OTG's Top Ten (and Other Commentary) For 2012


OPENING GIBBERISH

This was a big year for reissues & returns of acts I hadn't heard from in ages. Biggest one for me was the surprising reunion of Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet. Their debut album, Savvy Show Stoppers, was reissued in 2012 (the others are in the works). To help promote the reissue, the band a few reunion shows in Toronto (their first since 1994) and I was fortunate enough to attend one.

As I look back through this year's review, this was definitely an "old geezer" year for me. Only a couple of new acts show up in here. The rest have been around for ages. But hey, if you've read these reviews over the years, you're not surprised.

I've added YouTube links again this year for each entry so you can listen to a song or two to get a sample of the album. Enjoy the list.


REISSUES

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Electric Light Orchestra
The Electric Light Orchestra: 40th Anniversary Edition

Back in '01, I wrote:

On this album, ELO was simply three members of The Move (Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne) augmented by a horn player, and a violin player, with Roy Wood playing the other classical instruments (cello, bassoon, clarinet, and oboe), and Wood and Lynne splitting the songwriting, vocals and production. The sound is much rougher than later ELO albums where a full orchestra was used. If you're a fan of the hits of the mid-70's, you'd probably barely recognize this as ELO.
The big highlight is the opener, the classic "10538 Overture". Powered by Lynne's guitar and Wood's scraping cello, "10538 Overture" was intended as a Move b-side until Wood and Lynne started piling on the overdubs, creating the first ELO song. Lynne's "Nellie Takes Her Bow" and "Mr. Radio" hint at ELO's future, but Wood's more baroque style digs into a direction that ELO never really followed.

The 40th anniversary edition is a CD+DVD package. The CD is the original album with a handful of nice extras, but nothing that would make you replace an older expanded edition (and there have been a couple). The DVD is the real treat here. When The Electric Light Orchestra was first released, there was a quadrophonic version that only came out in South America. Stereo versions of the quad mix have been released before, but the DVD has that quad mix in 4.1 sound so you can really hear it. The album sounds amazing in surround. There's definitely differences in the mix, notably on "10538 Overture" and "Mr. Radio", but you'll hear differences all throughout. If you're fond of this album, the DVD mix is really a must.

Watch the video for "10538 Overture" or listen to "Whisper In The Night".

tracks (CD): "10538 Overture", "Look At Me Now", "Nellie Takes Her Bow", "The Battle Of Marston Moor (July 2nd, 1644)", "First Movement (Jumpin' Biz)", "Mr. Radio", "Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)", "Queen Of The Hours", "Whisper In The Night"
bonus tracks (CD): "10538 Overture" [Acetate Version], "Mr. Radio" [Take 9], "Nellie Takes Her Bow" [Alternate Mix], "Whisper In The Night" [Take 1 / Take 2 Edit], "Mr. Radio" [Single Edit], "10538 Overture" [Top Of The Pops]
tracks (DVD): "10538 Overture", "Look At Me Now", "Nellie Takes Her Bow", "The Battle Of Marston Moor (July 2nd, 1644)", "First Movement (Jumpin' Biz)", "Mr. Radio", "Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)", "Queen Of The Hours", "Whisper In The Night"
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The Jam
The Gift: 30th Anniversary Edition

The new box set version of The Gift is really a review of The Jam's final year (1982). It contains their final album and final two singles ("The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)" and "Beat Surrender") along with B-sides, demos, and a recording of one of the band's final concerts from December. Overall, this box set shows Paul Weller's songwriting evolving towards what would be his next project, the soul, jazz and R & B influenced Style Council (especially on the demo of "Solid Bond In Your Heart", ended up being recorded by The Style Council. Along songs like "Happy Together" and "Running On The Spot" that could have fit on previous albums, you get funk on "Precious", the Motown-influenced "Town Called Malice" (with it's bassline riff swiped from "You Can't Hurry Love"), a calypso flavor to "The Planner's Dream Goes Wrong", and the R & B of their final single "Beat Surrender".

In 1982, The Jam were at the peak of their popularity - The Gift entered the UK album chart at #1, and the band members routinely won end of year "best of" polls. The concert is tremendous, it really shows just how good The Jam was live. It was disappointing to see a band break up at the top of their game, but I suppose they avoided a late-career drop off. The Gift wasn't the band's best album (I'd pick 1979's Setting Sons as their best), but The Gift is a heck of a swan song, and this box definitely does it justice.

