OTG's Top Ten (and Other Commentary) For 2011


OPENING GIBBERISH

In 2011, one of my favorite bands, R.E.M., called it a day and the members of a band that shattered back in 2009, Oasis, finally release their separate debuts.

The YouTube links I added last year are back so you can check out some samples. Tried to get clips without commercials, but didn't always find one I wanted without. In any case, the highlight are the R.E.M. clips from their national TV debut on Late Night with David Letterman back in October of 1983. Especially watch the second part which has the brief interview with Peter Buck and Mike Mills.


GOODBYE

 

R.E.M.

One of the first "alternative rock" bands, R.E.M. lasted over thirty years with only one change in lineup, the departure of Bill Berry in 1997. Over that time they evolved from a Byrdsy, jangly guitar pop band to a chart topping arena act and then onto mellower and more experimental albums. Listen to their debut EP, Chronic Town and their final album, Collapse Into Now, and it's hard to believe it's the same band. The "common wisdom" on R.E.M. is that the albums after Bill Berry left were a waste (and heck, I think some write off anything post-Automatic For The People). Sure, the band's sound changed over time, and while much of the later albums is considerably more mellow than the earlier albums, there's still a ton of excellent songs on there.

I've been listening to R.E.M. since the early 80's. It's going to feel very weird to think there isn't another album or tour (or something) coming. They just seemed like one of those bands that would never break up. I'll miss 'em.

Watch R.E.M.'s national television debut on Late Night with David Letterman: "Radio Free Europe", interview and "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)".


REISSUES

  
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Pink Floyd
The Dark Side Of The Moon: Immersion Edition

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Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here: Immersion Edition

Pink Floyd started a massive reissue campaign in 2011, highlighted by "Immersion Edition" versions of two of their best-loved albums. The Dark Side box adds a 1974 live performance of the album, demos and outtakes (including a song from the aborted Household Objects album along with a DVD and Blu-Ray with surround sound mixes, a documentary, and the background videos used on tour. Wish You Were Here's bonus materials are equally dazzling. In 1974, when the Floyd was touring Dark Side, their first set was made up of three lengthy pieces - "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (which would appear on Wish You Were Here), "You've Go To Be Crazy (which would become "Dogs" on 1977's Animals album) and "Raving And Drooling" (which would become "Sheep" on Animals). The live CD in the Wish You Were Here box set has live takes of all three, and they're amazing. The outtakes disc has another Household Objects outtake, an alternate "Have A Cigar", and an alternate "Wish You Were Here" with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli guesting.

The original albums are both classics, two of the best albums of the seventies. The two "Immersion Edition" boxes are a must for anyone who really loves these albums.

Oh, and the Immersion Edition of The Wall comes out in 2012.

Watch the official "walk throughs" of the Dark Side box set or the Wish You Were Here box set

The Dark Side Of The Moon:

tracks (Disc 1 [CD] - The Dark Side Of The Moon): "Speak To Me", "Breathe", "On The Run", "Time", "The Great Gig In The Sky", "Money", "Us And Them", "Any Colour You Like", "Brain Damage", "Eclipse"

tracks (Disc 2 [CD] - Live At The Empire Pool, Wembley, 1974): "Speak To Me", "Breathe", "On The Run", "Time", "The Great Gig In The Sky", "Money", "Us And Them", "Any Colour You Like", "Brain Damage", "Eclipse"

contents (Disc 3 [DVD Audio]):
  • 5.1 Surround Mix [448 & 640 kbps]
  • LPCM Stereo Mix
  • Alan Parsons Quad Mix [448 & 640 kbps]
contents (Disc 4 [DVD]):
  • Concert footage from 1972 ("Careful With That Axe, Eugene" and "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun")
  • 2003 Documentary
  • Concert screen films from 1974 and 1975 tours
contents (Disc 5 [Blu-ray]):
  • 5.1 Surround Mix [448 & 640 kbps]
  • LPCM Stereo Mix
  • Concert footage from 1972 ("Careful With That Axe, Eugene" and "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun")
  • 2003 Documentary
  • Concert screen films from 1974 and 1975 tours
tracks (Disc 6 [CD] - The Dark Side Of The Moon: Early Mix and extra audio tracks): "Breathe", "On The Run", "Time", "The Great Gig In The Sky", "Money", "Us And Them", "Any Colour You Like", "Brain Damage", "Eclipse", "The Hard Way", "Us And Them" [demo], "The Travel Sequence" [live], "The Mortality Sequence" [live], "Any Colour You Like" [live, 1972], "The Travel Sequence" [studio, 1972], "Money" [demo]

