2013 brought a few new acts to my attention, but it seemed like reissues and fancy box sets were a bigger deal for me. There's no corresponding album to review in the list, but a big highlight of 2013 was hearing Dweezil Zappa's band (Zappa Plays Zappa) perform his dad's Roxy & Elsewhere album beginning to end, and absolutely nailing it. I always liked Roxy, but hearing it live gave me a much stronger appreciation of it. I've read there may be some official releases from the Roxy tour coming in 2014, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Lou Reed's passing reminded me both of how great his best albums are, but also how long it's been since he recorded one. There were reports in late 2012 that Jeff Lynne was going to release a new album of original material in 2013, but that never materialized.

And as is now my standard, there are YouTube links for each entry so you can listen to a song or two to get a sample of the album. Enjoy the list.


Lou Reed

Lou Reed may not have had hit singles, but his influence ranks up with any artist you can name. Punk and alternative music owe a huge debt to Reed's first band, The Velvet Underground and his solo career in general. While "flower power" was in full swing in the 60's, Reed and the Velvets sang about dark topics with combative, abrasive music. His post-Velvets career was a wild ride. One one hand, he produced brilliant albums like Transformer and Berlin in the 70's, The Blue Mask and New York in the 80's, and Songs For Drella and Magic And Loss in the 90's. All of these albums have great songs, literate lyrics, and powerful playing. I'd recommend all of 'em. Reed could be contrary, releasing albums like the infamous Metal Machine Music (two albums of pure guitar feedback with no songs) or albums like The Bells or Rock And Roll Heart that would couple a decent song with a ton of filler. His last great album was in 2000 with Ecstasy. Since then, he released the adventurous (but hit-and-miss) The Raven, an album of meditational, new age music, and a much-derided collaboration with Metallica, Lulu, that seemed interesting in theory, but lousy in practice.

I first heard Reed in the 80's, with "I Love You Suzanne" from New Sensations, and his best work was great enough to make you ignore the crap. Saw him live on the tours for New York and Magic And Loss, and caught him at the Day In The Garden show on the site of the original Woodstock concert. I've put a bunch of links below. If you're not familiar with Reed's work, these should be a decent introduction.

In many interviews, Reed said his ambition was to write the Great American Novel, but do it it rock and roll albums. He wrote a ton of classic lyrics, although his liner notes for New York reveal the basic formula: "You can't beat 2 guitars, bass, drums".


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Electric Light Orchestra

Back in 2001 I wrote:

The first new ELO album in 15 years is essentially a Jeff Lynne solo album. Lynne plays almost every instrument on Zoom, with few friends helping out, notably ELO alum Richard Tandy, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. However, the album works much better as an ELO album than Lynne's official solo album, 1990's Armchair Theatre. The sound picks up largely where the last edition of ELO left off, but with much better songwriting. "Moment In Paradise" is one of Lynne's finest ballads, and "Ordinary Dream" and "Lonesome Lullaby" rank with ELO's best. A fine return to form, and the best ELO album since their late 70's commercial peak of A New World Record and Out Of The Blue).

The reissue adds two new songs, a terrific new studio track "One Day" (which would have fit nicely on the original Zoom and a live take of "Turn To Stone" from the same shows that produced the new Electric Light Orchestra Live album (see below). Disappointingly, they did not include "Long Black Road", which was a bonus on the original Japanese edition of the album. Overall, Zoom is still a terrific album and if you're a fan, it's worth the upgrade for the new songs.

tracks: "Alright", "Moment In Paradise", "State Of Mind", "Just For Love", "Stranger On A Quiet Street", "In My Own Time", "Easy Money", "It Really Doesn't Matter", "Ordinary Dream", "A Long Time Gone", "Melting In The Sun", "All She Wanted", "Lonesome Lullaby"

bonus tracks: "One Day", "Turn To Stone" [live]

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Fleetwood Mac
35th Anniversary Edition

Back in 2004 I wrote:

As has been well-documented, Rumours marked the breakup of the two couples in Fleetwood Mac with emotional, pointed lyrics that resulted in one of the biggest selling albums of all-time. If you've somehow managed to not hear Rumours, be assured that it's a monster-selling album that actually deserves to be this big. "Don't Stop", "Dreams", "Go Your Own Way", and "You Make Loving Fun" got played to death in 1977 (and have become rock radio staples ever since), but they're still terrific songs. All three of the Mac's songwriters (Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie) each contribute stunning material, probably the best of their respective careers. With this reissue, the popular single B-side "Silver Springs" has been inserted into the running order (between what was side 1 and side 2 of the vinyl). The song is good enough to be on the album, although I'll confess it's seems weird to hear that extra song in the middle of a running order that's so familiar.
The bonus disc for Rumours is a real treat. You get rough versions of the whole album, some closer to the finished product than others, along with some of the early demos for the album and a couple of jam sessions. Very interesting listening.

