The Fireman: Electric Arguments

The fireman is the moniker that gives Sir Paul McCartney and his musical collaborator, Youth, a license for electronic experimentation without the risk of tarnishing his well earned solo reputation. “Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight” has the shattering guitars and vocals that he first introduced us to forty years ago on “Helter Skelter”. But like the White Album this track is not typical of the album as a whole. In fact the White Album analogies could be continued, “Two Magpies” is the gentle acoustic version of “Blackbird”. “Highway” is the rocking version of “Birthday” and “Light from your Lighthouse” has the cowboy blues echoes of “Rocky Racoon”. OK, enough with the White Album comparisons it’s not really in the same league, but it is the most interesting thing Macca’s has done for some time.

Porcupine Tree: We Lost The Skyline

An intimate live performance at Park Avenue CD’s in Orlando, Florida that was supposed to feature the whole band but due to space restrictions is just Steve Wilson on his own for the first 4 tracks and supported by John Wesley on second guitar for the remainder of the album. Porcupine Tree have not heavily promoted the album but it does contain a very nice 30 minute stripped set of some of the bands highlights. Interesting in between track banter too from Mr Wilson who shamelessly namedrops his friendship with Robert Fripp.

Sigur Rós: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

I didn’t have a clue what this album is actually called let alone pronounce the damn thing, so I’ve done a little bit of internet research and managed to translate the album title to “With a Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly”. Regardless of what is called, or what they’re on about it sounds pretty good. I just hope that the proceeds of this mellow and haunting album have not been lost in their local Icelandic bank.

The Killers: Day & Age

Brandon Flowers and his posy of Vegas based rockers quickly follow up the success of their first two long players with Day & Age. The themes of their second album “Sam’s Town” are coconsciously continued and explored further, and musically “Day & Age” builds upon the foundation of the previous album. The success of the first two albums has enabled the band, their record label and their producers to simply throw everything at this third album. Consequently it has big aspirations and an ambitious theatrical sound enlarging their less complex indie rock beginnings.

White Denim: Workout Holiday

I saw White Denim at the Mighty Boosh festival back in July but prior to that I hadn’t heard of them. So for those still waiting to be introduced, White Denim are a three piece from Austin, Texas consisting of Joshua Block (Drums), James Pertralli (Guitar & Vocals) and Steve Terebecki (Bass). Workout Holiday has a completely unrefined and raw sound, fully taking on board the DIY punk ethos. High points include the album’s first track and also their first single, “Let’s Talk About It” with its punky riff and gruff vocals and “Shake, Shake, Shake” which continues with the enthused high energy garage grunge.

Drive By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

Not since the Eagles soared across the album charts have we had a band that epitomises the genre known to me as “Amercina”. Come to think of it, do Americans refer to it as Americana? or do they just call it Southern Rock or Alternative Country? Anyway, “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” has a plucking banjo, distant slide guitar and slow steady rhythm that sets a strong standard that is upheld throughout 4 sides of vinyl or a single CD. The lyrics represent my stereotypical view of the religious southern man but are still intelligent enough to provide a suitable retort to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” on behalf of Skynyrd.

Dido: Safe Trip Home

After a lengthy 5 years in gestation, Ms Armstrong has followed up “Life for Rent” with her third album and best yet. “Safe Trip Home” is an extremely minimal album with lots of space and very gentle melodies with deep bass and crisp ticking hi-hats. Aided by shared production duties between her brother (Rollo), Jon Brion, Brian Eno and Mick Fleetwood, Dido’s is afforded soft and gentle vocals that never have to compete with the sweeping score that underpins her.

The Guillemots: Red

“Red” is the second full length offering from Fife Dangerfield’s birdy four piece. Proceedings commence with “Kriss Kross” and it’s opening middle eastern riff giving way to a towering orchestral wall and crisp high keyed vocals. The album continues with extravagant musical styles touching light forms of modern jazz and funk and a bit of 80’s nostalgia whilst keeping a firm foot hold in their indie power pop niche. The album offers 11 intelligent and novel compositions non more so than “Words” whose gentle jazzy drums, mellow bluesy guitar, harmonica, piano and glockenspiel would stand up equally well without any vocals.