Wish You Were Here:

tracks (Disc 1 [CD] - Wish You Were Here): "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-II-III-IV-V)", "Welcome To The Machine", "Have A Cigar", "Wish You Were Here" "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-VII-VIII-IX)"

tracks (Disc 2 [CD] - Unreleased Tracks): "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" [live], "Raving And Drooling" [live], "You've Got To Be Crazy" [live], "Wine Glasses", "Have A Cigar" [alternate version], "Wish You Were Here" [alternate version with Stéphane Grappelli]

contents (Disc 3 [DVD Audio]):
  • 5.1 Surround Mix [448 & 640 kbps]
  • Original Stereo Mix
  • Quad Mix [448 & 640 kbps]
contents (Disc 4 [DVD]):
  • Concert screen films for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"
  • "Welcome To The Machine" animated clip
  • Storm Thorgerson short film
contents (Disc 5 [Blu-ray]):
  • 5.1 Surround Mix [448 & 640 kbps]
  • Original Stereo Mix
  • Concert screen films for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"
  • "Welcome To The Machine" animated clip
  • Storm Thorgerson short film
 
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The Who
Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut

The Who's masterpiece (and my personal pick for "best album of all time") gets a deluxe version with two CDs of Pete Townshend's demos for the album and a DVD with surround sound versions of some of the album (sadly, not the whole thing). As always, Townshend's demos are a fascinating counterpart to the album. The two long instrumentals ("Quadrophenia" and "The Rock") use a ton of the demo in the final version. They don't sound all that different. What's really interesting are the outtakes. You can tell Townshend had Tommy in mind as a model, with songs that would have fleshed out Jimmy's youth and added some small linking bits to the story. The songs are good, but they would have been absolutely lost amidst Quadrophenia's all-out rock.

The demos are a must-hear for a Who fan. The album itself I can't recommend highly enough. It's The Who at their peak of their powers blasting through Townshend's best overall set of songs.

Watch a brief Pete Townshend interview about the box set

tracks (Quadrophenia): "I Am The Sea", "The Real Me", "Quadrophenia", "Cut My Hair", "The Punk And The Godfather", "I'm One", "The Dirty Jobs", "Helpless Dancer", "Is It In My Head", "I've Had Enough", "5:15", "Sea And Sand", "Drowned", "Bell Boy", "Doctor Jimmy", "The Rock", "Love, Reign O'er Me"

tracks (The Demos): "The Real Me", "Quadrophenia - Four Overtures", "Cut My Hair", "Fill No. 1 - Get Out And Stay Out", "Quadrophenic - Four Faces", "We Close Tonight", "You Came Back", "Get Inside", "Joker James", "Punk", "I'm One", "The Dirty Jobs", "Helpless Dancer", "Is It In My Head", "Anymore", "I've Had Enough", "Fill No. 2", "Wizardry", "Sea And Sand", "Drowned", "Is It Me", "Bell Boy", "Doctor Jimmy", "Finale - The Rock", "Love, Reign O'er Me"

tracks (5.1 Surround Mix): "I Am The Sea", "The Real Me", "Quadrophenia", "I've Had Enough", "5:15", "Doctor Jimmy", "The Rock", "Love, Reign O'er Me"

LIVE ALBUMS

 
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Randy Newman
Live In London

Randy Newman has always had a terrific ear for string arrangements. The lush arrangements on songs like "Sail Away" and "Louisiana 1927" absolutely make those songs. Live, Newman usually has no backing band - it's just piano and voice. This concert is an exception. In 2008, Newman played a small theater in London backed by the BBC Concert Orchestra. They don't play on every song, but songs like "Sail Away", "Lousiana 1927", and "The Great Nations Of Europe" sound absolutely wonderful with the full treatment. The package comes with a CD and DVD of the full concert, and Newman's in great form throughout with terrific versions of his best songs and witty introductions between the songs.