The new 35th Anniversary Edition takes the 2004 reissue a step further. Disc 1 is basically the same, although they've moved "Silver Springs" to the end of the album and it's nice to have the album flow like it used to. Disc 2 (Live: 1977 'Rumours' World Tour) is the highlight of the new package to me. It's a terrific sounding live recording, and the performance is top notch. "The Chain" is a huge highlight, but all of the songs sound fantastic. An interesting note is that the little warm up jam labelled "Intro" on the disc has the beginnings of "Tusk" in the rhythm. Despite all the personal issues, the band still works together on stage brilliantly. Discs 3 and 4 are outtakes from the sessions (Disc 4 is the same as the 2004 bonus disc). Disc 3 (More From The Recording Sessions) is similar material and like the 2004 disc, it's interesting listening. The box also adds the now-customary high-quality vinyl copy of the album as well as a DVD of the 1977 "Rosebud Film" about the making of the album.

And yes, I know that 1977 + 35 years = 2012. This box came out in January of 2013. So there.

Watch the trailer for the new box set or the videos for "Dreams" or "Go Your Own Way" or a live take of "You Make Loving Fun" from "The Rosebud Film".

tracks (Rumours): "Second Hand News", "Dreams", "Never Going Back Again", "Don't Stop", "Go Your Own Way", "Songbird", "The Chain", "You Make Loving Fun", "I Don't Want To Know", "Oh Daddy", "Gold Dust Woman", "Silver Springs"

tracks (Live: 1977 'Rumours' World Tour): "Intro", "Monday Morning", "Dreams", "Don't Stop", "The Chain", "Oh Daddy", "Rhiannon", "Never Going Back Again", "Gold Dust Woman", "World Turning", "Go Your Own Way", "Songbird"

tracks (More From The Recording Sessions): "Second Hand News" [Early Take], "Dreams" [Take 2], "Never Going Back Again" [Acoustic Duet], "Go Your Own Way" [Early Take], "Songbird" [Demo], "Songbird" [Instrumental, Take 10], "I Don't Want To Know" [Early Take], "Keep Me There" [Instrumental], "The Chain" [Demo], "Keep Me There" [With Vocal], "Gold Dust Woman" [Early Take], "Oh Daddy" [Early Take], "Silver Springs" [Early Take], "Planets Of The Universe" [Demo], "Doesn't Anything Last" [Early Take], "Never Going Back Again" [Instrumental]

tracks (Reissue Roughs & Outtakes, Early Demos & Jam Sessions): "Second Hand News", "Dreams", "Brushes (Never Going Back Again)", "Don't Stop", "Go Your Own Way", "Songbird", "Silver Springs", "You Make Loving Fun", "Gold Dust Woman #1", "Oh Daddy", "Think About It" "Never Going Back Again" [Early Demo], "Planets Of The Universe" [Early Demo], "Butter Cookie (Keep Me There)" [Early Demo], "Gold Dust Woman" [Early Demo], "Doesn't Anything Last" [Early Demo], "Mic The Screecher" [Jam Session], "For Duster (The Blues)" [Jam Session]

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Jeff Lynne
Armchair Theatre

Back in 1990 I wrote:

After working as part of The Traveling Wilburys and producing George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson, and Tom Petty, Lynne finally releases his first solo album since the demise of E.L.O. in 1986. The sound on Armchair Theatre is reminiscent of E.L.O., with definite influence from his recent cohorts. Lynne plays most of the instruments, with notable help from George Harrison on slide guitar. Highlights include the Indian-flavored "Now You're Gone", the poppy "Every Little Thing" and "Lift Me Up", plus faithful covers of "September Song" and "Stormy Weather".

Armchair Theatre still holds up well and it's quite a bit better than last year's Long Wave. The new bonus tracks include a b-side and an outtake and they're nothing that special. The album is definitely worth getting, but not worth an upgrade unless you're a huge fan.

tracks: "Every Little Thing", "Don't Let Go", "Lift Me Up", "Nobody Home", "September Song", "Now You're Gone", "Don't Say Goodbye", "What Would It Take", "Stormy Weather", "Blown Away", "Save Me Now"

bonus tracks: "Borderline", "Forecast"

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25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Back in 1988 I wrote:

R.E.M. makes its major label debut with Green. As is traditional with any "critic's band" that makes commercial success, the question of "selling out" immediately arises. R.E.M., whether accidentally or on purpose, have responded with their most adventurous album to date. The album opens with a indictment of the music industry ("Pop Song 89"), and closes with an unnamed track. Hardly conventional. On Green, R.E.M. stretches out a bit, trying some more delicate work ("You Are The Everything", "Hairshirt", "The Wrong Child"), a protest song ("World Leader Pretend") along with some more conventional R.E.M. tracks ("Orange Crush", "Stand"). They've probably lost some of their early fans by trying new things, but the nice thing to see is that R.E.M. is apparently not afraid of taking chances. Rolling Stone called them "America's Best Rock & Roll Band" last year. They've done nothing to lose that title.

