OPENING GIBBERISH

Shortly after the lockdowns started in March, I started reading about delayed album releases and cancelled tours. I figured that as a result, we'd be looking at a very lean year for new music. I couldn't have been more wrong. Much to my surprise, a ton of great new albums came out and livestreams started filling a bit of the gap of live concerts. Quite a few artists did virtual recordings with each part recorded remotely. It's all been very creative and very clever, but I'm still looking forward to getting back to a real venue with a live band. However, I certainly wouldn't mind the occasional livestream in the future.

Enjoy the list.


REISSUES

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The Hotrats
Turn Ons
10th Anniversary Edition

Back in 2010 I wrote:

While Supergrass bassist Mick Quinn was recovering from an injury, guitarist Gaz Coombes and drummer Danny Goffey toured as Diamond Hoo Ha Men (eventually naming the following Supergrass album with Quinn Diamond Hoo Ha). Supergrass has since split, but Gaz and Danny are back, this time as The Hotrats. The band's debut album, Turn Ons is a collection of covers, but it's a diverse set of covers ranging from The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd to Gang Of Four, Sex Pistols and even the Beastie Boys. Normally, I wouldn't really consider a covers album for the top 10, but Turn Ons is absolutely amazing. It's back-to-basics garage rock and the results are just irresistible. Heck, even the cover of the annoying "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)" is a blast. Give this a listen, and keep an eye out for their debut single, which was a killer version of The Beatles' "Drive My Car".

The 10th anniversary edition of Turn Ons adds a few more songs to the original album: covers of The Beat's "Mirror In The Bathroom", Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" and Kelis' "Milkshake" and two versions of "Drive My Car". They all fit the spirit of the original album, and really could have been part of it. The live album is a blast. The Hotrats play most of the original album and mix in a high-energy cover of Supergrass' "Caught By The Fuzz". The karaoke disc is an interesting listen, but it really just makes me want to hear the main album again. It's worth an upgrade if you have the original, and absolutely worth picking up if you don't.

tracks (Turn Ons, plus bonus tracks): "I Can't Stand It" [The Velvet Underground], "Big Sky" [The Kinks], "The Crystal Ship" [The Doors], "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)" [Beastie Boys], "Damaged Goods" [Gang Of Four], "Love Is The Drug" [Roxy Music], "Bike" [Pink Floyd], "Pump It Up" [Elvis Costello & The Attractions], "The Lovecats" [The Cure], "Queen Bitch" [David Bowie], "E.M.I." [Sex Pistols], "Up The Junction" [Squeeze] "Mirror In The Bathroom" [The Beat], "West End Girls" [Pet Shop Boys], "Drive My Car" [The Beatles], "Drive My Car" [alternate version], "Milkshake" [Kelis]

tracks (Live In Tokyo, plus bonus tracks): "I Can't Stand It", "Damaged Goods", "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)", "The Crystal Ship", "Pump It Up", "Love Is The Drug", "Big Sky", "Queen Bitch", "Bike", "Mirror In The Bathroom", "E.M.I.", "The Lovecats", "Drive My Car", "Caught By The Fuzz", "I Can't Stand It","Mirror In The Bathroom", "E.M.I."

tracks (Karaoke With The Hotrats): "I Can't Stand It", "Big Sky", "The Crystal Ship", "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)", "Damaged Goods", "Love Is The Drug", "Bike", "Pump It Up", "The Lovecats", "Queen Bitch", "Up The Junction", "Mirror In The Bathroom", "Milkshake"

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The Hold Steady
Heaven Is Whenever
10th Anniversary Edition

Back in 2010 I wrote:

In early 2010, keyboard player Franz Nicolay explained why he left The Hold Steady. He said [The Hold Steady] have their one big idea -- making literate, wordy lyrics over big anthemic rock -- and the last two records were about as good as I felt like I could do with that idea. As it turns out, I have a huge soft spot for literate, wordy lyrics and anthemic rock, so I'm still on board. Surprisingly though, Heaven Is Whenever is actually a little more varied album than the last two, and the results are spectacular. The best song on the album ("We Can Get Together") is a ballad, and a tribute to the power of music to bring people together ("Heaven is whenever / we can get together / sit down on your floor / and listen to your records"). There's also a callback to the character driven songs from the first albums - "The Weekenders" is a sequel to the story in "Chips Ahoy" (from Boys And Girls In America) with the protagonist wondering if his girl still has the ability to see the future. The album closer, "A Slight Discomfort", is an epic with a long, dramatic ending loaded with pounding drums and lush strings. I was concerned that Franz Nicolay's departure was going to take the spark out of The Hold Steady, but I was pleasantly disappointed. Heaven Is Whenever is terrific.