Watch "The World Isn't Fair" from the show, along with Newman's very funny introduction

tracks: "The Great Nations Of Europe", "Marie", "It's Money That I Love", "Mama Told Me Not To Come", "Rollin'", "Losing You", "Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear", "Short People", "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)", "The World Isn't Fair", "Louisiana 1927", "You Can Leave Your Hat On", "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)", "Real Emotional Girl", "I Miss You", "Laugh And Be Happy", "Political Science", "Love Story (You And Me)", "Feels Like Home", "A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country", "Sail Away", "I Think It's Going To Rain Today"
 
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Frank Zappa
Penguin In Bondage / The Little Known History Of The Mothers Of Invention

An iTunes only release, this 26-minute long single contains Mother's Day, 1974 performance of "Penguin In Bondage" by the "Roxy & Elsewhere" edition of The Mothers. What makes this particularly noteworthy is that at the 7:40 mark, Frank notes that it's midnight, asks the band for some "nostalgia music", and follows up with an interesting and funny 15-minute history of his recording career to date.

tracks: "Penguin In Bondage / The Little Known History Of The Mothers Of Invention"

COMPILATION ALBUMS

 
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Foo Fighters
Medium Rare

Released for Record Store Day, Medium Rare assembles 11 covers that the band had released on B-sides and compilations and adds two new covers - Thin Lizzy's "Bad Reputation" and The Zombies' "This Will Be Our Year". Fun stuff.

Listen to the Foos cover Paul McCartney & Wings' "Band On The Run"

tracks: "Band On The Run", "I Feel Free", "A Life Of Illusion", "Young Man Blues", "Bad Reputation", "Darling Nikki", "Down In The Park", "Baker Street", "Danny Says", "Have A Cigar", "Never Talking To You Again", "Gas Chamber", "This Will Be Our Year"
 
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Manic Street Preachers
National Treasures - The Complete Singles

A career-spanning best of, National Treasures contains almost all of the Manics' singles (depsite the title), and it's a terrific intro to their career. They've also added on new song to the set, a terrific cover of The The's "This Is The Day". The Manics get almost no notice in the US, but they're definitely one of the best bands in the world. They're not doing anything particularly revolutionary musically, but they've got terrific songs with intelligent lyrics and a great lead singer.

Listen to "This Is The Day"

tracks: "Motown Junk", "Stay Beautiful", "Love's Sweet Exile", "You Love Us", "Slash 'N' Burn", "Motorcycle Emptiness", "Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M*A*S*H)", "Little Baby Nothing", "From Despair To Where", "La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh)", "Roses In The Hospital", "Life Becoming A Landslide", "Faster", "Revol", "She Is Suffering", "A Design For Life", "Everything Must Go", "Kevin Carter", "Australia", "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next", "The Everlasting", "You Stole The Sun From My Heart", "Tsunami", "The Masses Against The Classes", "So Why So Sad", "Found That Soul", "Ocean Spray", "Let Robeson Sing", "There By The Grace Of God", "The Love Of Richard Nixon", "Empty Souls", "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough", "Autumnsong", "Indian Summer", "(It's Not War) Just The End Of Love", "Some Kind Of Nothingness", "Postcards From A Young Man", "This Is The Day"
 
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R.E.M.
Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage 1982-2011

Released after their breakup announcement, Part Lies... is a career-spanning greatest hits album that includes three songs from the abandoned sessions for a followup to Collapse Into Now. The best-of portion of the album is a nice summary of R.E.M.'s brilliance, with the usual nitpicking over song selections ("(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" over "Little America"? Really?). Of the new songs, two ("A Month Of Saturdays" and "Hallelujah") are a bit disappointing. Both sound like potential B-sides to me. The melancholy "We All Go Back To Where Be Belong" is much better. Not an R.E.M. classic, but an appropriate sounding finale for the band. Overall, the album is a great introduction to a great band.