The reissue of Green adds a bonus concert disc recorded in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1989 and it's a terrific (and often bootlegged) show. It captures R.E.M. as they gracefully make the jump from a cult band playing clubs to one of the biggest bands in the world headlining arena shows. The CD doesn't have the full show - a few songs were released on a Record Store Day CD single. However, the digital versions (iTunes and the like), have the whole show in the proper running order.

Watch the video for "Orange Crush" and listen to "Stand".

tracks: "Pop Song 89", "Get Up", "You Are The Everything", "Stand", "World Leader Pretend", "The Wrong Child", "Orange Crush", "Turn You Inside-Out", "Hairshirt", "I Remember California", "(the eleventh untitled song)"

bonus disc (Live In Greensboro 1989): "Stand", "The One I Love", "Turn You Inside-Out", "Belong", "Exhuming McCarthy", "Good Advices", "Orange Crush", "Cuyahoga", "These Days", "World Leader Pretend", "I Believe", "Get Up", "Life And How To Live It", "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", "Pop Song 89", "Fall On Me", "You Are The Everything", "Begin The Begin", "Low", "Finest Worksong", "Perfect Circle"

Record Store Day EP (Live In Greensboro EP): "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", "Feeling Gravitys Pull", "Strange", "King of Birds", "I Remember California"

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The Who
Super Deluxe Edition

Tommy is, of course, probably the most famous album in The Who's catalog. It's the album that broke The Who from a small cult band into one of the biggest bands in the world. Their "rock opera" has spawned an orchestral performance, a feature film, a Tony Award-winning Broadway production, and contained two of their best known songs, "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me" (which is actually just the coda of "We're Not Gonna Take It").

Back in 2003, Tommy was given a deluxe reissue with a 5.1 mix and a slew of bonus tracks. The new "Super Deluxe" edition takes it a step further by including the full demos for the album (most have been long bootlegged, but they're all here with much better sound), a great "live bootleg" pulled mainly from 1969 shows, a huge (and interesting) book on the history of the album, and a fresh (and improved) 5.1 mix that really brings out the subtleties in the recording. It's an amazing listen.

If you're not a Who fanatic, you're fine with either the regular CD or the 2003 edition. If you're a fanatic, you definitely need this.

Watch the trailer for the new box set or the video for "Pinball Wizard" the performance of "We're Not Gonna Take It" from Woodstock.

tracks (Tommy): "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind", "Christmas", "Cousin Kevin", "The Acid Queen", "Underture", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Fiddle About", "Pinball Wizard", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror Boy", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "Smash The Mirror", "Miracle Cure", "Sensation", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Welcome", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

tracks (Demos & Extras): "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Dream One", "Sparks", "The Hawker (Eyesight To The Blind)", "Christmas", "Acid Queen", "Underture (Dream Two)", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Pinball Wizard", "There's A Doctor", "Go To The Mirror!", "Success", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "Smash The Mirror", "Sensation", "Miracle Cure", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Welcome", "We're Not Gonna Take It", "Trying To Get Through", "Young Man Blues"

tracks (Tommy in 5.1 (Blu-ray)): "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind", "Christmas", "Cousin Kevin", "The Acid Queen", "Underture", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Fiddle About", "Pinball Wizard", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror Boy", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "Smash The Mirror", "Miracle Cure", "Sensation", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Welcome", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

tracks (Live Bootleg): "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind", "Christmas", "The Acid Queen", "Pinball Wizard", "Do You Think It's Alright?", "Fiddle About", "Tommy Can You Hear Me?", "There's A Doctor", "Go To The Mirror!", "Smash The Mirror", "Miracle Cure", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It", "See Me, Feel Me / Listening To You"


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Tremendous Dynamite: Live In 2010+2011

A cool show-only double CD with highlights of the last two Eels tours which mix the best Eels lineup yet with adventurous sets. The band moves between grungy rock and delicate ballads effortlessly, and adds in playful covers like "Summer In The City" and "She Said Yeah" on the first disc and a pair of Sly & The Family Stone covers on the second. Another fun highlight is "Talkin' 'Bout Knuckles", a song to introduce the drummer that starts out goofy and ends up rocking out. A tremendous intro to the current live Eels. Get the CD, and if they come to town - GO. And make sure you don't leave when the lights come up.

tracks (2010): "Daisies Of The Galaxy", "Little Bird", "End Times", "Prizefighter", "She Said Yeah", "Gone Man", "Summer In The City", "Tremendous Dynamite", "In My Dreams", "In My Younger Days", "Paradise Blues", "Jungle Telegraph", "My Beloved Monster", "Spectacular Girl", "Fresh Blood", "Dog Faced Boy", "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues", "I Like Birds", "Summertime", "I Like The Way This Is Going"

tracks (2011): "That's Not Really Funny", "Flyswatter", "Somebody's Watching You", "Grace Kelly Blues", "Packing Blankets", "My Beloved Monster", "Fresh Feeling", "That's Not Her Way", "Love Of The Loveless", "This Is Where It Gets Good", "That Look You Give That Guy", "Hot Fun In The Summertime", "Talkin' Bout Knuckles", "Novocaine For The Soul", "Souljacker Part I", "Beginner's Luck", "Losing Streak", "It's A Motherfucker", "P.S. You Rock My World", "Looking Up"