Guns N’ Roses: Chinese Democracy

“Appetite for Destruction” contained a fine set of instant classic heavy rock songs that redefined the genre in the late eighties. “Use Your Illusion I & II” could also be distilled into another single classic hard rock album. So seventeen years on from their last album of original material and 10 years of hard work, restarts, line-up changes and studio fiddling with limitless time and money the megalomaniacal frontman should have been capable of coming up with a new masterpiece to rival those early G N’ R classics. But to my ears “Chinese Democracy” has come up short. The new album does contain the familiar screeching and strained Rose vocals and the rather fluid replacement line up makes a solid and utterly competent job of the fine guitar solos, piano pieces and solid rhythm section, but there’s still a vital ingredient missing. I don’t think the void is simply the absence of Slash, Duff, Izzy or any of Axl’s other former band mates that he now seems incapable of working with, but simply the quality of the new material. I appreciate that Axl has spent 10 years crafting this album and I have only had it for one day so perhaps it’s unfair to dismiss it so quickly, especially as it does have some fine moments. But despite 10 years of perfecting, with shed loads of finely tuned details, complicated solos and subtle and clever fills I’m still reminded of the old adage that you simply can’t polish a turd.

Neil Diamond: Home Before Dark

I’ve not listened to any Neil Diamond since I was a kid, I’d always regarded him as being of my parents generation and hadn’t really bothered with him, but The Beatles and The Stones are of my parent generation and I certainly wouldn’t apply the same logic to them. So I thought I’d best shelve my illogical prejudices and give this new piece of work an honest and fair appraisal. Initialling listening to the new Neil Diamond album seemed a little strange as the voice I remembered seems completely unchanged and evocative of my childhood. The Rick Rubin produced album features unhurried drum-less acoustic guitar and piano tunes, non more enchanting than “If I Don’t See You Again” at the top of the album. The album clearly exposes the great song writing skills of Diamond by not cluttering the great guitar and piano work with over produced orchestrations and harmonies. By entering the US Charts at No. 1 Neil Diamond becomes the oldest artist at the age of 67 to release a number 1 album, overtaking Bob Dylan’s 2005 “Modern Times”.

Grace Jones: Hurricane

I never really got into Grace Jones when I was younger and she was at the height of her fame, mainly I suspect because I was shit scared of her. She is a formidable and imposing woman who would put the willies up any chap, as Russell Harty found out to his cost. I therefore found it interesting to read a recent in-depth article in Mojo that attempted to see the Grace Jones behind the dominant and daunting veneer. This armed me with sufficient interest to check out her latest offering. First off the starting blocks is “This is Life” with its tribal rhythms and, over exaggerated black accented rapping. This is followed by “William’s Blood” which is a more subdued affair with softer vocals and disco beats and concludes with a rendition of Amazing Grace, quite apt. Next up is “Corporate Cannibal”, which completely reinforces her well crafted image with its refrain of “I’m a man eating machine” overlaid on some great modern rolling slow dance beats, gnashing guitar solo and a reference to “Slave to the Rhythm”. Well that’s covered the first 3 of 9, but it’s certainly worth continuing to listen to the end.

Pigeon Detectives: Emergency

Another Yorkshire based Indie Guitar band, the Pigeon Detectives had been a regular support act for the Kaiser Chiefs. “Emergency” comes hot on the heels of last years debut, “Wait For Me”, and has lost none of the allure of the original.

Madonna: Hard Candy

It would be a surprise if Madonna didn’t re-invent herself yet again and come up with something fresh, new and relevant. So no surprise then. Especially the single “Give it 2 me” which I rate as one of her best ever pieces of 4 minutes of pop genius.