Listen to "We All Go Back To Where We Belong"

tracks: "Gardening At Night", "Radio Free Europe", "Talk About The Passion", "Sitting Still", "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville", "Driver 8", "Life And How To Live It", "Begin The Begin", "Fall On Me", "Finest Worksong", "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", "The One I Love", "Stand", "Pop Song 89", "Get Up", "Orange Crush", "Losing My Religion", "Country Feedback", "Shiny Happy People", "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", "Everybody Hurts", "Man On The Moon", "Nightswimming", "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", "New Test Leper", "Electrolite", "At My Most Beautiful", "The Great Beyond", "Imitation Of Life", "Bad Day", "Leaving New York", "Living Well Is The Best Revenge", "Supernatural Superserious", "Überlin", "Oh My Heart", "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter", "A Month Of Saturdays", "We All Go Back To Where We Belong", "Hallelujah"

OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

 
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Kate Bush
50 Words For Snow

I've been a big Kate Bush fan since Hounds Of Love, and this was the first album of hers that I really just didn't like. It's a collection of seven very long, very similar sounding songs that just never really feel like they're going anywhere. It's very moody, but there's no spark to move it along.

Listen to "Snowflake"

tracks: "Snowflake", "Lake Tahoe", "Misty", "Wild Man", "Snowed In At Wheeler Street", "50 Words for Snow", "Among Angels"
 
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Randy Newman
The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2

Like Newman's first "Songbook" collection, this album compiles new piano and voice recordings of some of Newman's best material. The selections are a little more obscure this time around, but songs like "Baltimore", "Birmingham", "Dixie Flyer", and "My Life Is Good" make this a must for fans. As an introduction to Newman's work, it's not bad, but I'd start with Volume 1 or even the new Live In London album.

Listen to "Baltimore"

tracks: "Dixie Flyer", "Yellow Man", "Suzanne", "The Girls In My Life (Part 1)", "Kingfish", "Losing You", "Sandman's Coming", "My Life Is Good", "Birmingham", "Last Night I Had A Dream", "Same Girl", "Baltimore", "Laugh And Be Happy", "Lucinda", "Dayton, Ohio - 1903", "Cowboy"
 
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Peter Gabriel
New Blood

When Gabriel went to tour last year's orchestra-and-voice cover album Scratch My Back, he realized he needed a second set to fill out the performance. The rest was similarly orchestrated versions of his own material, and New Blood captures studio versions of those new arrangements. Scratch My Back suffered from too much sameness - everything came out as a slow ballad. New Blood mixes up the tempos more and results are a huge improvement. "The Rhythm Of The Heat", "San Jacinto", "Downside Up", and "Wallflower" have the best arrangements, but the album works much better overall.

Watch a brief interview about "The Rhythm Of The Heat" with a little bit of the song

tracks: "The Rhythm Of The Heat", "Downside Up", "San Jacinto", "Intruder", "Wallflower", "In Your Eyes", "Mercy Street", "Red Rain", "Darkness", "Don't Give Up", "Digging In The Dirt", "The Nest That Sailed The Sky", "A Quiet Moment", "Solsbury Hill"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "The Rhythm Of The Heat" [instrumental], "Downside Up" [instrumental], "San Jacinto" [instrumental], "Intruder" [instrumental], "Wallflower" [instrumental], "In Your Eyes" [instrumental], "Mercy Street" [instrumental], "Red Rain" [instrumental], "Darkness" [instrumental], "Don't Give Up" [instrumental], "Digging In The Dirt" [instrumental], "The Nest That Sailed The Sky" [instrumental], "Blood Of Eden"

WOULDA-BEEN TOP TENS HAD I HEARD 'EM IN TIME ... aka ... "D'OH!"

 
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Once: Music From The Motion Picture

2007's "Once" is a charming little indie film about a street singer, the girl he meets, and the songs they record together. The stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, make a terrific duo (and they've since recorded as The Swell Season). The soundtrack is full of folky, emotional little gems, from the lovely "Falling Slowly" to the rocking "When Your Mind's Made Up" to the powerful "Lies". Stellar album, and a terrific movie. Go rent the movie first and then check out the album. Had I heard it in time, this would have easily been a top ten album for me.