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Electric Light Orchestra
Electric Light Orchestra Live

Electric Light Orchestra Live is taken from a pair of 2001 shows done for a PBS special released then as Zoom Tour Live. Originally, these shows were likely to be the kickoff of a full tour, but the tour was cancelled when Jeff Lynne went to go produce a final album (Brainwashed) for the very ill George Harrison. It's a shame Lynne didn't go back to ELO afterwards because this lineup sounded terrific. The only carryover from the old days was keyboard player Richard Tandy, but the sound is still still ELO. A full tour would've been great. The album is very good, but the song choices are a little odd. Something as slight as "Confusion" makes the cut, but ELO classics like "Do Ya", "Turn To Stone" and "10538 Overture" don't? Really should have been a double disc set with a complete set list. The DVD comes closer, although "Secret Messages", "Sweet Talkin' Woman", "Twilight", and "Confusion" don't appear on the DVD.

The bonus tracks are both from the studio - the Elvis flavored "Out Of Luck" and "Cold Feet" which sounds more like late-period ELO. Both songs are fun, and worth hearing.

tracks: "Evil Woman", "Showdown", "Secret Messages", "Livin' Thing", "Sweet Talkin' Woman", "Mr. Blue Sky", "Can't Get It Out Of My Head", "Twilight", "Confusion", "Don't Bring Me Down", "Roll Over Beethoven"

bonus tracks: "Out Of Luck", "Cold Feet"

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Clockwork Angels Tour

The tour for Clockwork Angels was unusual for several reasons. First, the opening half of the show was dominated by songs from their 80's albums (which actually works for me - those are my personal favorites). Second, Neil Peart did not take his customary long drum solo. Instead, he worked in smaller solos into "Where's My Thing?" and "Headlong Flight" and a small stand-alone solo titled "The Percussor". The biggest change was the second set in which the band ran through most of their Clockwork Angels album with a eight-piece string section that remained part of the show through "YYZ". In person, I couldn't really hear the strings that well. But on the album the strings really come to life and they really make that second set. This is probably my favorite of the myriad Rush live albums.

The "Limited Deluxe Edition" of the album (available only on Rush's website) contains the audio and video versions (CD + DVD + BluRay) and a book. Clearly, the one to get for the hardcore Rush fans (is there any other kind?)

tracks: "Subdivisions", "The Big Money", "Force Ten", "Grand Designs", "The Body Electric", "Territories", "The Analog Kid", "Bravado", "Where's My Thing? / Here It Is!", "Far Cry", "Caravan", "Clockwork Angels", "The Anarchist", "Carnies", "The Wreckers", "Headlong Flight / Drumbastica", "Peke's Repose / Halo Effect", "Seven Cities of Gold", "Wish Them Well", "The Garden", "Dreamline", "The Percussor", "Red Sector A", "YYZ", "The Spirit Of Radio", "Tom Sawyer", "2112: Overture / The Temples Of Syrinx / Grand Finale", "Limelight", "Middletown Dreams", "The Pass", "Manhattan Project"

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Frank Zappa
A Token Of His Extreme

Taken from an unbroadcast TV special of the same name, A Token Of His Extreme shows the Roxy & Elsewhere band a little later, debuting two songs from Zappa's classic One Size Fits All (my pick for Frank's best). A lot of this material has been released as part of the Dub Room Special! album and video, but this CD has more of the show including long guitar solos on "Florentine Pogen" and "Pygmy Twylyte". It's still not truly complete - it's missing at least "Approximate" and "Cosmik Debris" - but it's still great. And yes, there's a DVD version of the original broadcast as well that mixes the live performances with Bruce Bickford's amazing (and really weird clay animation).

Oh, and yes, I agree - the CD cover's terrible.

Watch the clips of "Montana", "Stink-Foot", or "Inca Roads" from the show.

tracks: "The Dog Breath Variations / Uncle Meat", "Montana", "Earl Of Duke", "Florentine Pogen", "Stink-Foot", "Pygmy Twylyte", "Room Service", "Inca Roads", "Oh No / Son Of Orange County", "More Trouble Every Day", "A Token Of My Extreme"


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Beady Eye

Beady Eye's debut Different Gear, Still Speeding really surprised me. I figured that without Noel Gallagher, the remains of Oasis wouldn't be able to deliver a solid album, but they did. BE takes more chances in the sound, but the songs are a step down from Different Gear. The album opens strong with the horn-driven "Flick Of The Finger" and the rocking "Face The Crowd" is another big highlight. The biggest suprise on here for me was "Don't Brother Me". The song is basically in two parts. The first half is a ballad whose lyrics seem to alternate between Liam Gallagher attacking his brother Noel ( "Don't brother me when you're done / Sick of all your lying, scheming and your crying") and trying to make peace ("Come on now, give peace a chance, take my hand, be a man"). The second half is a long fadeout with electronic treatments. I'd imagine they were going for a "Layla" like feel, but the second half just seems to drag on. Overall, BE isn't bad, per se, but it didn't really hold up for me. It's not one I'm pulling out to listen to over and over.