Coldplay: Viva La Vida

I was looking forward to hating this record, it must be some reflex action that rallies against excessive commercial success. As It happened I don’t hate it, however I noticed that although playing it a number of times on it’s release it promptly fell of my radar and with the wealth of other great music released this year I for got to play it again until I came to compiling my 2008 review.

N*E*R*D: Seeing Sounds

This is another of those albums recommended to me that I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise. It contains a eclectic mix of rock, funk and R&B although its R&B in the contemporary sense of the word. Not the good old fashioned Rhythm and Blues that the term still means to an old fart like me. In fact, come to think of it, what does R&B stand for these days? Tracks vary from the entertaining “Every Nose” featuring the chant “All the girls standing in line for the bathroom” to rock numbers like “Windows” and the more tedious and sluggish fillers

Razorlight: Slipway Fires

“Wire to Wire” opens the album with some gorgeous rich swirly piano, layered vocal harmonies and throaty bass and drums that kick in after a minute. A promising start after a disappointing second album, but does the album as a whole live up to the hype and the over inflated ego of frontman Johnny Borrell? Yes, if you ignore the last two tracks.

AC/DC: Black Ice

A new album of fresh original material from the quintessential Aussie rockers (Augmented of course with a Geordie) is a rare and cherished event these days. “Rock N’ Roll Train” kicks the album off with a lone guitar riff followed by a brief pause in which you just know that the first snare beat is coming. DC haven’t attempted anything outside of their well perfected comfort zone, no need for fancy orchestration, harmonies, backing vocals etc. In fact all that’s required is 2 guitars, bass, drums, gruff vocals and 30+ years of perfecting simple hard rock ‘n roll. One of the less pleasing tracks however is “Anything Goes” which despite a nice guitar solo has a bit of a nasty Bruce Springsteen after taste, but their quickly back on track with “War Machine” with its typical AC/DC primitive fast paced hammering bass. Other highlights include “Decibel” which could have slipped unnoticed into the “Back in Black” set list, “She Likes Rock ‘N Roll” which must surely be a homage to Joan Jett and the bluesy “Stormy May Day”. My only real criticism is that they haven’t included any of they’re usual sexual innuendos or crude references, come on lads, surely you could manage a simple nob gag. Still I’m very much looking forward to seeing them at the 02 next year.

Bauhaus: Go Away White

Bauhaus briefly reunited again for what will be their first album since 1983 and their last ever planned album. A new Bauhaus album has fortunately caused me to reassess some of their early material causing me to realise massive similarities between their debut single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Mysterious Exploding Frog”, the ill fated band in which I attempted to play bass (rather badly) in the mid 80’s. This new and final album is a little more sophisticated than these earlier recordings but retains the prominent simple bass hooks with disconnected fuzzy guitars. As the doom laden post punks bow out as the masters of the Goth Rock genre they pioneered my deepest fear is however for the future. Now that we have replaced John Peel, who heavily promoted Bauhaus’ emerging new material in the late ‘70’s, with the totally commercially focused Simon Cowell, will future generations of original musical visionaries be able to use the internet, or other modern tools, to break through the thick layer of crud defecated from Saturday Night TV “talent” shows.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Dig Lazurus Dig!

2004’s “Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus” is a tough act to follow but “Dig Lazarus Dig” is a descent attempt, although not quite scaling the dizzy musical heights of its predecessor it is a damn fine album none the less. As can be expected from Nick Cave the intelligence and clarity of his lyrics shine as beacon in a musical landscape of primarily banal dirge

Black Mountain: In The Future

One of the advantages of writing my annual music reviews, is the amount of albums that are suggested or recommended to me by friends and colleagues. This is a good example of a fine album that would have flown under my musical radar had it not been recommended to me. It kicks off with a thundering rock riff reminiscent of classic 70’s rock. The style however varies greatly with many tracks having a more modern feel. The 16 minute epic “Bright Lights” starts off with a Radiohead style ambient rock before morphing into a very heavy riff and then finishing off with a trippy slow wind up.