I still love Heaven Is Whenever - I think it's held up really well, and I'd still rate "We Can Get Together" as one of the band's all-time best. The new 10th anniversary issue includes a second album that's a mix of previously released and unreleased songs. "Ascension Blues" and "Touchless" were bonus songs on the iTunes edition of the album. They're not bad, but they're not up to the standard of the rest of the album. "Criminal Fingers" was a one-off single from 2013 that was a tie in with Game Of Thrones, and it's the weakest song on the set. The unreleased songs are a real treat. "Separate Vacations" and "Going On A Hike" are songs the band played the live around the same time and the album, and they're both excellent. I'm kind of amazed they weren't on the album in the first place. The alternate version of "We Can Get Together" sounds very much the same as the original, until you get to the big guitar solo at the end. It's a really cool version. It might even be better than the original.

The reissue is vinyl-only, but preorders come with a digital version of the album that includes a further six songs that aren't on the vinyl. Five of those are labeled as being part of the "Avatar Sessions", and they're the highlight of the bonus tracks. These were demos recorded before Franz Nicolay left the band. They give you a hint of what the album would have sounded like had Franz not left. It's definitely worth getting the album for these alone, but you should check that it's still included.

tracks: "The Sweet Part Of The City", "Soft In The Center", "The Weekenders", "The Smidge", "Rock Problems", "We Can Get Together", "Hurricane J", "Barely Breathing", "Our Whole Lives", "A Slight Discomfort"

bonus tracks: "Ascension Blues", "Touchless", "Separate Vacations", "Criminal Fingers", "Beer On The Bedstand", "At Least Not Tonight", "Wonderful Struggle", "Going On A Hike", "We Can Get Together" [alternate version]

digital bonus tracks: "Hurricane J" [Avatar Sessions], "Our Whole Lives" [Avatar Sessions], "Separate Vacations" [Avatar Sessions], "Going On A Hike" [Avatar Sessions], "We Can Get Together" [Avatar Sessions], "Beer On The Bedstand" [demo]

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Marillion
Script For A Jester's Tear
Deluxe Edition

Marillion's third deluxe edition release is a release of their 1983 debut album, along with their 1982 debut EP ("Market Square Heroes"), a non-album b-side ("Charting The Single"), a live recording from the Marquee Club in December 1982, and a Blu Ray. The debut album is excellent overall with two huge highlights: the epic "Script For A Jester's Tear" and "Garden Party". "Market Square Heroes" from the EP is terrific as well. The live show shows how good Marillion was from the beginning and is a great listen. The Blu Ray has a very interesting documentary about the early days of the band and the live footage included is a great watch.

Note that this set is not a complete set of 1982-83 Marillion. The 1997 double-CD version of the album has some demos and alternate versions that don't appear on this set. Hold on to the double-CD and pick this up to get the live discs and the Blu Ray.

tracks (Script For A Jester's Tear): "Script For A Jester's Tear", "He Knows You Know", "The Web", "Garden Party", "Chelsea Monday", "Forgotten Sons"

tracks (Market Square Heroes): "Market Square Heroes", "Three Boats Down From The Candy", "Grendel", "Charting The Single"

tracks (Live At The Marquee Club, 29th December 1982): "Garden Party", "Three Boats Down From The Candy", "Grendel", "Chelsea Monday", "He Knows You Know", "The Web", "Script For A Jester's Tear", "Forgotten Sons", "Market Square Heroes", "Margaret"

Blu Ray contents: High-definition audio of the CD contents, Sackcloth and Greasepaint: The Story of Script For A Jester's Tear, Recital Of The Script: Live At The Hammersmith Odeon, Live At The Marquee Club 1982 [11 minutes], Promo videos for "Market Sqare Heroes", "He Knows You Know", and "Garden Party"

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Tom Petty
Wildflowers & All The Rest

Back in 1994 I wrote:

Petty's second solo album again uses all of the Heartbreakers except Stan Lynch (who has since left the band). Wildflowers is a much more "rootsy", laid-back album and a fine one.