tracks: "Flick Of The Finger", "Soul Love", "Face The Crowd", "Second Bite Of The Apple", "Soon Come Tomorrow", "Iz Rite", "I'm Just Saying", "Don't Brother Me", "Shine A Light", "Ballroom Figured", "Start Anew"

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Big Star
Nothing Can Hurt Me: Original Soundtrack

The soundtrack to the 2013 Big Star documentary serves as an alternate "greatest hits" of sorts. The alternate mixes aren't different arrangements, just different takes. If you're a fan, the movie's worth seeing, and the soundtrack's definitely worth checking out. If you're new to Big Star, this is a decent intro to the band (and it includes solo material from Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, which is a nice touch). Better idea - go listen to the 2-fer CD of #1 Record / Radio City and then watch the movie to try to understand why Big Star ended up as an obscure cult band instead of being superstars.

Watch the film trailer or listen to "September Gurls".

tracks: "O My Soul" [Demo], "Give Me Another Chance" [Control Room Monitor Mix], "In The Street" [Movie Mix], "When My Baby's Beside Me" [Alternate Mix], "Studio Banter" "Try Again" [Movie Mix] - Rock City, "My Life Is Right" [Alternate Mix], "The Ballad Of El Goodo" [Alternate Mix], "Feel" [Alternate Mix], "Don't Lie To Me" [Alternate Mix], "Way Out West" [Alternate Mix], "Thirteen" [Alternate Mix], "You Get What You Deserve" [Alternate Mix], "Holocaust" [Rough Mix], "Kanga Roo" [Rough Mix], "Stroke It Noel" [Backward Intro], "Big Black Car" [Rough Mix], "Better Save Yourself" [Movie Mix] - Chris Bell, "I Am The Cosmos" [Movie Mix] - Chris Bell, "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain" [Movie Mix] - Alex Chilton, "September Gurls" [Movie Mix]

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The Flaming Lips
The Terror
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The Flaming Lips
Peace Sword

In the late 90's, the Flaming Lips evolved from a noise-pop band into something weirder and more elegant peaking with their 1999 classic The Soft Bulletin. In 2009, they started another evolution. Embryonic started moving in a more experimental direction and leaving behind their noughties pop. In 2011, they issued an single a month, and each one was pretty much pure experimentation and electronica. The Terror continues the trend, but now with a darker, ambient sound that you'd barely recognize as the same band. For my taste, it's damn near unlistenable. It's not abrasive, but it feels like it just doesn't go anywhere. Later in the year, the Lips provided the closing theme for the film Ender's Game ("Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)") which was a welcome return the sound of to their previous incarnation, and rest of the EP is more along the lines of Embryonic - not classic Lips, but way better than The Terror. I respect bands that are willing to take chances and reinvent themselves, but the Lips kinda lost me on these two. I think I'll need to wait for another change of direction to check 'em out again.

tracks (The Terror): "Look…The Sun Is Rising", "Be Free, A Way", "Try To Explain", "You Lust", "The Terror", "You Are Alone", "Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die", "Turning Violent", "Always There, In Our Hearts"

iTunes bonus tracks (The Terror): "The Terror (Full Album)", "Sun Blows Up Today", "We Don't Control The Controls (Mashed-The-F-Up-Remix)"

tracks (Peace Sword): "Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)", "If They Move, Shoot 'Em", "Is The Black At The End Good", "Think Like A Machine, Not A Boy", "Wolf Children", "Assassin Beetle - The Dream Is Ending"

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Peter Gabriel
And I'll Scratch Yours

And I'll Scratch Yours was intended to be the 2nd disc in a set with Gabriel's cover album Scratch My Back. The idea was that the artists whose songs Gabriel covered on the first disc would return the favor on the 2nd. Most finally participated (with a few no-shows). The album is a really strange mix of styles. There are fairly straight covers like Regina Spektor's "Blood Of Eden", Arcade Fire's "Games Without Frontiers", and Elbow's "Mercy Street" (with Gabriel on lead vocal). There are bizarre reworkings like David Byrne's "I Don't Remember" and Stephin Merritt's "Not One Of Us". Randy Newman turns "Big Time" into, well, a Randy Newman song (although it kinda doesn't work). In what might be Lou Reed's last recording, he turns "Solsbury Hill" into a feedback-drenched dirge (although it misses the mark as well). Paul Simon's closing "Biko" works much better in his style (even though he gets the cell number wrong).

Overall, And I'll Scratch Yours is a really clever concept, but the album itself is pretty hit-and-miss.

