotgun" to give Def Leppard a point.
Def Leppard 5 Guns n Roses 3

"Run Riot" vs "Sweet Child o' Mine"
"Run Riot" matches it name chugging along at great pace.  Only thing is it's stuck in the same furrow.  Heard it all before, but the increase in pace is certainly welcome, and it does boast a nifty little guitar solo (twiddly-dee, but just the right side of histrionics).
"Sweet Child O' Mine" though - that riff, the solo, the soaring vocal, the breakdown section - everything about this track works.  I doubt Guns n Roses ever bettered it.
Def Leppard 5 Guns n Roses 4

"Hysteria" vs "You're Crazy"
The strongest songs from 'Hysteria' (with the exception of "Armageddon It") were lifted as singles - and this, the title track, is a strong stand alone track.
Built on a chiming arpeggio, with Joe Elliot's best sultry vocal (not as strained as before, but still with a hint of US accent about it).  The chorus, whilst not exactly shifting too much from the tone of the song, is just one of those epic(ish) moments of release (backing vocals are a bit weedy, but ...)
"You're Crazy" may be built on a riff you've heard a million times, and a bit of a sweary chorus, but it pummels away like a thing demented.  The pogo-i-est song on the album.
Two very different things against each other, and I'm calling it a draw
Def Leppard 5.5 Guns n Roses 4.5

"Excitable" vs "Anything Goes"
The problem with "Excitable" is it belies it's title by not being very exciting at all.  You just want it to do "something", go "somewhere" - it doesn't.  It just plods along.
"Anything Goes" may not be the strongest song in the set, but it least it keeps the energy levels up.  And the obligatory solo has a touch of Peter Frampton's talkbox about it.  Which is (sort of) interesting - mentioning Peter Frampton at a Metal gig in 1987 may have got you thumped.
Def Leppard 5.5 Guns n Roses 5.5

"Love and Affection" vs "Rocket Queen"
Oh ... both these albums seem to be limping to a close.  In the case of Def Leppard, the limp is a bit more pronounced, offering nothing really new after a bright start - the track turns into a bit of a re-hash (with different lyrics) of the title track from a couple of minutes ago.
"Rocket Queen" as at least saved by a mighty guitar solo part way through, and the desire (although not always delivered) to finish on a relative high.  The Guns n Roses track is just the more enjoyable of the two, and at least it has a definite ending rather than just fading out to obscurity.
Def Leppard 5.5 Guns n Roses 6.5

Albums are all about balance - in the cases above it looks like Def Leppard went for front loading, whilst Guns n Roses backloaded (or, more correctly, middle loaded).  This allowed a foothold that 'Hysteria' could not recover from (it nearly did, but fell just short on many fronts)


Sweet Child O' Mine

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

I'm Not Going Back ...

Am I brave enough to do this?

(deep breath)

I first heard this song about 6 years ago as a pre-release to the coming Stiff Little Fingers album "No Going Back".  The album was released through PledgeMusic, and those who dropped some cash in the pot got a couple of tracks before release.

One of them was "My Dark Places" written by Jake Burns about his previous difficulties with his own mental health.
Originally written as a mantra or an outlet for Jake, with no intention of using it on the album, it took the rest of the band to convince him to properly record it.
The album version was dutifully Stiff Little Fingered and revved up for the commercial release, but for me it is the acoustic version that is the most affecting, and the one that made me think: "eh up, I'm recognising this.  I might have a problem here".

And so - like a normal, right thinking bloke would do - I ignored it and just carried on.
But the nagging didn't go, and then early last year I finally faced up to it and got a bit of assistance.
Only a short number of sessions, but they were bloody helpful in putting "stuff" in perspective and providing "coping strategies" (a posh way of saying recognising the signs and knowing how best to deal with them).

Talking to someone - sounds a bit blasé, but it is the best thing you can do.
Talking "stuff" through, realising it can change with a small effort - or even no effort, just thinking about stuff in a different way, not letting things get on top of you or wallowing in it.
It was (for me) amazing how much strength can be gleaned by someone just listening to you, and encouraging you to speak more and try different approaches.