Watch the video for "Town Called Malice", or listen to "Running On The Spot", "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)", or "Beat Surrender".

tracks (Disc 1 [CD] - The Gift): "Happy Together", "Ghosts", "Precious", "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?", "Trans-Global Express", "Running On The Spot", "Circus", "The Planner's Dream Goes Wrong", "Carnation", "Town Called Malice", "The Gift"
tracks (Disc 1 [CD] - Singles & B-Sides): "Precious' [12" mix], "The Great Depression", "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)", "Pity Poor Alfie / Fever", "Pity Poor Alfie" [Swing Version], "Beat Surrender", "Shopping", "Move On Up", "Stoned Out Of My Mind", "War"
tracks (Disc 2 [CD] - Demos And Alternate Tracks): "Skirt" [Demo], "Get Yourself Together" [Remixed Demo Version], "Ghosts" [Instrumental Demo], "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?" [Demo], "Running On The Spot" [Demo], "The Planner's Dream Goes Wrong" [Demo], "Carnation" [Instrumental Demo], "Precious" [Remixed Demo Version], "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)" [Demo], "Alfie" [Demo 2], "We've Only Started" [Old Version], "Only Started" [Instrumental Demo], "Shopping" [Paul's Demo], "Beat Surrender" [Demo], "Solid Bond In Your Heart" [Paul's Demo]
tracks (Disc 3 [CD] - Live At Wembley (December 3rd 1982)): "Start!", "It's Too Bad", "Beat Surrender", "Away From The Numbers", "Ghosts", "In The Crowd", "Boy About Town", "So Sad About Us", "All Mod Cons", "To Be Someone", "Smithers-Jones", "That's Entertainment", "The Great Depression", "Precious", "Move On Up", "Circus", "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight", "David Watts", "Mr. Clean", "Town Called Marice", "But I'm Different Now", "Trans-Global Express", "In The City"
contents (Disc 4 [DVD]):
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Pink Floyd
The Wall: Immersion Edition

The third (and presumably final) Pink Floyd "Immersion Edition" covers their 1979 classic, The Wall. Unlike the two previous sets, The Wall doesn't include a 5.1 mix and doesn't include album outtakes. Instead, two of the CDs are devoted to a fresh remaster of the official Wall live album, Is There Anybody Out There? - The Wall Live 1980-81. The other two CDs are devoted to demos from various stages of the project. There's a 14-minute medley of excerpts of Roger Waters original demos along with full band demos (including "Sexual Revolution", which ended up on Waters' solo debut) and two David Gilmour demos. As on the other sets, the final disc is a DVD. For The Wall you get an hour long documentary along with the video for "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)" and some live footage from the original tour.

It's admittedly a little disappointing that there's no 5.1 mix, and the live discs are a little redundant if you have the original sets. However, the demo discs are a fascinating listen and the DVD content is excellent. Overall, definitely worth getting.

Watch the official trailer for The Wall: Immersion Edition.