Listen to the Album Sampler. It'll give you a bit of all of the songs.

tracks: "I Don't Remember" [David Byrne], "Come Talk To Me" [Bon Iver], "Blood Of Eden" [Regina Spektor], "Not One Of Us" [Stephin Merritt], "Shock The Monkey" [Joseph Arthur], "Big Time" [Randy Newman], "Games Without Frontiers" [Arcade Fire], "Mercy Street" [Peter Gabriel with Elbow], "Mother Of Violence" [Brian Eno], "Don't Give Up" [Feist with Timber Timbre], "Solsbury Hill" [Lou Reed], "Biko" [Paul Simon]

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Matthew Sweet And Susanna Hoffs
Under The Covers, Vol. 3

The third "Sid 'n' Susie" set continues the pattern from the first two and this time focuses on the 80's. The cover choices are again top notch, picking gems from R.E.M., The dB's, The English Beat, The Smiths, Roxy Music and XTC among others. They did avoid the obvious and avoided a Bangles song although they did cover The Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed". The iTunes release adds 3 extra covers, but they're suprsingly flat. I figured "Train In Vain" would be perfect, but their cover really just doesn't click. Like the first two albums in the series, the covers aren't better than the originals, but it's fun to hear the whole set.

tracks: "Sitting Still" (originally by R.E.M.), "Girls Talk" (Dave Edmunds / Elvis Costello), "Big Brown Eyes" (The dB's), "Kid" (Pretenders), "Free Fallin'" (Tom Petty), "Save It For Later" (The English Beat), "They Don't Know" (Kirsty MacColl / Tracy Ullman), "The Bulrushes", (The Bongos), "Our Lips Are Sealed" (The Go-Go's), "How Soon Is Now" (The Smiths), "More Than This" (Roxy Music), "Towers Of London" (XTC), "Killing Moon" (Echo And The Bunnymen), "Trouble" (Lindsey Buckingham)

iTunes bonus tracks: "I Would Die 4 U" (Prince), "You're My Favorite Waste Of Time" (Marshall Crenshaw), "Train In Vain" (The Clash)


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Laura Veirs
Warp And Weft

Warp And Weft is a terrific collection of atmospheric indie pop. The opening pair, "Sun Song" and "America" start out the album strong, but the album's big highlight is "That Alice", a rocking tribute to Alice Coltrane with stunning lead guitar from My Morning Jacket's Carl Broemel that really reminds me of Richard Lloyd's guest appearances on Matthew Sweet's 90's albums. The album is good, but "That Alice" is a stunner.

Watch the video for "Sun Song" or listen to "That Alice".

tracks: "Sun Song", "America", "Finster Saw The Angels", "Dorothy Of The Island", "Shape Shifter", "Ghosts Of Louisville", "Say Darlin' Say", "That Alice", "Ikaria", "Sadako Folding Cranes", "Ten Bridges", "White Cherry",

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Paul McCartney

Haven't had a Paul McCartney album in one of my reviews for over 20 years. I've liked songs here and there, but had basically ignored his recent work. New came as a big surprise. While it's not a match for his best solo work like Band On The Run, it's still surprisingly good. Paul brought four different producers - Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns (son of frequent Wings producer Glyn Johns), Paul Epworth, and Giles Martin (son of the legendary Beatles producer George Martin) - and the result is a varied album that shows off Paul's songwriting and surprisingly strong voice (you'd never know from listening that Paul's 71!).

"Alligator" and "New" sound like it could-have-been hits for Wings back in the 70's. "On The Way To Work" and "Early Days" are clever autobiographical sketches with the latter delivering a punch in the lyrics ( "Now everybody seems to have their own opinion / Who did this and who did that / But as for me I don't see how they can remember / When they weren't where it was at"). This album was a real surprise. I didn't expect Paul to still be playing rock and roll, I didn't expect him to sing this well (especially after hearing the appearance at the Olypmics), and I didn't expect to hear songwriting of this caliber. I'd clearly written him off too early. Check this one out.

Watch the video for "Queenie Eye" or listen to "On My Way To Work".

tracks: "Save Us", "Alligator", "On My Way To Work", "Queenie Eye", "Early Days", "New", "Appreciate", "Everybody Out There", "Hosanna", "I Can Bet", "Looking At Her", "Road", "Turned Out", "Get Me Out Of Here", "Scared"

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The Strypes

Tired of the clichéd 16-18 year old boy band? Well, The Strypes are all in that age range, but they're a guitar/bass/drums/vocals rock band heavily influenced by the blues and 60's rock. Think of the Yardbirds, early Who and 70's pub rock with a faster sound like The Hives. If you didn't know better, you'd never pick up on the band's youth. With the exception of a few classic covers like Bo Diddley's "You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover" and "I Can Tell", the blues standard "Rollin' And Tumblin'", and Nick Lowe's "Heart Of The City", the songs are all originals, and they are definitely NOT teen pop. The album is really quite impressive.

tracks: "Mystery Man", "Blue Collar Jane", "What The People Don't See", "She's So Fine", "I Can Tell", "Angel Eyes", "Perfect Storm", "You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover", "What A Shame", "Hometown Girls", "Heart Of The City", "Rollin' And Tumblin'",

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The Polyphonic Spree
Yes, It's True.