Is it better now?
Don't know.  I don't think it will ever go away completely, but I am now seeing sh*t coming towards me (rather than just piling up on me).
It takes a long time to re-build, but I think I'm getting there.
Just need to keep reminding myself, pushing forward, and taking strength from any little victory.

So Jake wrote this as a sort of reminder/therapy/mantra for his own struggle - and now I'm doing the same.

My Dark Places (Jake Burns)

Well it cuts just like as knife
Takes away your love of life
Puts out your fire and leaves you in the ashes
And you lay there in the hole
What you loved now leaves you cold
It’s hard to get the strength to face the morning
Some days you really feel like hiding
Some days you swear you’ll never go out anymore

And I’m not going back
I’m not going back to my dark places
I’m not going back
I’m not going back to my dark places

Well the days drag slowly by
All you want to do is cry
Nothing makes sense nothing has a reason
And the world is not the same
And you’re the one to blame
Before too long you feel just like a prisoner
Some days you really feel like screaming
Some days you swear you’ll never smile anymore

And I’m not going back
I’m not going back to my dark places
I’m not going back
I’m not going back to my dark places

It’s something they can’t see yet it seems so real to me
Can’t explain just how I feel when what I feel is no emotion
It’s not a tragedy, yet that’s how it seems to me
I wish that you could see or even for one minute be me

Well, I got there in the end
With the help of many friends
Some who helped by simply just believing
And the days look brighter now
Yet I know someday, somehow
I could end up back there in an instant
Some days I really feel like laughing
Some days I realize I must stay on my guard

And I’m not going back
I’m not going back to my dark places
I’m not going back
I’m not going back to my dark places

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Blur versus Oasis

Parklife versus Definitely Maybe

These 2 albums are probably the quintessential Britpop albums, both from the same year (1994 - separated by 4 months), and is pretty much where the media starting wetting itself about "it's The Beatles vs The Stones again".  No it wasn't it, it was 2 bands - one from the north, one from the south - releasing their statements which chimed with the times and the public lapped it up.
So ...

Blur started life as a bit of a baggy-copyist band riding on the wave of Happy Mondays-esques indie-dance stuff.  They scored a hit with "There's No Other Way" followed by a relatively disappointing album 'Leisure'.
In some debt, they released "Popscene" (the record where Britpop started?) followed by the album "Modern Life Is Rubbish" - an album bathed in the Britpop aesthetic and celebrating their culture in the face of Grunge.  Sadly for Blur, Nirvana and Pearl Jam proved to be slightly more popular, and "Modern Life ..." didn't do the business.
Still being in debt did not obviously dent Blur's creativity, and the next album was written and recorded relatively painlessly and relatively quickly - although record label boss Dave Balfe though it was an error, and not a great album.
The public obviously disagreed and 'Parklife' debuted at number one and hung around the consciousness for the best part of 2 years.

Meanwhile, somewhere up north ...

A small-time rehersal room band are joined by the singers older brother.
He's got a couple of songs for them to try, and a vision for how the band should operate.
They tag along with a friends band to Glasgow and blag their way onto the bill.  Alan McGee is in the audience that night and is impressed.
Their first recording (proper) was a white label demo of "Columbia" sent out to journalists and radio stations to some acclaim.
The lead single followed ("Supersonic") in April 1994 - just as 'Parklife' hit the shelves - and the album - 'Definitely Maybe' - came in August 1994.
Too much too quick?  Could they keep it up?
Fortuitously they had hit a rich seam of crowd-pleasing anthemic songs perfectly in tune with the collision of Britpop, Cool Britannia and Lad Culture.  This particular wave was going to be surfed ...