Originally intended as a double album, Tom Petty was pressured into cutting Wildflowers into a single. Over the years, Petty had compiled the ten extra songs as a separate CD to be titled All The Rest and even released one outtake, "Somewhere Under Heaven", as a single in 2015. Wildflowers & All The Rest expands the double album into a 4 CD box set. The first disc is Wildflowers as originally released, and the second is All The Rest as Petty sequenced it. Along with those, a CD of demos and a live CD have been added. All The Rest, is just as good as the main album. "Something Could Happen", "Leave Virginia Alone" and "Somewhere Under Heaven" could have been hits, and I'm not sure how Petty ever decided which to include and which to skip. It definitely does not sound like an "outtakes" album, it sounds like a continuation. I like that All The Rest respects Tom's intentions for that CD, but I confess I'm a little disappointed that there isn't a specific double-album running order mentioned anywhere. It'd be cool to hear it as an integrated double set instead of two discrete albums.

The demo CD, Home Recordings, shows just how much of a songwriting groove Petty was in at this point. Beyond the 25 songs on the main album and All The Rest, there are songs like "There Goes Angela", "A Feeling Of Peace", and "There's A Break In The Rain" that are just as good as the rest of the album. Petty's demos are impressive: he plays guitar, piano, bass, and a Dylanesque harmonica. It's a really impressive disc, and really, this could have just been released as is.

Petty had long-considered a "Wildflowers Tour" to focus on all of this material, and Wildflowers Live gives a hint at what could have been. The CD is a collection of Wildflowers-era songs recorded from 1995 through a dazzling performance of "Crawling Back To You" from Petty's final tour in 2017. It's a real shame this tour never happened.

Prior to this set, I'm not sure I would have considered Wildflowers to be Petty's masterwork, but this box set really make me rethink that.

tracks (Wildflowers): "Wildflowers", "You Don't Know How It Feels", "Time To Move On", "You Wreck Me", "It's Good To Be King", "Only A Broken Heart", "Honey Bee", "Don't Fade On Me", "Hard On Me", "Cabin Down Below", "To Find A Friend", "A Higher Place", "House In The Woods", "Crawling Back To You", "Wake Up Time"

tracks (All The Rest): "Something Could Happen", "Leave Virginia Alone", "Climb That Hill Blues", "Confusion Wheel", "California", "Harry Green", "Hope You Never", "Somewhere Under Heaven", "Climb That Hill", "Hung Up And Overdue"

tracks (Home Recordings): "There Goes Angela (Dream Away)", "You Don't Know How It Feels", "California", "A Feeling Of Peace", "Leave Virginia Alone", "Crawling Back To You", "Don't Fade On Me", "Confusion Wheel", "A Higher Place", "There's A Break In The Rain (Have Love Will Travel)", "To Find A Friend", "Only A Broken Heart", "Wake Up Time", "Hung Up And Overdue", "Wildflowers"

tracks (Wildflowers Live): "You Don't Know How It Feels", "Honey Bee", "To Find A Friend", "Walls", "Crawling Back To You", "Cabin Down Below", "Drivin' To Georgia", "House In The Woods", "Girl On LSD", "Time To Move On", "Wake Up Time", "It's Good To Be King", "You Wreck Me", "Wildflowers"

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Lou Reed
New York
Deluxe Edition

You can't beat 2 guitars, bass, drum. - from the back of the original album.

Back in 1989 I wrote:

In 1984, Reed released New Sensations, arguably the best work of his career. In 1986, he released Mistrial, a daring album that took lots of chances and didn't always succeed. In 1989, Reed has gone back to basics. He's back to the sound that worked so well on The Blue Mask and Legendary Hearts. On New York, Reed pushes the "2 guitars, bass, drums" sound as far as it will go, trying various styles along the way. He flirts with heavy punk ("There Is No Time"), blues ("Beginning Of A Great Adventure"), ballads ("Last Great American Whale", "Xmas In February"), along with straight rock & roll ("Romeo Had Juliette", "Dirty Blvd."). The LP ends on an unusual song, "Dime Store Mystery", dedicated to Andy Warhol and featuring ex-Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker. The lyrics are, without question, Reed's best ever. On each track, Reed lashes out at the problems of society with witty, pointed, thoughtful lyrics. New York is Reed's finest moment yet. Very highly recommended.