tracks (Discs 1 & 2 [CD] - The Wall): "In The Flesh?", "The Thin Ice", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part I)", "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)", "Mother", "Goodbye Blue Sky", "Empty Spaces", "Young Lust", "One Of My Turns", "Don't Leave Me Now", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part III)", "Goodbye Cruel World", "Hey You", "Is There Anybody Out There?", "Nobody Home", "Vera", "Bring The Boys Back Home", "Comfortably Numb", "The Show Must Go On", "In The Flesh", "Run Like Hell", "Waiting For The Worms", "Stop", "The Trial", "Outside The Wall"
tracks (Discs 3 & 4 [CD] - Is There Anybody Out There: The Wall Live): "In The Flesh?", "The Thin Ice", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part I)", "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)", "Mother", "Goodbye Blue Sky", "What Shall We Do Now?", "Young Lust", "One Of My Turns", "Don't Leave Me Now", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part III)", "The Last Few Bricks", "Goodbye Cruel World", "Hey You", "Is There Anybody Out There?", "Nobody Home", "Vera", "Bring The Boys Back Home", "Comfortably Numb", "The Show Must Go On", "In The Flesh", "Run Like Hell", "Waiting For The Worms", "Stop", "The Trial", "Outside The Wall"
tracks (Disc 5 [CD] - The Wall Work In Progress Part 1, 1979):
Excerpts from Roger Waters Original Demo: "Prelude (Vera Lynn)", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)", "Mother", "Young Lust", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)", "Empty Spaces", "Mother", "Backs To The Wall", "Don't Leave Me Now", "Goodbye Blue Sky", "Don't Leave Me Now", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part III)", "Goodbye Cruel World", "Hey You", "Is There Anybody Out There?", "Vera", "Bring The Boys Back Home", "The Show Must Go On", "Waiting For The Worms", "Run Like Hell", "The Trial", "Outside The Wall"
Roger Waters Original Demo And Band Demos: "Prelude (Vera Lynn)" - Roger Waters, "Another Brick In The Wall (Part I)", "The Thin Ice", "Goodbye Blue Sky", "Teacher, Teacher", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)", "Empty Spaces", "Young Lust", "Mother", "Don't Leave Me Now", "Sexual Revolution", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part III)", "Goodbye Cruel World"
Band Demos: "In The Flesh?", "The Thin Ice", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part I)", "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)", "Mother"
tracks (Disc 6 [CD] - The Wall Work In Progress Part 2, 1979):
Roger Waters Original Demos And Band Demos: "Is There Anybody Out There?" - Roger Waters, "Vera" - Roger Waters, "Bring The Boys Back Home" - Roger Waters, "Hey You", "The Doctor (Comfortably Numb)", "In The Flesh", "Run Like Hell", "Waiting For The Worms", "The Trial", "The Show Must Go On", "Outside The Wall", "The Thin Ice - Reprise"
Band Demos: "Outside The Wall", "It's Never Too Late", "The Doctor (Comfortably Numb)"
Band Demos: "One Of My Turns", "Don't Leave Me Now", "Empty Spaces", "Backs To The Wall", "Another Brick In The Wall (Part III)", "Goodbye Cruel World"
David Gilmour Original Demos: "Comfortably Numb", "Run Like Hell"
contents (Disc 7 [DVD]):
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Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet
Savvy Show Stoppers

Shadowy Men's debut album, a compilation of songs from their first five singles, gets a lavish vinyl & download only re-release on Mammoth Cave Records. The album is an instrumental classic, and held with a bit of reverence amongst surf music fans, although it's more eclectic than pure surf. Shadowy Men are really an instrumental rock band, with far more varied influences. If you remember the 90's sketch comedy show The Kids In The Hall, then you've heard S Men's signature track "Having An Average Weekend" - it was the theme song. The packaging gets a nice upgrade as well with a new gatefold sleeve and tongue-in-cheek liner notes. An album I can't recommend highly enough, but I'm admittedly biased - I run a Shadowy Men fan site.

And because I'm a geek about such things - this new release uses the original 45 version of "Customized" (the original album used a re-recorded version). And the little minute-long jam at the end of the album, "Boogie In G", doesn't appear in the download version.

Watch the official video for "Musical Interlude", a live performance of "Having An Average Weekend" from one of the 2012 reunion shows, or watch some homemade videos for "Harlem By The Sea", "Good Cop Bad Cop", or "Bennett Cerf".

tracks: "Good Cop Bad Cop", "Musical Interlude", "Theme From T.V.", "Zombie Compromise", "Malfunction", "Shake Some Evil", "You Spin Me Round '86", "Vibrolux Deluxe", "Run Chicken Run", "Bennett Cerf", "Egypt Texas", "Customized", "Our Weapons Are Useless", "Shadowy Countdown", "Harlem By The Sea", "Having An Average Weekend", "Boogie In G"
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Sugar

Sugar Reissue Review page.


LIVE ALBUMS

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The Move
Live At The Fillmore 1969

Live At The Fillmore 1969, the Move's first full-length concert recording, documents the first (and only) US tour for the band. The Move had quite a few hits in the UK, but were pretty much unknown here. As a result, they only play three Roy Wood originals and six covers (some of which were also on their then-current album, Shazam). At this point in the band's career, they were evolving from a 60's pop band into a heavy rock band. Each of the songs runs well over five minutes long, and their UK hit "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" extends over 10 minutes. The band sounds great - it's wonderful to finally hear a full live performance. The CD also adds a few extra tracks from the two Fillmore shows and adds a current interview with drummer Bev Bevan talking about the tour. Great package, and a real surprise to hear something like this after all these years.