"Girls & Boys" vs "Rock n Roll Star"
"Girls & Boys" is really lightweight - it smacks of "there you go, the hit single you were asking for Mr Record Company".
"Rock n Roll Star" meanwhile comes storming out full of attitude, sneering and over enunciated lyrics, backed up with a wall of noise.
When Liam says: "Tonight, I'm a Rock n Roll Star" you believe him.
One Nil to the Mancs.
Blur 0 Oasis 1

"Tracy Jacks" vs "Shakermaker"
Like his (obvious?) influences in the Great Britsh songbook - Ray Davies, Paul Weller, Ian Dury ... - the storytelling-songwriter has a few "character" songs in their armoury, and this is one of Damon's finest.
"Shakermaker" contains a direct lift from The New Seekers, but is dripping with attitude.
But not enough attitude to beat the story of a middle-aged banker (with a girl's name) having a bit of a crisis.
Blur 1 Oasis 1

"End of a Century" vs "Live Forever"
The Blur track starts on a wistful acoustic type mood, and rises to an anthemic crowd pleaser - probably with one eye on continued use 6 years later to mark the millennium (sadly, they never really got the better of the popular media's obsession with Europe's 'The Final Countdown').
"Live Forever" screams as a hymn for current belief an immortality - "hope I die before I get old"?  not these boys.
Blur 1 Oasis 2

"Parklife" vs "Up in the Sky"
Mockney Geezer-ish narrative versus (with the best will in the world) Oasis-By-Numbers - very good Oasis-By-Numbers, it just "needs" something else to lift it after that opening triumvirate.
Yes, "Parklife" is overplayed, but it's still a great track.
Oi Oi - it's the equalisier
Blur 2 Oasis 2

"Bank Holiday" vs "Columbia"
"Bank Holiday" is Blur's finest punk statement (before 'Song 2') - all thrash and abandon with shouty vocal.  And ordinarily, Punk (for me) would win, but this is "Columbia" - one of the finest things in the Oasis catalogue - no wonder it got 20 odd plays on Radio 1 in it's first week of delivery as a white label demo.
Blur 2 Oasis 3

"Badhead" vs "Supersonic"
The thing about the 'Parklife' album is that it contains a bit of diversity - "Badhead" is one of those different tracks. You feel you've heard it before, and then it sounds all so fresh again, then reminiscent - all in the space of 16 bars.  There's also a certain yearning and/or apology in the vocal delivery.
"Supersonic" is cut from the same cloth as other tracks - it is a very fine, head splitting track.  But, I have to call-out the terrible rhyming couplets here - "I'm feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic" is not a great lyric
Blur 3 Oasis 3

"The Debt Collector" vs "Take Me Away"(B-side of "Supersonic" (1st single from the album))
Every album should have one track of accordian-driven oompah music somewhere on it.  Maybe not, but Blur obviously didn't get the memo.  It's not a bad track, just a bit throwaway.
"Take Me Away" didn't even make the album, and was stuck on the B-Side of debut single "Supersonic".
It proves Oasis can do subtle acoustic-y things rather than just straight bombast.  I get why it never made the album, but it is one of Noel's under-rated tracks and deserves more than a partially forgotten B-Side.
Blur 3 Oasis 4

"Far Out" vs "Bring It on Down"
You remember that diversity thing about 'Parklife'?  Here's another example - a Syd Barrett-esque whimsy on the Planets.  Fine in the context of the album, but unlikely to become a live favourite (note: if nothing else, it proves Alex James has a half decent singing voice).
"Bring It On Down" suffers from that Oasis-By-Numbers problem, but it is somehow vital Oasis-By-Numbers
Blur 3 Oasis 5

"To the End" vs "Cigarettes & Alcohol"
Franglais Europop lines up against a T.Rex knock-off.
That old diversity thing is on show again producing a song that evokes 60s pop, and very probably featured the vocal work of Francois Hardy (in fact, she did record a version later).
"Cigarettes and Alcohol" can be taken as a theme song for lad culture, and has been used for a series of compilations celebrating football and going out on the p*ss (often to a soundtrack mostly seated in 1979 power pop).  It is a fine, pummeling track, and even the extra points gained for the intonation and lengthening of vowels ("Imgagin-aaaa-shun", "Sun-she-iine" etc), can't stop victory for the southerners.
Blur 4 Oasis 5

"London Loves" vs "Fade Away" (B-side of "Cigarettes & Alcohol" (last single from the album))
The Blur track is all fine and dandy, but never really goes anywhere.  The Oasis track is proof positive that Noel kept back all the best tracks for B-Sides.
Blur 4 Oasis 6

