The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers

My clear winner for 2006 is the first attempt by the combined forces of The Greenhornes and the White Stripes. In fact I read that Jack White has even penned a few more ditties since this album was released but I’m not sure if they’re for the White Stripes or the Raconteurs bucket. Maybe we’ll get a new album from both bands in 2007. This beautifully crafted album opens with their first single, “Steady As She Goes” with its simple bass riff & clear crisp rock guitars. Their distinct style also works very well on the more mellow tracks on the album such as “Together” and the exquisite “Call it A Day”. The must have for 2006.

The Zutons: Tired of Hanging Around

The second album by the Liverpudlian quintet carries on where the first, (Who Killed the Zutons) left off, and it’s hard to choose between these two great albums. “Why Won’t You Give Me Your Love” has an opening keyboard hook that sounds like its been lifted from U2’s “New Years Day” and the lyrics to “Oh Stacy” and “Secrets” paint a emotional portrait reminiscent of some of Jarvis Cocker’s mid 90’s ramblings. Despite these few reference points the Zutons seem to have created a fairly unique sound with their concoction of simple catchy pop, brass and a few raw guitars.

David Gilmour: On an Island

This is easily Gilmour’s best solo record to date and also an improvement on any of the post Waters Floyd stuff that Gilmour has done. This is a very cohesive album and like the mid 70’s Floyd albums works well as a complete piece rather than a collection of songs. So much so, that Dave chose to play the album in its entirety at this years live performances. DVD available soon I hope. The album has Gilmour’s recognisable guitar style throughout despite the lack of heavier moments which aren’t actually missed. Dave even extends his musical prowess to the saxophone (That’s Dick Parry unemployed again).

Artic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

This album hailed a sudden rise from seemingly nowhere for the Artic Monkeys back in January 2006. It is highly original, very northern, immensely entertaining and frequently poignant. The ladish culture adeptly strewn across the entire record reminds me of my youthful activities of underage drinking and legging it from the local coppers. As for the musical style I’m still not sure which label to stick on it, is it Rock, Dance, Indie or Something else? Answers on a stamp addressed envelope to “Who the Fuck are the Artic Monkeys? PO BOX 1”.

Bob Dylan: Modern Times

I heard that Alicia Keys where very pleased to be name dropped in the opening verse on the first track of Dylan’s new album, certainly his best since 1997’s “Time Out Of Mind”. Despite the title, the style seems closer to his late 60’s early 70’s work, which is no bad thing. The lyrics are of course transcendent, but I’m sure no one expected any less. The penultimate track “The Levee’s Gonna Break” must surely be included following last years events in New Orleans but like Zeppelin, he has included no credit for Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe. My favourite track, “Ain’t Talkin’”, sounds a little Leonard Cohen-ish and you can virtually see him walk off into the sunset as the track & album draws to its conclusion.

The Beatles: Love

I bought this without any high hopes, expecting a slightly mucked about Beatles Best Of, but it turned out to be quite a bit more than that. George and Giles Martin have cleverly mixed a horde of familiar Beatle sound-bytes and melodies with an inspiring a selection of Beatles classics that I wouldn’t have thought would go together. For example Ringo singing “Octopuses Garden” over the relaxing orchestral arrangements to “Goodnight” (From the White Album). You don’t just need this Beatles album to complete your anthology; you need it to experience the Beatles afresh again.

The Who: Endless Wire

It’s been 24 years the last album of fresh Who material. The album is split into 2 parts, a selection of 9 new songs and the “Wire & Glass” mini Opera, and it has apparently taken 4 years to record over discontinuous sessions. If you buy the special edition version you also get another disc with the Who live at Lyon featuring some Who classics played recently. Particular album highlights include “Mike Post’s Theme”, and the title track as well as “Mirror Door” which is an interesting list of Rock & Pop greats that have presumably inspired Pete and Roger over the years.

Amy Winehouse: Back To Black

Amy has complained that a lot of the paparazzi have focussed on her appearance and image rather than her music which seems to have quite rightly pissed her off somewhat. The title track is an especially fine example of her powerful vocal performance and the additional strings would have made this a perfect track for a James Bond theme. The lyrics to the opening track “Rehab” serves as a prime example of what is a self confessed autobiographical album based on her own experiences. Not just a cracking Soul album, I’m pretty sure there’s a fair amount of Blues in there too.