The Spree's fourth album, funded by Kickstarter, largely picks up where 2004's Together We're Heavy left off, ditching the harder rock from The Fragile Army, and the results are terrific. Yes, It's True. returns the Spree to their "sunshine pop" sound full of catchy melodies, BIG harmonies (courtesy of the band's choir) and their usual "everything but the kitchen sink" instrumentation. If you liked the older albums, grab this too.

tracks: "Section 33 (You Don't Know Me)", "Section 34 (Popular By Design)", "Section 35 (Hold Yourself Up)", "Section 36 (Carefully Try)", "Section 37 (You're Golden)", "Section 38 (Heart Talk)", "Section 39 (Blurry Up The Lines)", "Section 40 (Let Them Be)", "Section 41 (Raise Your Head)", "Section 42 (What Would You Do?)", "Section 43 (Battlefield)"

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Richard Thompson

Electric is a terrific album with a slightly misleading name. I was expecting an album of Thompson's guitar heroics, and while Thompson rocks out on songs like "Stony Ground" and "Stuck On The Treadmill", the album overall is way more varied and more along the lines of his classic Rumour And Sigh. There's also catchy pop like "Where's Home?" and "Good Things Happen To Bad People" which pairs a bouncy melody with a biting lyric about infidelity ("Good things happen to bad people / But only, but only, for a while"). "Sally B" brings in a little electric blues and "The Snow Goose" is one of Thompson's bleak ballads ("Northern winds will cut you / Northern girls will gut you / leave you cold and empty / like a fish on a slab"). These are the kinds of Thompson albums I enjoy most. I like a lot of different styles of his songs, and I tend to prefer the ones that give you a little of everything. Great album.

The deluxe bonus disc is a mix of four outtakes from the album, two from last year's self-released Cabaret Of Souls and a live version of the 1000 Years Of Popular Music staple "So Ben Mi Ch'a Bon Tempo". The four outtakes are good (not as good as the songs on the main album, but still worth a listen). Wasn't crazy about Cabaret Of Souls, but "So Ben Mi Ch'a Bon Tempo" is always fun. If you're a Thompson fan, you should go for the deluxe.

tracks: "Stony Ground", "Will You Dance, Charlie Boy", "Salford Sunday", "Sally B", "Stuck On The Treadmill", "My Enemy", "Good Things Happen To Bad People", "Where's Home?", "Another Small Thing In Her Favour", "Straight And Narrow", "The Snow Goose", "Saving The Good Stuff For You"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Will You Dance, Charlie Boy", "I Found A Stray", "The Rival", "The Tic-Tac Man", "Auldie Riggs", "Auldie Riggs Dance", "So Ben Mi Ch'a Bon Tempo"

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Robyn Hitchcock
Love From London

Love From London follows a similar path to 2011's Tromsø, Kaptein, although it's all in English and the string section is gone. Robyn mixes dramatic songs like the piano-driven opener "Harry's Song" with the grungy "Fix You" (no, it's not a Coldplay cover) and "I Love You", and quite a few different styles in between. "Devil On A String" is the highlight for me - a classic Hitchcock rocker. Love From London is Robyn's 19th solo album, and it's great.

tracks: "Harry's Song", "Be Still", "Stupefied", "I Love You", "Devil On A String", "Fix You", "My Rain", "End Of Time", "Strawberries Dress", "Death And Love"

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Johnny Marr
The Messenger

In the 25 years after the end of The Smiths, Johnny Marr's worked with a lot of different bands, but The Messenger is the first one just credited to Marr, and it's a tremendous debut. The songs are great, the guitar work is excellent (as you'd expect), and Marr's voice is way, way better than I'd expected. Sound-wise, it makes me think that this is what The Smiths might have sounded like if Marr was the leader instead of Morrissey. Excellent.

Listen to all of the songs on Johnny Marr's YouTube Channel.

tracks: "The Right Thing Right", "I Want The Heartbeat", "European Me", "Upstarts", "Lockdown", "The Messenger", "Generate! Generate!", "Say Demesne", "Sun and Moon", "The Crack Up", "New Town Velocity", "Word Starts Attack"

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Manic Street Preachers
Rewind The Film

Rewind The Film is the quietest album in the Manics catalog. Almost all of the guitar work is acoustic and subdued with generally melancholy lyrics. The album sets the tone right off with James Dean Bradfield singing "I don't want my children to grow up like me / It's too soul destroying, it's a mocking disease / A wasting disease". The album isn't all gloom and doom though. "Show Me The Wonder" brings a horn section for an almost seventies soul feel, and "Anthem For A Lost Cause" feel like an acoustic version of a big Manics anthem like "A Design For Life". It's a change of pace for the band like Lifeblood was, but it totally works. Oh, and the report is that they simultaneously recorded a second, louder album due out in May of 2014.