Watch the official trailer for Live At The Fillmore 1969 or listen to "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" or their cover of The Nazz's "Open My Eyes".

tracks: "Open My Eyes", "Don't Make My Baby Blue", "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited", "The Last Thing On My Mind", "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", "Fields Of People", "Goin' Back", "Hello Susie", "Under The Ice"
bonus tracks ("additional night performances"): "Don't Make My Baby Blue", "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited", "The Last Thing On My Mind"
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various artists
The Old Grey Whistle Test Live

"The Old Grey Whistle Test" was a long-running (1971-1987) UK music show where performers would play their latest hits live. The Old Grey Whistle Test Live collects two CDs worth of performances from the whole run of the TV show, and the playlist is extremely diverse including rock, punk, jazz, new wave, alternative, pub rock, folk rock, blues rock and more with bands ranging from "hitmakers" like Tom Petty, The Doobie Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd through lesser known acts like Television, Captain Beefheart and Brinsley Schwarz. Amazing stuff, but be aware, the recordings are in mono (they were for a TV show after all) and a few of the songs fade out early.

The show returned as a radio program in 2011, and the third disc contains songs from that revival (and being more current, it's in stereo). Some of the highlights are covers - Nils Lofgren's cover of Neil Young's "Long May You Run" and Julian Lennon covering "Stand By Me" as his dad did in 1975 (although Kiki Dee's cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" doesn't really work). Paul Weller's "English Rose" is given spooky accompaniment which works suprisingly well, and Ian Anderson's sparse "Mother Goose" and a surpringly good version of "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy are other highlights.

Watch the OGWT television performances of "Tiny Dancer" (Elton John, from 1971), "Upon The My-O-My" (Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band, from 1974), "American Girl" (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, from 1978), "Foxhole" (Television, from 1978), "Burma Shave" (Tom Waits, from 1979), "This Is The Sea" (The Waterboys, from 1985), or "Love Removal Machine" (The Cult, from 1987).

tracks (Discs 1 & 2): "American Girl" - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, "Tiny Dancer" - Elton John, "She's Gone" - Daryl Hall & John Oates, "Into The Mystic" - Van Morrison, "This Little Girl" - Gary U.S. Bonds, "Help Me Make It Through The Night" - Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, "Another Sleep Song" - Graham Nash, "Baby I'm-A Want You" - Bread, "Luka" - Suzanne Vega, "Meet Me On The Corner" - Lindisfarne, "Burma Shave" - Tom Waits, "Just For Me & You" - Poco, "Black Coffee" - Humble Pie, "Hooked On Love" - Brinsley Schwarz, "Breezin'" - George Benson, "Ain't No Sunshine" - Bill Withers, "Sweet Home Alabama" - Lynyrd Skynyrd, "God Gave Rock And Roll To You" - Argent, "Rockin' Down The Highway" - The Doobie Brothers, "Bullfrog Blues" - Rory Gallagher, "Upon The My-O-My" - Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band, "Delilah" - The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, "This Is The Sea" - The Waterboys, "Don't Come Close / She's The One / Go Mental" - The Ramones, "Love Removal Machine" - The Cult, "Jimmy Jimmy" - The Undertones, "Walk Out To Winter" - Aztec Camera, "Are 'Friends' Electric?" - Gary Numan & Tubeway Army, "Foxhole" - Television, "Heart Of Glass" - Blondie, "Stone Fox Chase (Theme From OGWT)" - Nine Below Zero
tracks (Disc 3 - 2011 Sessions): "English Rose" - Paul Weller, "Jailbreak" - Thin Lizzy, "Mother Goose" - Ian Anderson, "Swimming Song" - Loudon Wainwright III, "Heartsong" - Gordon Giltrap, "I Can't Be Satisfied" - Gregg Allman, "Long May You Run" - Nils Lofgren, "Stand By Me" - Julian Lennon, "Empty Highway" - Joan Armatrading, "Stay With Me 'Till Dawn" - Judie Tzuke, "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)" - Kiki Dee, "Sensitive Man" - Nick Lowe, "A Friend For Life" - Steve Harley, "Zimmerman Blues" - Ralph McTell, "I Scare Myself" - Thomas Dolby, "Summertime Thing" - Chuck Prophet, "Not Great Men" - Gang Of Four, "A13" - Billy Bragg, "Cor Baby That's Really Free" - John Otway, "Trouble" - Yusuf (Cat Stevens)


COMPILATION ALBUMS

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Electric Light Orchestra
Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