"Trouble in the Message Centre" vs "Digsy's Dinner"
"Message Centre" sits fine in the context of the album, but is unlikely to be considered as an essential track.  Plenty going on, unmistakably Blur, great bass, drums an guitar.  But all a bit filler-y.
In the midst of all the Beatles copyists accusations, let us not forget that Oasis may also be the prime Slade copyists of the 90s too.  And with this track they've never really sounded more Slade-ish.  A rare trick - to sound like someone else, and still be unrecognisably yourselves.
Blur 4 Oasis 7

"Clover Over Dover" vs. "Slide Away"
Blur continue to try and be a bit different with a song (seemingly) based on a Medieval madrigal.  Lyrically it's a bit banal, with some levered in rhyming that Noel would be proud of.  Like "Message Centre" above, this track does feel more like it's filling a gap on the album rather that an intrinsic part of it.
"Slide Away" is perhaps the most under-rated track on the Oasis offering.  The wall of sound is here and topped off with Liam's strained vocal just makes it something a bit special (maybe not "deep" or "innovative" - just "special")
Blur 4 Oasis 8

"Magic America" vs "Married with Children"
'Parklife' suffers from a bit of Side 2 tiredness, and "Magic America" is no different - nice enough but not really pushing the album forward anymore.
"Married With Children" shows an unexpected mellower side to Oasis.  And if you hadn't heard "Take Me Away", this would be the first time you realise there's a bit more to Oasis than guitars on 11 and Liam sneering at you.
Blur 4 Oasis 9

Authors Note: Due to the mismatch in the number of tracks, I have added some B-Sides from the lifted singles by Oasis.  Still being 3 tracks short, I have now added the "Whatever" single (released December 1994).
This is (I think) also around the time the Media started to take notice and draw up the Blur vs Oasis (made up) battle lines

"Jubilee" vs "Whatever"
Blur combine Punky thrash and a character song with a quite mad shouty chorus.  It's a good track with some fine Graham Coxon guitar playing.
"Whatever" is the point Oasis start doing the big orchestral epic thing.  With the opening strings reminiscent of Neil Innes's "How Sweet To Be An Idiot", this track was the subject of an ironic plagiarism case where current-day Beatles copyists (Oasis) now have to pay royalties to someone who was responsible for producing a whole albums worth of (almost perfect) Beatles pastiches.
Blur 4 Oasis 10

"This Is a Low" vs "(It's Good) to Be Free"
On first hearing, "This Is A Low" just sounds like a recitation of the hipping Forecast mixed with bad rhymes.  But oh no, this is where Blur get a bit epic.  It's best consumed live for full goose-bump effect, but is equally good on record.
"It's Good To Be Free" is an Oasis B-Side - unfortunately it's not one of those "Good Enough To Be An A-Side" tracks.  Nice enough, but falls just short
Blur 5 Oasis 10

"Lot 105" vs "Half the World Away"
More of Blur's diversity on show, but this is 1 minute 15 seconds of seaside organ silliness with a side order of Music Hall.
"Half The World Away" is a reflective acoustic track expressing a yearning to be elsewhere.  It came to the attention of a wider audience when used as the theme for "The Royle Family"
(funny, but not so funny when you've experienced your ex-in laws playing out many of the scenarios for real)
Blur 5 Oasis 11

This is Blur's defining moment, and they've been trounced by five oiks from Manchester.  Maybe Dave Balfe was right, but 5 million punters can't all be wrong.
Blur would soon move on - the follow-up 'The Great Escape' showed Blur to be more than just another guitar band and had a desire to be a bit different (even if the public, or the media, weren't quite ready for it) whilst Oasis would refine (and some say "perfect") Britpop with 1995s 'Morning Glory'.
After that though, and I say this as a fan of Oasis, it all got a bit "stodgy", whereas Blur at least stayed interesting, almost re-inventing themselves with every release.
In this case, Oasis won the battle, but Blur probably won the War.