The Black Crowes: WarPaint

American Southern Rock veterans finally deliver their 7th album after a 7 year wait (4 years of which where they didn’t exists due to Chris Robinson’s Solo projects). On Warpaint the 70’s Blues and Rock that was their original influence is still prominent. Warpaint is the nearest thing I’ve seen this year to a DeLorian with a working flux capacitor and the controls set to 1971.

Duffy: Rockferry

I first saw Aimee Duffy on last years Hootenanny with Jools Holland. At the time she was a relatively unknown singer songwriter recently approached by A&M presumably on the hunt for a less volatile Amy Winehouse for their stable. In the few months following this appearance her career seems to have sky rocketed and Rockferry is now one, if not the, most commercially successful alum of the year. The album has a late 60’s classical soul feel to it (I read that she doesn’t like to be called “the new Dusty Springfield”, but the comparison is inevitable). The album is beautifully produced by Bernard Butler (previously from Suede) and the band and session musicians lift her performances to provide a truly exceptional debut with the title track and its excellent closing guitar solo and “Mercy” being particular standouts.

The Zutons: Harder and Harder

More poignant and comic vignettes from these very original Scousers. As with the previous two albums the lyrics paint some bizarre portraits, such as “Freak” with its voyeuristic glimpse at the life of a Gigolo and his halitosis suffering pensioner client.

Seasick Steve: I started Out With Nothing and I Still Got Most Of It Left

I love the way the album opens with Steve’s southern hickey monotone accent declaring that he wrote the first song about nothing. His occasional narration and hazy introductions to tracks are reminiscent of Syd Barrett’s solo albums however it’s his bluesy guitars and homemade instruments that really sell this album. Steve Wold uses his personalised instruments to create his own take on the southern delta blues. This includes his “One Stringed Diddley Bow” and the “Mississippi Drum Machine”, a wooden box to stomp on to provide your own percussion. The songs are all beautiful blues numbers that feature quick picking and emphasis the importance of the gaps between those long sliding notes. Think of “Hats of to (Roy Harper)” from Zeppelin III and you’ll get a pretty good idea.

Beck: Modern Guilt

The idiosyncratic multi instrumentalist continues to blend classic Folk, and Blues with post modern indie rock. I’ve just re-read that last sentence and fear I may have just spouted a line conceited bollocks. Hey Ho, never mind on with the review. The album is produced by Danger Mouse, which is very much in evidence on the title track. “Gamma Ray” also has a captivating and simple little hook but the album highlight for me is “Soul of a Man” with it throbbing guitars.

Bon Iver: For Emma Forever Ago

Stick a relatively unknown singer/songwriter in a remote cabin in Wisconsin for 4 months in 2007 and the result seems to be a piece of work that has enthralled all the music critics in every music press review I have read this year. Bon Iver is in fact the stage name for one Justin Vernon and the critics seem to have a fair point as this is indeed a beautifully crafted debut album of acoustic folk. The album starts of with “Flume” with its gentle harmonies, simple and effective acoustic rhythm mixing with a spooky metallic vibrating string adding an extra dimension. A rich and contemplative album that deserves timeout for a quite undisturbed listen.

Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes

This has become a firm favourite for me on the morning train journey to work. It’s a melodic mix of choral and folk music. Each songs beautiful layered harmonies and delicate acoustic guitars make this Seattle based band my favourite debut album of the year.

The Black Keys: Attack and Release

Good old fashioned Rock/Blues thankfully lives on with the Akron (Ohio) duo’s fifth studio release. None of your new fangled electronic gubbins here thank you very much, just low-fi guitar and drums with a healthy smattering of passion and talent. “Psychotic Girl” with its tumbling drums, mesmeric finger sliding guitar, plucking banjo and single digit piano plonking provides a fine example of this winning recipe.