The deluxe edition bonus disc contains the band demos for each song on Rewind The Film plus a handful of tracks from their 2011 performance at the O2, including a killer version of "Stay Beautiful". Totally worth getting.

Watch the videos for "Show Me The Wonder" or "Rewind The Film".

tracks: "This Sullen Welsh Heart", "Show Me The Wonder", "Rewind The Film", "Builder Of Routines", "4 Lonely Roads", "(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline", "Anthem For A Lost Cause", "As Holy As The Soil (That Buries Your Skin)", "3 Ways To See Despair", "Running Out Of Fantasy", "Manorbier", "30-Year War"

deluxe edition bonus tracks (demos): "This Sullen Welsh Heart", "Show Me The Wonder", "Rewind The Film", "Builder Of Routines", "4 Lonely Roads", "(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline", "Anthem For A Lost Cause", "As Holy As The Soil (That Buries Your Skin)", "3 Ways To See Despair", "Running Out Of Fantasy", "Manorbier", "30-Year War"

deluxe edition bonus tracks (live at The O2): "There By The Grace Of God", "Stay Beautiful", "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough", "The Love Of Richard Nixon", "Revol"

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Wonderful, Glorious

The first new album after the 2009/2010 trilogy has some of the grungy/distorted rock of the first album (Hombro Lobo) on tracks like "Peach Blossom", the bluesy "New Alphabet", and "Open My Present". The gentler Eels of End Times and Tomorrow Morning show up on ballads like "On The Ropes" and the melancholy "The Turnaround" (with the memorable line "I always bit the hand that beat me"). The stunning closer "Wonderful, Glorious" is catchy pop with an amazing guitar hook and an elegant coda that wraps up the album in style. Gotta check this one out. If you're not already an Eels fan, this may be the one to hook you.

The deluxe edition of the album adds a second CD, and it's fantastic as well. You get "I'm Your Brave Little Soldier" and "Happy Hour", both of which are as good as anything on the main album, plus some killer live tracks (four from the tour-only Tremendous Dynamite and an amazing four-song set from KEXP radio.

Watch the videos for "New Alphabet" or "Kinda Fuzzy", or listen to "Wonderful, Glorious".

tracks: "Bombs Away", "Kinda Fuzzy", "Accident Prone", "Peach Blossom", "On The Ropes", "The Turnaround", "New Alphabet", "Stick Together", "True Original", "Open My Present", "You're My Friend", "I Am Building A Shrine", "Wonderful, Glorious"

bonus tracks: "Hold On To Your Hat", "Your Mama Warned You", "I'm Your Brave Little Soldier", "There's Something Strange", "Happy Hour (We're Gonna Rock)", "That's Not Really Funny" [live], "In My Dreams" [live], "Prizefighter" [live], "Looking Up" [live], "What I Have To Offer" [live], "I Like The Way This Is Going" [live], "Spectacular Girl" [live], "Summer In The City" [live]

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Biffy Clyro

From first listening you can tell that Opposites is meant to be an Important Album for the band. Originally intended to be a pair of albums called The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones with lyrics about difficult things in a person's past, and The Land At The End Of Our Toes about the future, it's since been combined into a double album and an edited single-album version. Hint: You want the double. The album takes the sound from 2009's Only Revolutions, and just expands it like crazy. Like Only Revolutions, Opposites mixes heavy rock with complex, proggy sections and the occasional gentle moment to balance. There are string arrangements on probably half the album (and they work really well). "Different People" opens the album on a slow, dramatic moment before launching into a slab of complex hard-rock, "Spanish Radio" adds in a mariachi band in the mix. "Modern Magic Formula" adds a punk feel, Trumpet Or Tap" adds a bluesy touch, and "Pocket" is a power-pop gem reminiscent of Sugar's best (and easily my most played song of the year - it's just one of those songs than demands a replay). Songs like "The Joke's On Us" and "Stingin' Belle" are just flat-out rockers and songs like "Opposite", "Biblical", "Victory Over The Sun" and the epic closer "Picture A Knife Fight" are big anthems for big crowds. Don't know that Biffy gets much notice in the US, but this really is a must-hear.

The iTunes deluxe edition adds three songs and a video. Two are short instrumentals that wrap up each "disc", the other song is a nice acoutic version of "Pocket", and the video's a very good 50-minute "making of the album" feature.

tracks (The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones): "Different People", "Black Chandelier", "Sounds Like Balloons", "Opposite", "The Joke's On Us", "Biblical", "A Girl And His Cat", "The Fog", "Little Hospitals", "The Thaw"

tracks (The Land At The End Of Our Toes): "Stingin' Belle", "Modern Magic Formula", "Spanish Radio", "Victory Over The Sun", "Pocket", "Trumpet Or Tap", "Skylight", "Accident Without Emergency", "Woo Woo", "Picture A Knife Fight"

iTunes bonus tracks: "The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones", "The Land At The End Of Our Toes", "Pocket" [acoustic]


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