Mr. Blue Sky is a collection of brand new Jeff Lynne recordings of some of ELO's best songs. Apparently the intent was to bring the production up to date, but the result is a bit of a mixed bag (although the recording sounds terrific and Lynne's voice sounds perfect). On the first three ELO albums, the strings were played by the three string players in the band (two cellos and a violin). On 1974's Eldorado, Lynne used an orchestra to play the string parts and the result was a much fuller, lusher sound. The songs on Mr. Blue Sky that originally used that massive orchestral sound (like "Turn To Stone", "Telephone Line", and "Livin' Thing") suffer the most - they end up sounding like Lynne backed by an ELO cover band. However, rockers like "Do Ya" and "10538 Overture" sound great. It's an interesting listen for an ELO fan, and Lynne throws in a new song, "Point Of No Return", that sounds like it would have slotted in just fine on any of ELO's 80's albums. The iTunes edition adds two more re-recordings ("Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" sounds great, "Rockaria!" is so-so) and two recordings with just Lynne on vocals and acoustic guitar and long time ELO keyboard player Richard Tandy on piano. Those two recordings are the highlight of the package. They recorded several songs this way for a BBC special - I'd love to see the whole set released.

Watch the video for "Mr. Blue Sky" or listen to "Point Of No Return".

tracks: "Mr. Blue Sky", "Evil Woman", "Strange Magic", "Don't Bring Me Down", "Turn To Stone", "Showdown", "Telephone Line", "Livin' Thing", "Do Ya", "Can't Get It Out Of My Head", "10538 Overture" [40th Anniversary Edition], "Point Of No Return", "Mr. Blue Sky", "Evil Woman", "Strange Magic", "Don't Bring Me Down", "Turn To Stone", "Showdown", "Telephone Line", "Livin' Thing", "Do Ya", "Can't Get It Out Of My Head", "10538 Overture", "Point Of No Return"
bonus tracks (iTunes Edition): "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle", "Rockaria!", "Steppin' Out", "Can't Get It Out Of My Head"

OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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Captain Beefheart
Bat Chain Puller

Had it been released in 1976, Bat Chain Puller would have been hailed as Beefheart's "return to form". Where the "Tragic Band" albums tried to smooth out his sound a bit, Bat Chain Puller is Beefheart at his most eclectic, with his Howlin'-Wolf-esque growl in full power. "Owed T'Alex" and "Bat Chain Puller" are explosive blues rock, "Harry Irene" is almost lounge jazz, "81 Poop Hatch" and "Apes-Ma" are spoken word pieces, "Ah Carrot Is As Close As Ah Rabbit Gets To Ah Diamond" is a genuinely pretty (if weird) instrumental, and "The Human Totem Pole" is a monologue coupled with an off-kilter backing track.

Originally recorded for DiscReet Records, Bat Chain Puller wasn't released due to problems between DiscReet founders Frank Zappa and Zappa's manager Herb Cohen. Cohen apparently used Zappa's royalty checks to pay for the production costs, and Zappa ended up owning the tapes when the dust settled. Beefheart eventually rerecorded most of these songs for his final three studio albums (for my money, the best three of his career), but now that the Zappa Family Trust has finally released it, you can finally get an official release of the album as Beefheart originally intended (the tracks have been long bootlegged, but not with sound this good). If you're familar with Beefheart's last three albums, be aware that these versions aren't radically different from the released versions - the arrangements are similar, but it's recorded with a different Magic Band. Personally, I think I actually prefer the redone versions that came out later, but it's still interesting to hear the original game plan (plus "Seam Crooked Sam" and "Odd Jobs" finally get an official release).

Listen to "Floppy Boot Stomp", "Harry Irene", or "Bat Chain Puller".

tracks: "Bat Chain Puller", "Seam Crooked Sam", "Harrry Irene", "81 Poop Hatch", "Flavor Bud Living", "Brick Bats", "Floppy Boot Stomp", "Ah Carrot Is As Close As Ah Rabbit Gets To Ah Diamond", "Owed T'Alex", "Odd Jobs", "The Human Totem Pole (The 1,000th And 10th Day Of The Human Totem Pole)", "Apes-Ma"
bonus tracks: "Bat Chain Puller [alternate mix]", "Candle Mambo", "Hobo-Ism"
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Craig Finn
Clear Heart Full Eyes

The Hold Steady leader's first solo album has a moodier feel than his band's arena rock, and a little twinge of country is mixed in as well. Of course, with Finn's distinctive voice and lyrics, it doesn't get too far away from his day job. Overall, the album's a bit of a mixed bag. It's cool that he went for a little different direction, but I'm more interested in the next Hold Steady album.

