Time for the best albums of the year list! Aside from Paradox on Earth, of course… here’s my favourite records of 2014. That I’ve heard. With some thoughts.
10. St Vincent, St Vincent
St Vincent’s one of those artists I’d heard about, but no one had ever said to me, ‘Hey, you should listen to this.’ All I’d heard was her album with David Byrne, and as strange as this sounds, I didn’t dig it. Nor did I like his albums with Brian Eno. Basically, what I’m saying is, reform the Talking Heads already…
But one morning I gave this St Vincent record and her previous one a listen, and wow. Sometimes a bit too clever for each song’s good, but when it clicks, there’s nothing else quite like it. Though I think I prefer the previous one on the whole, I just wish I’d heard it three years ago!
9. Pink Floyd, The Endless River
All they had to do was toughen up the production a bit and chuck in some Roger Waters screams, and The Endless River could have been a contender for #1. But as it is – essentially an instrumental Gilmour/Wright record, with Nick Mason’s signature plod – it’s pretty damn fine. I tempered my expectations, not being the biggest fan of post-Waters Floyd – or as I like to call them, Mullet Floyd – and didn’t really get it on the first or second listen. One night though I put it on as some background sound, and it clicked – I know Roger Waters would have hated that, but sometimes you’ve just got stuff to do and The Wall would just get in the way (oh yes, pun intended).
8. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams
2014 was one of those years when Ryan Adams went a bit nuts and released a whole bunch of stuff, but unlike last time he did that – a decade or so ago – this time I just stuck with the big album. I don’t think at 34 I have enough room in my musical interests for thrashy 80s-inspired American-style punk. Anyway, this self-titled record fell in a bit of a no-man’s land stylistically in Adams’ oeuvre. It’s largely a subdued affair like his acoustic albums, but he spends most of it wielding an electric guitar – but not in any attempt to ‘rock’; it eschews obvious singles, without being impenetrable; and it’s mostly just a nice, warm-sounding soft-rock album without being cheesy. The way I’m describing it sounds boring as shit, but trust me, it’s not! I mean, it’s no masterpiece like Love Is Hell, though that’s probably the Adams record it’s closest in sound to. But it’s good.
7. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
By playing down the obviously poppier elements of her first album – the weaker songs, mostly, and the one or two horrific dance remixes I had the misfortune of hearing – Lana Del Rey made an album even more languid and hazy, and Ultraviolence was the better for it. My opinion was almost completely changed one afternoon when I listened to it while out for a walk that was supposed to be invigorating, but I quickly realised that was my own stupidity for trying to exercise to an album that makes Pink Floyd sound like Dragonforce.
6. Interpol, El Pintor
I’ve always been out of step with Interpol. When I first heard them, I dug the Joy Division-style sound before liking Joy Division became a hipster thing and Antics blew up huge. I didn’t really dig much of Antics, instead preferring the third album – you know, the one everyone else thought was shit. The fourth, well I think everyone was a bit meh on that one, and that seems to have been the general reaction to El Pintor too – but after the first listen, on which I actually laughed out loud at how precisely ‘Interpol’ it sounded, it burrowed in… and now I think it’s probably the best thing they’ve done since their debut. Maybe. At the very least, losing their bassist seems to have done them a world of good.
Debates might range on Interpol’s trajectory, but there’s not a person on Earth who’ll deny this was Weezer’s return to form. Though lyrically there’s still much to cringe at, if you’re that way inclined (I’m not! ‘Back to the Shack’ is hilarious), musically it’s all fuzzed guitars, big drums and power chords. Classic Weezer. No ill-advised forays into techno-pop, faux-hippy crap, polished pop designed for radio stations that still play that kind of stuff (I’m not even sure they exist anymore, to be honest). And the songs are good, tight and catchy. Soundwise it’s probably closest to Maladroit, with a hint of modern sheen. Ignore the reviews comparing it to Pinkerton – it’s not, and I’m not sure such a detour would work for Weezer at this stage anyway. If you’ve avoided it because of Hurley, Raditude and Make Believe, give it a go (I actually like a lot of the Red Album… I’m sorry!)