Watch the video for "Falling Slowly" or listen to "When Your Mind's Made Up"

tracks: "Falling Slowly" - Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, "If You Want Me" - Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard, "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" - Glen Hansard, "When Your Mind's Made Up" - Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, "Once" - Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, "Gold" - Interference, "The Hill" - Markéta Irglová, "Fallen From The Sky" - Glen Hansard, "Leave" - Glen Hansard, "Trying To Pull Myself Away" - Glen Hansard, "All The Way Down" - Glen Hansard, "Lies" - Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, "Say It To Me Now" - Glen Hansard

bonus tracks (Collectors Edition): "Into The Mystic" - Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, "And The Healing Has Begun" - Glen Hansard

THE TOP TEN FOR 2011
(in my perpetually less-than-humble opinion)

 
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#10
Foo Fighters
Wasting Light

Wasting Light largely ditches the softer parts of their last album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, and I miss them. It's still a very good album with "Bridge Burning", "Arlandria", and "Dear Rosemary" as the highlights.

Listen to "Arlandria"

tracks: "Bridge Burning", "Rope", "Dear Rosemary", "White Limo", "Arlandria", "These Days", "Back & Forth", "A Matter Of Time", "Miss The Misery", "I Should Have Known", "Walk"

bonus tracks (iTunes edition): "Rope" [Deadmau5 Mix], "Better Off"
 
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#9
Yes
Fly From Here

When lead singer Jon Anderson was suffering from respatory problems in 2008, the rest of Yes opted to bring in singer Benoît David, formerly with a Canadian Yes tribute band called Close To The Edge to fill in. Over time, David became the new official lead singer. Fly From Here is the first Yes album to be recorded with him, and to my surprise, its' a very good album. Well, it's half excellent, and half pretty good album. The second half has one real highlight, Steve Howe's "Hour Of Need", an excellent (but very short) pop song. The reason this album is in the top 10 is the first half. The title track (broken up into six segments) is Yes' best epic in ages. The core section "We Can Fly" is also something that probably would've been a hit in Yes' heyday. If you're like me and basically gave up on Yes post-Drama, you really ought to check this out. It's not a classic album, but it's a pretty impressive return. And as you'd expect, David's voice is pretty much a dead ringer for Jon Anderson, so the sound is what you'd expect.

Watch the video for "We Can Fly"

tracks: "Fly From Here: Overture / We Can Fly / Sad Night At The Airfield / Madman At The Screens / Bumpy Ride / Reprise", "The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be", "Life On A Film Set", "Hour Of Need", "Solitaire", "Into The Storm"
 
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#8
Beady Eye
Different Gear, Still Speeding

After Noel Gallagher left Oasis in 2009, Liam Gallagher announced that the rest of the band would continue on without him, but under the name Beady Eye (yeah, I know ... it's an awful name). To be honest, I really wasn't expecting much. Andy Bell and Gem Archer had contributed some good songs to Oasis, but the band's classics were all Noel's. To my surprise, the album is actually quite good. OK, so "The Roller" is a obvious rewrite of John Lennon's "Instant Karma!", but it's still a good song. And yeah "Beatles And Stones" blatantly (and ironically) rips off the riff from The Who's "My Generation". Right off the band, Liam fires out at Noel on the powerful "Four Letter Word" ("I don't know what it is I'm feeling / A four letter word really gets my meaning / Nothing ever lasts forever"), a song that wouldn't have been out of place on an older Oasis album. Overall, it's way better than I expected.