Listen to "Honolulu Blues" or "New Friend Jesus".

tracks: "Apollo Bay", "When No One's Watching", "No Future", "New Friend Jesus", "Jackson", "Terrified Eyes", "Western Pier", "Honolulu Blues", "Rented Room", "Balcony", "Not Much Left Of Us"
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Jeff Lynne
Long Wave

Jeff Lynne's first solo album in over 20 years is an album of covers of songs Lynne heard as a child. The sound of the album isn't that far removed from late period ELO, but the arrangements seem pretty similar to the originals (for the ones I've heard, anyway). Highlights include Charles Aznavour's "She", Don Covay's rocking "Mercy, Mercy", the wedding staple "At Last", a cover of Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock", and the standard "Beyond The Sea". For Jeff Lynne/ELO fanatics only.

Watch the video for "Mercy, Mercy" starring "The Jeffs".

tracks: "She", "If I Loved You", "So Sad", "Mercy, Mercy", "Running Scared", "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered", "Smile", "At Last", "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing", "Let It Rock", "Beyond The Sea"
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Paul Weller
Sonik Kicks

Weller's latest is yet another gutsy change of pace, incorporating an electronica/dance flavor into many of the songs. While I think it's cool that Weller continues to take chances, this one kinda falls flat for me, although I think it's the songs themselves as opposed to new flavor. "That Dangerous Age" and "Around The Lake" sound like classic Weller rockers at heart, and the electronic touches don't really detract.

The deluxe edition adds two extra songs, and the first ("Starlite") may be the best thing on the album. Even though it was released as a 12" single before Sonik Kicks was released, it fits the style well.

Watch the video for "Around The Lake" or "That Dangerous Age", or listen to "When Your Garden's Overgrown".

tracks: "Green", "The Attic", "Kling I Klang", "Sleep Of The Serene", "By The Waters", "That Dangerous Age", "Study In Blue", "Dragonfly", "When Your Garden's Overgrown", "Around The Lake", "Twilight", "Drifters", "Paperchase", "Be Happy Children"
bonus tracks: "Starlite", "Devotion"
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Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Americana

Surprisingly, on the first album with the full Crazy Horse lineup since 1996's Broken Arrow, Neil Young went for an all-covers album. And not typical covers either - Americana is a collection of Neil Young & Crazy Horse roaring through mainly old folk song standards plus "Get A Job" and "God Save The Queen" (the British national anthem, not the Sex Pistols song). The result is suprisingly impressive, although it's not an album that seems to holds up to a lot of repeated listenings. It's a blast hearing Neil with the Horse again, but the good stuff came later in the year with Psychedelic Pill. This one's for the hardcore fans only.

Watch the videos for "Jesus' Chariot (She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain)" or "Clementine".

tracks: "Oh Susannah", "Clementine", "Tom Dula", "Gallows Pole", "Get A Job", "Travel On", "High Flyin' Bird", "Jesus' Chariot (She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain)", "This Land Is Your Land", "Wayfarin' Stranger", "God Save The Queen"

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

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Fitz And The Tantrums
Pickin' Up The Pieces

Pickin' Up The Pieces is an amazing album. Fitz And The Tantrums combine modern indie pop with a sixties soul feel and absolutely nail both. The band's sound is driven by their two lead singers, keyboards, horns and flute - there's no electric guitar on the album (apart from a bassist). The title track is a total classic, mixing that sixties soul feel with an irresistable hook. Had I heard this in time, it would have easily made my 2011 top ten.

Watch the video for "MoneyGrabber" or listen to "Pickin' Up The Pieces".

tracks: "Breakin' The Chains Of Love", "Dear Mr. President", "Pickin' Up The Pieces", "MoneyGrabber", "L.O.V.", "News 4 U", "Don't Gotta Work It Out", "Rich Girls", "Winds Of Change", "Tighter"

THE TOP TEN FOR 2012
(in my always less-than-humble opinion)

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#10
Cast
Troubled Times

Cast's first album since the band's nadir, 2001's Beetroot, which unsuccessfully mixed in funkier, dancier sounds and didn't really work. Troubled Times takes the band back to its strength - catchy Britpop with a heavy debt to Power's old band, The La's. The opener, "Bow Down", sets the tone. This could have been the followup to All Change. If you liked Cast's first three albums, you really should check this out.