Oasis - "Rock n Roll Star"

Blur - "This Is A Low"

Saturday, 4 January 2020

A Decadal Round Up

Right ... the end of a decade.
Or is it?
The Calendar went from 1 BC to 1 AD, meaning there was no Year 0.  Therefore, a decade with a year ending in 1 and concludes with a year ending in 0.
But this would muck up the naming of decades a la Roaring 20s, Swinging 60s, Cheesecloth 70s, Non-descript Noughties etc.
So, for the sake of simplicity, sheepishness, and to match the media celebrations of "The Best (whatever) Of The Decade", I've looked back over previous lists, spreadsheets, CD shelves and the big pile of un-shelved CDs next to the stereo and arrived at the following 10 albums representing the best of each year.

I entered the decade 7 months shy of my 40th birthday, and with my CD shelves full to over-flowing.
I exit the decade 7 months shy of my 50th birthday, with additional CD shelves that are full to over-flowing, and writing guff on a computer screen.
So what have I learnt?

  1. You can do nothing about chronology - your destiny is to get older (it doesn't mean you have to grow up though)
  2. Ikea have had a fair bit of cash out of me buying new shelves (they may have had less, but they kept changing the colour schemes and designs).  I'll be back there later this year to buy some more
  3. A transition to Streaming Services may solve the storage problems, but THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! More physical product please.
  4. Over 10 years, I've bought around 800 "things" (some new, some old, some picked up for 50p at a charity shop, some donated to me from those clearing out/downsizing (I like people like this - all donations gratefully received) - of all of those, I would guess only around 10% have been consigned to the "play once, never again" pile.  Not a bad hit rate
  5. (the serious bit)  Writing this blog thingy has been a help to me personally.  It has given me something to focus on, think about, and get away from "pressures".  I'm not suggesting that I have had major issues, but some mental health issues have reared their head recent times (I think it's my age, maybe I'm due a full on mid-life crisis soon?).
    I also read/follow other blog doo-dahs and chuck a few comments on there.  I am happy to say I have never been chased away, and it has given me a bit more confidence with the stuff I write on here.
    I'm not fishing here, but receiving positive comments is always welcome - indeed it makes me feel like I'm not shouting in the darkness, and what I am saying/writing is not complete twaddle. To those that have commented on my past ramblings, I thank you.
    You've made a happy man very old.
So ...

10 Albums From 10 Years:
Is it simply a case of revisiting my year-end posts and picking number 1?
In most cases, Yes.  But (a) I didn't start writing this rubbish until 2012, and (b) not all the chosen number 1s remain the chose number 1s anymore (many do, but the outstanding features of other choices have blossomed further)

2010: John Grant - Queen Of Denmark
John Grant's debut is one of those unimpeachable debut albums - see also The Ramones, The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Joy Division and a fair few others (but maybe not Paul Young?).
A collection of songs mixing confessional, anger, wit and dark humour.  Sadly - although later songs have hinted at it - this is a peak he has not yet re-climbed.
Track: "Queen Of Denmark"

Other contenders:
Iron Maiden - 'The Final Frontier'
Len Price 3 - 'Pictures'
Manic Street Preachers - 'Postcards From A Young Man'
P J Harvey - 'Let England Shake'

2011: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
When Oasis imploded in 2009, it was another 2 years before the Gallagher name returned.  Liam's attempt was (in fairness) sub-Oasis, whilst Noel took his Oasis past, add a little more to it and threw out a confident and assured solo debut.  He's continued to push on from here - always sounding much the same, but with enough tweaks to the sound to remain interesting.
Track: "Stop The Clocks"

Other contenders:
Noah and The Whale - 'Last Night On Earth'
Pierces - 'You & I'
Ron Sexsmith - 'Long Player, Late Bloomer'
Vaccines - 'What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?'