Watch the video for "The Roller"

tracks: "Four Letter Word", "Millionaire", "The Roller", "Beatles And Stones", "Wind Up Dream", "Bring The Light", "For Anyone", "Kill For A Dream", "Standing On The Edge Of The Noise", "Wigwam", "Three Ring Circus", "The Beat Goes On", "The Morning Son"

bonus tracks (iTunes edition): "Man Of Misery", "Sons Of The Stage"
 
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#7
Coldplay
Mylo Xyloto

On my first listening to Mylo Xyloto, I figured it was a contender for my album of the year. While not as good as Viva La Vida, the opening "Hurts Like Heaven" (the title track is really just an instrumental opening) through "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall" is terrific, with "Teardrop" as the highlight. It's not a radically new sound, although it loses the strings from Viva La Vida. A whole album at that pace would have been the album of the year (or darn close). Unfortunately after "Teardrop" the album becomes very average very quickly, with one song ("Princess Of China") that really shouldn't have even made the cut. If you're a fan, you'll definitely like the album overall, but the first half really overpowers the second.

Watch the video for "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall"

tracks: "Mylo Xyloto", "Hurts Like Heaven", "Paradise", "Charlie Brown", "Us Against The World", "M.M.I.X.", "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall", "Major Minus", "U.F.O.", "Princess Of China", "Up In Flames", "A Hopeful Transmission", "Don't Let It Break Your Heart", "Up With The Birds"
 
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#6
The Waterboys
An Appointment With Mr. Yeats

On their classic Fisherman's Blues album, Waterboys leader Mike Scott set the W.B. Yeats poem "The Stolen Child" to music and recorded it with the band. In 2010, Scott returned to Yeats' work, setting more poems to music and creating a live show called "An Appointment With Mr. Yeats". This album is the studio version of the project, setting fourteen more poems to music and recording them with the latest version of The Waterboys. Yeats' work clearly brings out Scott's best, because the resulting album is excellent, with some of the best songs The Waterboys have done in ages. Given the subject matter, I was expecting a return of the so-called "Raggle Taggle" Waterboys, but the sound is more along the lines of the dramatic Celtic-flavored pop of A Rock In The Weary Land and Book Of Lightning. Amazing.

Listen to "September 1913"

tracks: "The Hosting Of The Shee", "Song Of Wandering Aengus", "News For The Delphic Oracle", "A Full Moon In March", "Sweet Dancer", "White Birds", "The Lake Isle Of Innisfree", "Mad As The Mist And Snow", "Before The World Was Made", "September 1913", "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death", "Politics", "Let The Earth Bear Witness", "The Faery's Last Song"
 
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#5
Tom Waits
Bad As Me

Bad As Me is Waits first all-new album since 2004's disappointing Real Gone. Waits is back in form, following on from the sound of the new tracks on 2006's wonderful Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards and hitting a little bit of everything Waits does well. You get his warped blues on "Chicago" and "Satisfied", the late night jazz of "Talking At The Same Time" and "Face To The Highway", the rock and roll of "Raised Right Men" and the title track, and Waits ballads like "Pay Me" and "New Year's Eve".

Listen to "Bad As Me" or watch Tom's "Private Listening Party"

tracks: "Chicago", "Raised Right Men", "Talking At The Same Time", "Get Lost", "Face To The Highway", "Pay Me", "Back In The Crowd", "Bad As Me", "Kiss Me", "Satisfied", "Last Leaf", "Hell Broke Luce", "New Year's Eve"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "She Stole The Blush", "Tell Me", "After You Die"
 
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#4
Robyn Hitchcock
Tromsø, Kaptein

After a couple of so-so albums, Robyn Hitchcock started The Venus 3 and released three terrific albums in a row. Back solo again, Hitchcock releases another terrific (and strange) album. Tromsø, Kaptein was released on a Norwegian label and contains a Norwegian-language version of thte title track from 2009's Goodnight Oslo. He's also re-recorded the gorgeous "Raining Twilight Coast" from 1990's Eye, but the rest of the material is brand new and not a big departure from the alternative pop of The Venus 3 albums, although Robyn's opted for string arrangements on quite a few of the songs. Great stuff.

Listen to "August In Hammersmith"

tracks: "Light Blue Afternoon", "Raining Twilight Coast", "Savannah", "Dismal City", "Old Man Weather", "Erasing Your Life", "August In Hammersmith", "Everything About You", "The Abyss", "Godnatt Oslo"
 
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#3
Jack's Mannequin
People And Things

People And Things picks up where their last album, The Glass Passenger, leaves off - perfect piano-driven alternative pop with big, sing-along choruses and catchy hooks. Songs like "My Racing Thoughts", "Amy, I" and "People, Running" are the kind that make you want to hit the repeat button and play over and over. Irresistible.