Listen to "See That Girl" or "Time Bomb".

tracks: "Bow Down", "Troubled Thoughts", "The Sky's Got A Gaping Hole", "See That Girl", "Not Afraid Of The World", "Silver And Gold", "Bad Waters", "Hold On Tight", "A Boy Like Me", "Brother Fighting Brother", "Time Bomb", "Tear It Apart (All Over Again)", "Time Bomb" [Rough Acoustic Attic Recording], "Troubled Thoughts" [Rough Acoustic Attic Recording]
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#9
Ultravox
Brilliant

The 1980's edition of Ultravox reunited in 2009 for a reunion tour, their first live performance since Live Aid back in 1985. That was intended to be a one-off, but a 2010 tour followed. In 2012, the band reunited again, this time for the first album with their full 80's line up since 1984's Lament. As you might expect, Brilliant harkens back to their 80's sound mixing synth pop with rock guitar and Midge Ure's booming voice. You could slot the opener, "Live", onto any of the 80's albums and it wouldn't seem out of place. There isn't a new classic like "Vienna" or "Reap The Wild Wind" here, but the album is excellent overall.

Listen to "Live" or "Brilliant".

tracks: "Live", "Flow", "Brilliant", "Change", "Rise", "Remembering", "Hello", "One", "Fall", "Lie", "Satellite", "Contact"
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#8
Asia
XXX

Asia's third reunion album (titled XXX in reference to the band's 30th anniversary) is easily the best of the three. As on the previous reunion albums the band sounds terrific (with John Wetton's voice as strong as ever), but the quality of the songs has taken a big step forward and the sound is more along the lines of the original albums. The standouts are the opener "Tomorrow The World", "Face On The Bridge" (despite the odd lyrical concept) and the ballad "Faithful".

Watch the video for "Face On The Bridge".

tracks: "Tomorrow The World", "Bury Me In Willow", "No Religion", "Faithful", "I Know How You Feel", "Face On The Bridge", "Al Gatto Nero", "Judas", "Ghost Of A Chance"
bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Reno (Silver And Gold)", "I Know How You Feel" [Midnight Mix]
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#7
Lightships
Electric Cables

Bassist/singer/songwriter Gerard Love's new band Lightships will remind you of his work in Teenage Fanclub, but with a much moodier, gentler vibe. They mix in a flute and guitar effects that add a hypnotic feel to a lot of the album. "Sweetness In Her Spark" is the big standout - with a catchy hook and Love's gentle lead vocal, it should be a hit but is probably a little too unusual. Overall, a very laid-back album and a nice change of pace. If you like Teenage Fanclub, you'll like this.

Watch the video for "Two Lines" or "Sweetness In Her Spark".

tracks: "Two Lines", "Muddy Rivers", "Sweetness In Her Spark", "Every Blossom", "Silver And Gold", "The Warmth Of The Sun", "Girasol", "Stretching Out", "Photosynthesis", "Sunlight To The Dawn", "Fear And Doubt"
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#6
Gaz Coombes
Here Come The Bombs

Here Come The Bombs is Gaz Coombes's first proper solo album after his years with Supergrass and the Hotrats side project. After a gentle opener, the album picks up speed with "Hot Fruit" which, frankly, could be a Supergrass outtake. The rest of the album follows that trend - Here Come The Bombs feels like it could be the seventh Supergrass album (which is by no means a bad thing).

Watch the video for "Hot Fruit" or "White Noise".

tracks: "Bombs", "Hot Fruit", "Whore", "Sub-Divider", "Universal Cinema", "Simulator", "White Noise", "Fanfare", "Break The Silence", "Daydream On A Street Corner", "Sleeping Giant"
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#5
Jens Lenkman
I Know What Love Isn't

Jens (pronounced "Yens") Lenkman's third album, I Know What Love Isn't, is a terrific slice of indie pop coupling bright melodies with witty, melancholic lyrics and Jens' Morrissey-esque voice. Basically, think of a pop version of The Smiths, and you're on the right track. The title track is irresistably catchy pop with a clever lyric turning a typical love song on it's head, and "Become Someone Else's" is every bit as good. Based on this one, I really need to hear the earlier albums. Great stuff.

Odd side note: One song, "Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder" has a hook that reminded me of another song but it took ages to figure out that it was "Yesterday Once More" by Carpenters. It's not an blantant lift, but it's there.

Watch the video for "I Know What Love Isn't" or "Become Someone Else's".

tracks: "Every Little Hair Knows Your Name", "Erica America", "Become Someone Else's", "She Just Don't Want To Be With You Anymore", "Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder", "I Want A Pair Of Cowboy Boots", "The World Moves On", "The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love", "I Know What Love Isn't", "Every Little Hair Knows Your Name"
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#4
Glen Hansard
Rhythm And Repose

Hansard's solo debut doesn't stray far from the sound of his work with Markéta Irglová on the Once soundtrack or on the Swell Season albums. The core of the album ("High Hope", "Bird Of Sorrow", "The Storm, It's Coming") have than anthemic sound that would have fit perfectly on the Once soundtrack. "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting" adds a jazzy feel, "Maybe Not Tonight" has an intro that reminds me of the "The Weight" and adds a little country flair not unlike The Band. A stunning debut.