In the liner notes of the original album, Reed writes that the album was meant to be listened to in one 58 minute setting as though it were a book or a movie. When Reed toured New York, he did just that. The first set of the show was the whole album in order. The second CD in the set is a compiled live New York, in order as intended, but taken from a mix of shows. It's a great CD, although weirdly they fade out the end of "Dime Store Mystery" as the song is winding down. It doesn't ruin the disc, but it's an odd choice. I'm assuming they were running out of room and didn't want the live CD to be a double. The album holds up really well live, and it's paced well for a live show. The bonus DVD included is also a live take on the album, but it's from a single show. It's cool to watch, but the performances aren't quite as good as the ones they picked for the live CD.

The third CD is a fascinating mix of "rough mix" versions which are basically early, finished takes and "work tapes" that are basically works in progress. They're really interesting listening. There's also a single edit of "Romeo Had Juliette" that changes "It's hard to give a shit these days" to "It's hard to give a damn these days" because radio was totally going to play the new Lou Reed single. And to wrap up the set is an encore from one of the New York shows with great versions of "Sweet Jane" and "Walk On The Wild Side".

Looking back, I stand by my original review of New York. I don't know that I'd still call New Sensations Reed's second-best album, but I definitely still consider New York his best. It may not have the ground-breaking influence of The Velvet Underground And Nico or the celebrated hits of Transformer, but New York has Reed's most consistent set of songs and a killer band backing him up.

tracks (New York): "Romeo Had Juliette", "Halloween Parade", "Dirty Blvd.", "Endless Cycle", "There Is No Time", "Last Great American Whale", "Beginning Of A Great Adventure", "Busload Of Faith", "Sick Of You", "Hold On", "Good Evening Mr. Waldeheim", "Xmas In February", "Strawman", "Dime Store Mystery"

tracks (Live From The Lou Reed Archives): "Romeo Had Juliette", "Halloween Parade", "Dirty Blvd.", "Endless Cycle", "There Is No Time", "Last Great American Whale", "Beginning Of A Great Adventure", "Busload Of Faith", "Sick Of You", "Hold On", "Good Evening Mr. Waldeheim", "Xmas In February", "Strawman", "Dime Store Mystery"

tracks (Works In Progress / Singles / Encore): "Romeo Had Juliette" [7" version], "Dirty Blvd." [work tape], "Dirty Blvd." [rough mix], "Endless Cycle" [work tape], "Last Great American Whale" [work tape], "Beginning Of A Great Adventure" [rough mix], "Busload Of Faith" [acoustic version], "Sick Of You" [work tape], "Sick Of You" [rough mix], "Hold On" [rough mix], "Strawman" [rough mix], "The Room", "Sweet Jane" [live], "Walk On The Wild Side" [live]

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Ultravox
Vienna
Deluxe Edition

Vienna was Ultravox's fourth album overall, but it was essentially a second debut as singer/guitarist Midge Ure replaced original singer John Foxx and guitarist Robin Simon. With Midge Ure's addition, the band's style changed to a hybrid of synth-pop and classic rock. The box set uses the original UK running order, so it opens with a synthy seven-minute instrumental before showing off their new lead singer's impressive voice on "New Europeans". The giant highlight of the album is the epic title track, which couples a dramatic melody with Ure's spectacular vocal. "Passing Strangers", "Sleepwalk" and "All Stood Still" are standouts as well, and the only weak spot on the album is the occasionally draggy "Mr. X". The box set adds a new stereo and 5.1 mix of the album by Steven Wilson, all of the b-sides from Vienna's singles, some rehearsal recordings and a live show from 1980. The live show includes all of the songs from Vienna, two of the b-sides, and three songs from the John Foxx years ("Quiet Men", "Slow Motion", and "Hiroshima Mon Amour"). The band sounds terrific on this first tour, and the Foxx-era material blends in seamlessly. You'd never realize they were covers (so to speak).