Brett Anderson: Wilderness

The sticker on the album cover, familiar to many CDs these days, proclaims the usual 5 star reviews and single word superlatives for the new album from Suede’s frontman Bret Anderson. But curiously I did not recognise the obscure musical journals quoted as the source for these rave reviews. I suspect that this is because all the reviews I have read for the album in the popular music press have been far less favourable, causing the record company to cast their net a bit wider in their search for a positive review to stick on the cover. Well I’d have been happy to oblige as I rather enjoyed these solemn piano led songs accompanied by Cello and acoustic guitar. Perhaps I could write the review sticker for his next album, how about “***** Ticketyboo, Crispian’s Album Reviews”

Greydon Square: The Compton Effect

Greydon Square is a physics major, Iraq war veteran and evangelical atheist Hip Hop artist straight outa Compton. Despite naming checking Parliament, George Benson, Stevie Wonder, The Bee Gees ,The Police and Quincy Jones as his musical influences he appears (to my ears), to borrow heavily from Eminem and Dr Dre. However where Emenim’s subject material of sex and gangsters seems to have lost it edge and shockability, Greydon Square’s rational response takes over with his far more compelling and intelligent lyrics and worldview. It may not so unpalatable here in the predominately secular UK but it will be a red rag to a bull in the Bible belt of the Mid West. His content has however enabled him to build an impressive following of scientific thinkers, who would have ever thought that Richard Dawkins would listen to Hip Hop.

Motörhead: Motorizer

It would be a mistake to assume Motorhead to be a spent force, with their 15 minutes of fame with 1980’s Ace of Spades. If you liked the original formula then there’s no reason not to stick with them. There no Quo styled sell out, and they’re still maintaining their level of quality and simple winning formula. I am however surprised that its taken over 30 years before Lemmy finally came up with the following lyric from album highlight Rock Out: “Rock out, With your cock out, Impress your lady friends”. Quality Indeed.

Jackson Browne: Time The Conqeror

Any musician who sues John McCain and the Republican Party for using one of his songs without permission is at the very least worthy of a place in my annual album roundup. “Time the Conqueror” is typical grown up American light rock and the lyrics clearly voice his frustration with Bush’s policies over items such as Iraq and Katrina. A typical such example is “The Drums of War” where Browne asks the question; “Who will live with the sacrifice of our best and brightest hopes, the flower of our youth, the freedom and the truth?”

Glasvegas: Glasvegas

Notice how this Glaswegian band have subtly mixed the name of their home town into the name of the band. Clever stuff. The orchestral build up at the top of the album is overtaken as expected by guitar, bass and drum but I had to listen to it 3 times in quick succession because the vocals reminded me of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The best answer I could come up with was a Scottish version of the late Joey Ramone produced by Phil Spector. “Stabbed” stands out from the rest of the album, although not necessarily in a good way as it simply consists of a rambling Scottish monologue over a backdrop of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which caused the wife to stick her head into my study and ask what the hell I was listening too.

The Kings Of Leon: Only By The Night

The Kings of Leon seem to be building on their solid musical foundation as I have found each of their albums to be better than their last. As this is now their 5th studio album and the first one was pretty good, then by applying some simple logic we can deduce that this must be a damn fine album. Album opener, “Closer” has the distinctive vocals accompanied by a pulsating siren sound behind which a noise of guitars gradually cranks up. The album continues with “Crawl” and its mix of heavily distorted fuzzy guitars with crisp overlays and rhythm section. “17” kicks of like a Christmas single with its chiming bells but soon settles down into the habitual Kings of Leon sound.

B.B. King: One Kind Favor

At the ripe young age of 83 I will be happy if I’m still able to appreciate great blues albums, let alone be able to record them. B.B. King carved out his own peculiar blend of piano and slow guitar blues nearly 60 years ago so it’s no time to start changing direction now. With a little help from producer T. Bone Walker (Raising Sand) and of course Lucille, B.B. revisits blues classics from other blues giants.