Watch the video for "My Racing Thoughts"

tracks: "My Racing Thoughts", "Release Me", "Television", "Amy, I", "Hey Hey Hey (We're All Gonna Die)", "People, Running", "Amelia Jean", "Platform Fire", "Hostage", "Restless Dream", "Casting Lines"
 
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#2
R.E.M.
Collapse Into Now

R.E.M.'s final album ends the band's career on a high note with what feels like a summary of their later work. "All The Best" and the oddly-titled "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter" would have worked on Accelerate and sounded great. You could put both "Überlin" and "Oh My Heart" on Automatic For The People and they'd fit nicely. "It Happened Today" is a classic, catchy R.E.M. single. They end the album on an experimental note. "Blue" combines a moody, atmospheric melody overlaid with a Michael Stipe monologue that sounds like it was recorded over the phone and backing vocals from Patti Smith. The result feels a bit like a cross between "Country Feedback" and Patti Smith's "Spell", before a reprise of the opening "Discoverer" comes back in to wind up the album. I really, really hate to see R.E.M. go, but at least they've ended on a high note.

Watch the video for "Überlin"

tracks: "Discoverer", "All The Best", "Überlin", "Oh My Heart", "It Happened Today", "Every Day Is Yours To Win", "Mine Smell Like Honey", "Walk It Back", "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter", "That Someone Is You", "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I", "Blue"

bonus tracks (iTunes edition): "Discoverer" [Live In The Studio], "Oh My Heart" [Live In The Studio], "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter" [Live In The Studio]
 
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#1
Noel Gallager's High Flying Birds
Noel Gallager's High Flying Birds

I've always liked Noel Gallagher's voice, and in the later Oasis years I'd hoped he'd do a solo album. Well, now that the band has broken up, Noel's solo career can start properly, and Noel Gallager's High Flying Birds is a dazzling debut. Granted, it's not that far soundwise from Oasis, but the songs are easily the best he's done in ages. The Oasis albums since Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants have each improved over their predecessor, but this one blows them all away. "Everybody's On The Run", "The Death Of You And Me", "AKA... Broken Arrow" and especially "AKA... What A Life!" are miles ahead of anything Noel's done in years. The long-hyped "Stop The Clocks" isn't quite the classic that it was made out to be, but it's still a terrific song. There really isn't a weak song on here, and the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition are just as good. It's easily Noel's best work since the Oasis heyday of Definitely Maybe and What's The Story, Morning Glory?.

Watch the videos for "The Death Of You And Me" or "AKA... What A Life!"

tracks: "Everybody's On The Run", "Dream On", "If I Had A Gun...", "The Death Of You And Me", "(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine", "AKA... What A Life!", "Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks", "AKA... Broken Arrow", "(Stranded On) The Wrong Beach", "Stop The Clocks"

bonus tracks (Deluxe edition): "Let The Lord Shine A Light On Me", "The Good Rebel"

PAST YEARS' BESTS

Just click on the album cover to see that year's review.

2010: Manic Street Preachers - Postcards From A Young Man2009: Franz Nicolay - Major General2008: Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends2007: Manic Street Preachers - Send Away The Tigers2006: James Dean Bradfield - The Great Western2005: Bob Mould - Body Of Song2004: The Polyphonic Spree - Together We're Heavy2003: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Greendale2002: The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots2001: Manic Street Preachers - Know Your Enemy2000: The Dandy Warhols - Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia1999: Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin1998: Eels - Electro-Shock Blues1997: Paul Weller - Heavy Soul1996: Bob Mould - Bob Mould1995: Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory?1994: Paul Weller - Wild Wood1993: Pete Townshend - Psychoderelict1992: Roger Waters - Amused To Death1991: Richard Thompson - Rumor And Sigh1990: Lou Reed and John Cale - Songs For Drella1989: Bob Mould - Workbook1988: R.E.M. - Green1987: Marillion - Clutching At Straws


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