The third Ure-era album, Quartet, is my pick for the band's best album, but Vienna is really close. It's still probably the best intro to the band, and the box set is a great way to dive in deep.

tracks (Vienna [Original 1980 Master]): "Astradyne", "New Europeans", "Private Lives", "Passing Strangers", "Sleepwalk", "Mr. X", "Western Promise", "Vienna", "All Stood Still"

tracks (Vienna [Steven Wilson Stereo Mix]): "Astradyne", "New Europeans", "Private Lives", "Passing Strangers", "Sleepwalk", "Mr. X", "Western Promise", "Vienna", "All Stood Still", "Waiting", "Passionate Reply", "Alles Klar", "Herr X"

tracks (Rarities: Singles/B-Sides/Live): "Sleepwalk" [early version], "Waiting", "Face To Face" [live], "King's Lead Hat" [live], "Vienna" [single version], "Passionate Reply", "Herr X", "All Stood Still" [single version], "Alles Klar", "Keep Talking" [cassette recording during rehearsals], "All Stood Still" [12" mix], "Sleepwalk" [soundcheck], "All Stood Still" [soundcheck], "Vienna" [live video version], "Sleepwalk" [live video version]

tracks (Cassette Recordings During Rehearsals 1979/80): "Astradyne", "New Europeans" [instrumental], "Private Lives" [instrumental], "Passing Strangers" [instrumental 1], "Sleepwalk" [version 1], "Mr. X", "Western Promise", "Vienna", "All Stood Still" [instrumental 1], "Sound On Sound", "Animal", "Sleepwalk" [version 2], "Sound On Sound" [instrumental], "Passing Strangers" [instrumental 2], "All Stood Still" [instrumental 2]

tracks (Live: St. Albans 16/8/1980): "Astradyne", "New Europeans", "Passing Strangers", "Quiet Men", "Face To Face", "Mr. X", "Western Promise", "Vienna", "Slow Motion", "Hiroshima Mon Amour", "All Stood Still", "Sleepwalk", "Private Lives", "King's Lead Hat"

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The Who
Odds & Sods
Record Store Day UK 2020 Edition

In 1998, The Who released an updated version of their 1974 outtakes album, Odds & Sods. That version added thirteen new songs and changed the running order to make the whole CD chronological. In 2020, The Who released a new double-vinyl version of Odds & Sods for the UK Record Store Day. The first disc is the original ten-song release back in its original running order. The second disc, titled Odds & Sods Too, has fifteen tracks. Nine of the fifteen appeared on the 1998 CD, and three of the new songs are getting their official debut here.

For a chunk of 1964, The Who was known as The High Numbers, and they released one single: "Zoot Suit" b/w "I'm The Face". "I'm The Face" is part of the original Odds & Sods, and this new edition has a 2018 remix of "Zoot Suit" that's a little longer. It's not a dramatic difference, but it's interesting to hear. The other two new tracks are a bigger deal. "The Seeker" is an "unedited" version, about 30 seconds longer with some very noticeable differences. "I Don't Even Know Myself" was the b-side of the "Won't Get Fooled Again" single and an earlier version is included here. It's quite a bit different from the original b-side.

Overall, it's a really nice package. It's great that a few new rarities are on here, and the packaging itself is top-notch. A must for hardcore Who fans & collectors.

Additional note: The YouTube links for this album will let you hear the three new alternate versions, but these are taken from bootlegs instead of the official album. The sound is, of course, much better on the official release. These links will at least give you the idea of what's new.

tracks (Odds & Sods): "Postcard", "Now I'm A Farmer", "Put The Money Down", "Little Billy", "Too Much Of Anything", "Glow Girl", "Pure And Easy", "Faith In Something Bigger", "I'm The Face", "Naked Eye", "Long Live Rock"

tracks (Odds & Sods Too): "Zoot Suit" [2018 Remix], "Here 'Tis" [2018 Remix], "Leaving Here" [alternate version], "Baby Don't You Do It", "Young Man Blues" [second version], "Dogs Part Two", "Here For More", "The Seeker" [unedited version], "Heaven And Hell", "I Don't Even Know Myself" [first version], "When I Was A Boy", "Wasp Man", "We Close Tonight", "Water"

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The Who
Who
2020 Deluxe Edition

No, you're not reading the wrong year's review. After releasing a standard CD, a deluxe CD with three bonus tracks, and a vinyl edition with a different bonus track, 2019's Who has yet another version. This time around, the bonus tracks are the "Yaggerdang Remix" of "Beads On One String" and a seven-song live CD.