Kasabian: Empire

Empire kicks off with the very bouncy title track, a sort of electronic rock in roll that really needs a hanger full of sweaty party goers on pogo sticks and a very powerful amplifier. “Shoot the Runner” continues the high octane vivacious tempo with an almost Spirit in Sky-ish riff underpinning the song. The best however, is saved to last with “Doberman”, which starts of delicately before building into a masterful cacophony of guitar, drum and bass and then from out of nowhere some sort of Spanish/Mexican style brass- Stirring stuff.

Iron Maiden: A Matter Of Life and Death

If I were to draw a graph depicting the musical merits of the mighty Irons over the past 3 decades it would show an initial rise during the early 80’s before gradually sinking to the murky depths in the mid nineties (The Blaze Bailey Years). However since 2000’s return of Bruce Dickenson to the fold, the last 3 albums chart a gradual return to form, culminating with this years album which genuinely sees them back at the top of their game again. Classic Rock with a splattering of progressive overtones. In the old days you were lucky to get one 8 minute + epic per album, “A Matter of Life & Death” is a whole album full of them.

The Fratellis: Costello Music

When Barry Fratelli, Mince Fratelli and Jon Fratelli got together it must have been the most fortuitous piece of musical casting since the Ramones met. Anyway, this is an awfully jolly little album and a rather enjoyable cover too. The album consists 13 upbeat guitar, drum and bass songs following a similar template laid down by the likes of Blur and Kaiser Chiefs. While scanning the cover for some more information, I’ve just spotted some more nice pictures so I’m off to examine those in a bit more detail. Buy the album and finish the review yourself.

Lily Allen: Alright, Still

If the Artic Monkey’s paint a vivid picture of the Northern working class youth culture of the mid noughties then Lily wittingly holds a mirror to the same culture from a more Southern and feminine perspective. This is not an album that I expected to like at all and anyone who knows me may be surprised to see it this years list, but I like to try and have an open mind whenever possible (although I remain firmly closed to Saturday night talent show contestants and Bon Jovi). Lily’s lyrics are risqué, witty and surprisingly intelligent and the music is catchy and well crafted and I’m glad I put aside my prejudices as the album has a worthy place in this year’s list.

Bert Jansch: The Black Swan

You’ll have to leave normal Pop/Rock aisles of HMV and stroll over to the Folk section to locate this little gem. My attention was first drawn to Bert Jansch about 25 years ago when I first got into Led Zeppelin and learnt that “Black Mountain” side on the first Zeppelin album was a reworking of some classic Bert Jansch. Echoes of that same style can still be heard on this new offering off mellow acoustic bliss. Bert must have had a fairly high profile year (by his standards), as I spotted him at one of last summers music festivals in North Devon on one of those steamy hot days back in June. Great for your middle class dinner parties, and in case anyone asks, it’s Beth Orton on vocals on those tracks.

Kula Shaker: Revenge Of The King

I suppose a 4 track EP doesn’t really qualify as an album, but what the hell, it’s my list, so I make up the rules, if you don’t like them make your own list of albums from 2006. Kula Shaker disappeared after their first 2 albums in 1996 and 1998, then Crispian Mills made a couple albums with the Jeeva’s before reforming Kula Shaker this year and playing a few shows where I picked up a signed copy of this EP. The success of the EP and the concerts has resulted in a return to the studio and a prospect of a new album next year. They’ve lost a little of that Eastern influence and the Hammond organ (with the departure of Jay Darlington), but the core sound of the first 2 album remains.

Wolfmother: Wolfmother

This album was billed in the music press before its release as a return to that classic 70’s rock sound. The opening track “Dimension” certainly has some early Black Sabbath influences but other tracks such as “Apple Tree”, have a crisper, and more frugal sound like a modern White Stripes album. Actually, after just re-listening to this album while writing my review, I’ve decided to move the Sydney based trio up a few positions in my 2006 chart.