Watch the video for "High Hope" or lsiten to "Bird Of Sorrow".

tracks: "You Will Become", "Maybe Not Tonight", "Talking With The Wolves", "High Hope", "Bird Of Sorrow", "The Storm, It's Coming", "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting", "What Are We Gonna Do", "Races", "Philander", "Song Of Good Hope"
bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Come Away To The Water", "This Gift", "Rare Bird"
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#3
Bob Mould
Silver Age

Bob Mould's first new album in three years comes out on the heels of his Copper Blue tour dates, and the album's got a little of Sugar's flare, especially on "The Descent". Like the rest of Mould's album since he's returned to a power trio format, he's not breaking ground on the album, just cranking out one great catchy punk pop song after another. A lyrical highlight is "Keep Believing", where Mould obscurely drops references to his musical influences ranging from The Byrds, The Beatles and The Who to the Ramones, Joy Division, R.E.M., and Minutemen (with a little nod to Hüsker Dü thrown in for good measure).

Watch the video for "The Descent".

tracks: "Star Machine", "Silver Age", "The Descent", "Briefest Moment", "Steam Of Hercules", "Fugue State", "Round The City Square", "Angels Rearrange", "Keep Believing", "First Time Joy"
bonus tracks (iTunes): "The Descent" [Live at AB Brussels]
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#2
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Psychedelic Pill

Neil Young's second Crazy Horse album of the year sounds basically like a live album translated to the studio with the band just jamming on and on and on (and no, that's NOT a bad thing). The stunning opener, "Driftin' Back" has about a minute of Neil solo on acoustic guitar before the Horse fades in and takes over for the next 25 minutes (no, that's not an exaggeration). Two other songs, "Ramada Inn" and the epic "Walk Like A Giant" also break the 15-minute barrier, but you just go along for the ride. The shorter songs are great as well: "Psychedelic Pill" sounds like an update of "Cinnamon Girl" and "Twisted Road" celebrates Neil's heroes (like Dylan and Roy Orbison). All through, the band sounds absolutely amazing. It's too early to say this now, but Psychedelic Pill could end up being the definitive Crazy Horse album.

Amazingly, there are videos for every song on the album. The videos aren't performance clips (they feel mainly like home video footage), but you can at least hear everything. Here's the links: "Driftin' Back", "Psychedelic Pill", "Ramada Inn", "Born In Ontario", "Twisted Road", "She's Always Dancing", "For The Love Of Man", and "Walk Like A Giant".

tracks: "Driftin' Back", "Psychedelic Pill", "Ramada Inn", "Born In Ontario", "Twisted Road", "She's Always Dancing", "For The Love Of Man", "Walk Like A Giant", "Psychedelic Pill" [Alternate Mix]
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#1
Rush
Clockwork Angels

On their 20th studio album, Rush has delivered one of the best albums of their nearly 40-year career. For starters, it's Rush's first full-length rock opera (although I don't know that they've used that term). The lyrics tell a story that has since been fleshed out into a novel by Kevin J. Anderson (haven't read it yet, but got a copy for Christmas). Musically, the album is easily the most diverse album in Rush's catalog. "The Wreckers" is the poppiest song Rush has recorded in ages. "Halo Effect" and "The Garden" have the prettiest melodes Rush has recorded since "Closer To The Heart". The title track is a complex (yet still accessible) seven-minute long suite that sounds totally like Rush, but like none of their prior albums. To top it all off, the band's added string arrangements to about half the album, and it absolutely works. Clockwork Angels is possibly Rush's most diverse album, and it's pretty amazing.

I've been a Rush fan for ages, but only Feedback has showed up in my reviews. I've stayed a fan, but a Rush album hasn't floored me like this since their Moving Pictures/Signals/Grace Under Pressure heyday (yes, I'm definitely a fan of their 80's albums). If you haven't listened to Rush in a while, this is definitely one to check out.

Watch the lyric video for "The Wreckers" or "Headlong Flight".

tracks: "Caravan", "BU2B", "Clockwork Angels", "The Anarchist", "Carnies", "Halo Effect", "Seven Cities Of Gold", "The Wreckers", "Headlong Flight", "BU2B2", "Wish Them Well", "The Garden"

PAST YEARS' BESTS

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

2011: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds2010: 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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