2012: Paul Weller - Sonik Kicks
Paul Weller has been around for a fair few years and the albums are always rewarding.  Always pushing forward and never one to rest on his laurels, 'Sonik Kicks' found him going down the Motorik drumbeats route with even a touch of Chemical Brotheres and Hawkwind for good measure.
'Sinik Kicks' remains (for me) the best of the Weller solo outings (above 'Stanley Road' and 'As Is Now')
Track: "That Dangerous Age"

Other contenders:
Dexys Midnight Runners - 'One Day I'm Going To Soar'
First Aid Kit - 'The Lions Roar'
Public Image Limited - 'This Is PiL'
Richard Hawley 'Standing At The Skys Edge'

2013: Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time
A concept album (or at least a continuing musical arc) that sustains interest from moment one, despite containing some relatively downbeat and melancholic moments.  The musical "journey" is just right lifting to joyousness when required, and mixing a whole raft of musical styles together.
Track: "Oh My Lord"

Other contenders:
Frank Turner -'Tape Deck Heart'
Paul McCartney - 'New'
Public Service Broadcasting - 'Inform, Educate, Entertain'
Steven Wilson - 'The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)'

2014: Stiff Little Fingers - No Going Back
11 years since their last album and the return of original bass player Ali McMordie saw Stiff Little Fingers release an album as strong as anything they've done before and as valid to current times as any other band around them.
Funded through (the now defunct) PledgeMusic, this album hits it funding target within 24 hours.  They may not be the most well known band in the world, but they've probably got the strongest and most loyal fan base.
Track: "Since Yesterday Was Here"

Other contenders:
Ben Watt - 'Hendra'
Henry Priestman - 'The Last Mad Surge Of Youth'
Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - 'What Have We Become'
Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey - 'Going Back Home'

2015: Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space
The first PSB album took Public Information Films and mixed the narrative with purpose-written tunes to create an insight to a pat world of progress and triumph.
A Similar conceit was employed here against a backdrop of the US/Russia Space Programmes and the eventual triumph (As promised in the opening dialogue from JFK) of the Moon Landings.
Track: "Go!"

Other contenders:
Cathal Smyth - 'A Comfortable Man'
Courtney Barnett - 'Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit'
Iron Maiden - 'Book Of Souls'
Public Image Limited - 'What The World Needs Now'

2016: Madness - Can't Touch Us Now
Another act from the late 70s showing others how it can, should and will be done.  National Treasures In Waiting returned with an album that properly followed 'Norton Folgate'.  Prime, accessible songwriting, top notch tunes and performances to match.  Live they remain a fantastic event.
Track: "Don't Leave The Past Behind You"

Other contenders:
Iggy Pop - 'Post Pop Depression'
Ruts DC - 'Music Must Destroy'
Steve Mason - 'Meet The Humans'
White Denim - 'Stiff'

2017: Conor Oberst - Salutations
World weary tales delivered in rich melodies matched with emotion and brittleness.  It can sometimes be a tough, but ultimately rewarding listen.  Warmth shines through the delivery, and the songs soar and never tire.  Generally received middling reviews, but this is the standout release of the year for me, and still (in 2019) makes regular re-appearances in the CD player
Track: "Gossamer Thin"

Other contenders:
Duncan Reid & The Big Heads - 'Bombs Away'
Len Price 3 - 'Kentish Longtails'
Sparks - 'Hippopotamus'
The Professionals - 'What In The World'

2018: Wreckless Eric - Construction Time & Demolition
Not getting sucked into the media circus after his big moment (1978's "Whole Wide World") has given Wreckless Eric the freedom to persue his craft, and then come up with a lo-fi classic like this one.  Chock full of tunes and delivered by a voice of experience.
Track: "Gateway To Europe"

Other contenders:
The Damned - 'Evil Spirits'
Manic Street Preachers - 'Resistance Is Futile'
Spiritualized - 'And Nothing Hurt'
Suede - 'The Blue Hour'

2019: Richard Dawson - 2020
Folk troubadour meets Indie meets Captain Beefheart meets Ken Loach, complete with tales of modern life (and often an anguished modern life).  Every track tells a story - some make you think (for at least a second), others just make you marvel at turn of phrase, a seemingly humdrum or non-sequitor type lyric.  Most songs mange to do both.
Is this an album of songs or a sociology lecture from the future?
(yes, this is a copy of the 2019 Musical Things text posted a couple of weeks ago)
Track: "Game Of Two Halves"

Other contenders:
Liam Gallagher - 'Why Me? Why Not?'
Mattiel - 'Satis Factory'
Fontaines DC - 'Dogrel'
Specials - 'Encore'