Sparks: Hello Young Lovers

Brothers Ron and Russell Mael formed Sparks 36 years ago and “Hello Young Lovers” is their 20th studio album, many critics say their best too although I don’t own enough of the alternatives to have an opinion on that. Sparks do however remain to steer clear of the normal pop conventions with their own quirky style. Most songs are piano led and feature a lot of orchestration. Strains of many of the bands they have influenced such as Depeche Mode, New Order can be heard throughout the album as well as a clear Pet Shop Boys sound during “The Very Next Fight”.

Motörhead: Kiss Of Death

The classic Motörhead line-up of Lemmy, Phil (Animal) Taylor and Fast Eddie Clarke is the one that most people can name. But with the exception of Lemmy most of us would struggle to name the current band members, it may therefore be surprising to learn that the current incarnation of Lemmy, Philip Campbell & Mikkey Dee have been around a lot longer than the classic line-up. This album is pretty much what you would expect from Motörhead in terms of style, and surprisingly on a close par with some of their greatest work especially the track “God Was Never On Your Side” which is every bit as good as the “Ace of Spades”, but remember it needs to be played LOUD. Still a bloody good live act too.

Yusef: Another Cup

When Cat Stevens got his calling from Allah and turned his back on the music industry it was a great loss for us music aficionados. When he therefore decided to release his first new material for nearly 30 years under his Muslim name of Yusuf Islam I bought it with great anticipation. The opening track “Avoid the City after Dark” is one of the album highlights along with his reworking of his 1970 classic “I Think I see The Light” presumably now directed at his new preferred deity. However, as with all religious delusions, they are as irrelevant to me as his skin colour, sexuality or favourite shade of blue, I’m only interested in the music and that sounds pretty good to me.

The Killers: Sam's Town

In much the same way that the Grateful Dead’s fans where known as “deadheads”, I rather like the fact the followers of the Killers are referred to as the “Victims”. Sam's Town is likely to swell the number of victims with great tracks like “When You Were Young” and “Uncle Jonny”. Top marks to whoever wrote their web site as well, its jolly good.

KT Tunstall: KT Tunstall's Acoustic Extravaganza

The clue is in the title, i.e. this is a collection of acoustic numbers recorded last year in a cottage on the Isle of Sky. The album contains several covers, such as Beck’s “Golden Age”. Despite remaining acoustic throughout there’s bits of Country, Jazz and Rock all mixed up in here.

The Kooks: Inside Out

I’ve only just got around to getting this album, so this review is based solely on my first impressions which means that by the time you read the list it may have moved up my chart or possibly off it altogether. The album starts off gently with the short and mellow “Seaside” before moving into the more powerful “See the World”. “Sofa Song” is a great track consisting of high Speed acoustic guitars and cranked up vocals. The rest of the album is in a pretty similar vein sounding a bit like Coldplay in a hurry. For some strange reason I found myself drawn towards track 12, “Jackie Big Tits”. Unfortunately I was more inspired by the title than the content.

Corinne Bailey Rae: Corinne Bailey Rae

Although Corinne received a lot of press at the beginning of the year proclaiming her to be the new sound of 2006, the album is actually a timeless soul and jazz classic that could really have been released in any of the last 50 or next 50 years without sounding out of place. Beautiful sad, lonely, and passionate. Most reviewers’ favourite comparison is with Billie Holiday and I probably wouldn’t argue too much.

Thom Yorke: The Eraser

Thom Yorke seems to be completely incapable of coming up with an instantly likeable sing-along, catchy pop tune. Instead he forces us to work hard to tune into his psyche with countless listening before you start to get an idea of what he’s up to. The album lacks Radiohead’s intricate guitar work normally provided by Jonny Greenwood and seems instead to rely on a heady discord of blips, pips and electronic farts. I’ve spoken to a few people who really love it, but I’m still working on it.

Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere

I got this album on the strength of the single “Crazy” which has been a well played theme this year. Maybe I need to get more familiar with rest of the album before judging but it seems to me that without “Crazy” propping up the album it wouldn’t have made it into this list.

Razorlight: Razorlight

It’s been 2 years since Razorlight’s million selling debut album during which time they have come up with their self titled sequel. The opening track “In The Morning” has a familiar sound that I can’t quite put my finger on, is it INXS or is it the “Heart Of Glass” style guitar reverb. One the main focal points of the album is “America”, a sort of wishy washy Springsteen tribute in reverse. There’s some fairly good pop songs on hear but they lack the certain spark of the first album.