4. Manic Street Preachers, Futurology
It’s pretty much a given when the Manics put an album out, it’ll be somewhere in my top 10. Last year’s Rewind the Film had its moments, but was a sub-par Manics album; this one’s not. It’s not the guitar-flinging Manics of Journal or Bible, the version us diehard fans always hope for – but nor is this the chart-loving pop Manics we secretly adore but have to put at arm’s length ’cause you know, it’s not what Richey would have wanted. Or something. Instead, on Futurology we got the weird side of the Manics which has until now largely been consigned to b-sides and deep cut album tracks. About time too – the Manics take a lot of flack for being ‘meat-and-potatoes rock’, and unfairly so, considering their range. As underrated as it is, Lifeblood was a restrained, neutered version of this particular Manics; Futurology is the Manics throwing caution to the wind and belting out krautrock with an actual German, rewriting the Clash’s dub side and layering on the ’80s synths, for better or worse. It’s a real mixed bag stylistically and about as far from the polished pop-rock of Postcards as you can expect from a band their vintage. Amazing stuff from a band 25 years in.
3. Gerard Way, Hesitant Alien
I’m old enough to remember mocking the kids listening to My Chemical Romance. But I’m also open-minded enough to admit I joined them when they put out The Black Parade. I bought it for my little sister, but intrigued by some of the reviews gave it a listen before handing it over, and was converted. The follow-up was so terrible however I would never have picked Gerard Way as forging a solo career that would kick off as strongly as it does with Hesitant Alien. Much has been made of the overt Bowie influence, but it really doesn’t extend past the title, cover and opening track, which is Way’s best go at aping ‘Five Years’. The rest is beefed-up power pop mostly, so not too dissimilar to what MCR was doing at the end, but much, much better.
Another unexpected comeback, this time from a band who’ve been on a downhill trajectory for more than a decade. Parachutes is great, Rush of Blood a masterpiece, X&Y a mixed bag, ditto Viva, but the fifth record was so atrocious I can’t even bring myself to remember WTF it was called. So when Ghost Stories appeared with the media narrative it was Chris Martin’s ode to breaking up with Gwyneth Paltrow, I understandably expected the worst. Instead what we got was a lightly electronic-tinged throwback to their debut, with some of the simplest and most touching melodies of their career. Would be a contender for #1 if it weren’t for the god-awful execrable ‘Sky Full of Stars’, which sticks out like a sore thumb. Imagine listening to Parachutes, then halfway through someone cranks up Crazy Frog. Absolutely horrible. Talented band, but little sense of taste – which explains so much of that unnamed previous album, whatever the fuck it was called. Ghost Stories though, excellent.
1. Shihad, FVEY
I might be the first person ever to compare Coldplay to Shihad, but hear me out (there’s also a bit of a Manics analogy here too). Like Coldplay, Shihad have a ‘sound’ that’s theirs, which they’ve abandoned at times to chase where the audience is. I can only assume this is the case, ’cause there’s no other explanation for how you go from making records like Killjoy and The General Electric to ‘One Will Hear the Other’. Okay, I like that song, but can’t listen to a whole album of it. Not when I want classic Shihad riffage – which is what we got with FVEY. It’s not coincidence FVEY saw the return of Jaz Coleman as producer, which I guess places it in the same category as Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End, which was handled by Ric Ocasek – mastermind behind the Blue Album. Anyway. This record kicks arse. Not really sure how they’ll follow it up – more of the same with diminishing returns, or a swing back to the commercial radio rock? It wouldn’t surprise me if Shihad decide to call it quits here. What a way to go out if they do, though.
So that’s my top 10 this year. Of course, I’m bound to discover others I haven’t heard yet, which kinda sucks when someone in 2034 says, “Damn, I can’t believe you put St Vincent in your 2014 list.” Well no… if I had known about Radio Over Moscow then, they would have been #1!
Albums that just missed out… Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots, Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways, Smashing Pumpkins’ Monuments to an Elegy, Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business, The Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help From My Fwends and La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise.
And whatever I didn’t hear yet, or will learn to love later.