The "Yaggerdang Remix" doesn't sound like a remix, per se. To me, it sounds like an alternate version, maybe just an earlier version of the song with a different lead vocal. It's an interesting update, and it's available separately as a digital single.

The live CD, recorded at an acoustic show in a small club 2020, is a joy to listen to. Pete and Roger are clearly in a playful mood, chatting with the crowd and teasing each other. The short show has an interesting set list to boot: "Subsititue", "The Kids Are Alright" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" are live staples, but they also play "Squeeze Box" and "Tattoo", both of which haven't had live performaces in 20 years or so. They also pull in two new songs, the brilliant "Break The News" and a version of "She Rocked My World" that improves on the album version.

If the new version only added "Beads On One String", I'd have recommended just buying the single. But the live CD is a blast. It's only about 30 minutes long, but it's absolutely worth picking up the new version for this.

tracks: "All This Music Must Fade", "Ball And Chain", "I Don't Wanna Get Wise", "Detour", "Beads On One String", "Hero Ground Zero", "Street Song", "I'll Be Back", "Break The Newse", "Rockin' In Rage", "She Rocked My World", "Beads On One String" [Yaggerdang Remix]

bonus tracks (Live At Kingston): "Substitute", "Squeeze Box", "Tattoo", "The Kids Are Alright", "Break The News", "She Rocked My World", "Won't Get Fooled Again"


LIVE ALBUMS

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The Hold Steady
Live In San Francisco 8-4-18
Live In Toronto 9-15-18
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The Hold Steady
Live In London 3-9-19
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The Hold Steady
Live In Seattle 8-17-19
Live In Nashvlle 9-5-19
Live In Cambridge 9-15-19

This year's "official bootlegs" are raising money for the workers of the venues that have been shut down by the pandemic. The price is whatever you feel like paying. The performances are tremendous with a nice mix of songs from across the band's career, including a solid helping of songs from last year's Thrashing Thru The Passion.

The Hold Steady also livestreamed their "Massive Nights" residency at the Brooklyn Bowl this year, which was my first chance to see the band live in quite a while. Despite the lack of a crowd, the shows were amazing. With any luck, there will be live releases of those shows in 2021.

tracks (San Francisco 8-4-18): "Hornets! Hornets!", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "On With The Business", "Magazines", "Chips Ahoy!", "Barfruit Blues", "Sequestered In Memphis", "The Stove & The Toaster", "Ask Her For Adderall", "Citrus", "You Can Make Him Like You", "A Snake In The Shower", "Party Pit", "The Swish", "Stuck Between Stations", "Entitlement Crew", "Massive Nights", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Crucifixion Cruise", "How A Resurrection Really Feels", "Cattle And The Creeping Things", "Stay Positive", "Southtown Girls", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Toronto 9-15-18): "Hornets! Hornets!", "Stuck Between Stations", "You Can Make Him Like You", "The Swish", "Magazines", "Stevie Nix", "Multitude Of Casualties", "T-Shirt Tux", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "The Sweet Part of the City", "The Weekenders", "Star 18", "Chips Ahoy!", "Yeah Sapphire", "Most People Are DJ's", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Massive Nights", "Slapped Actress", "How A Resurrection Really Feels", "Certain Songs", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Stay Positive", "Killer Parties"

tracks (London 3-9-19): "Stuck Between Stations", "Hurricane J", "Cattle And The Creeping Things", "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You", "Banging Camp", "One For The Cutters", "Entitlement Crew", "Same Kooks", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Party Pit", "Lord, I'm Discouraged", "Denver Haircut", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Chips Ahoy!", "Confusion In The Marketplace", "Constructive Summer", "Knuckles", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Massive Nights", "Crucifixion Cruise", "How A Resurrection Really Feels", "Hornets! Hornets!", "Ask Her For Adderall", "Most People Are DJs", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Seattle 8-17-19): "Positive Jam", "Stuck Between Stations", "Epaulets", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Hurricane J", "Constructive Summer", "Magazines", "Star 18", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Stevie Nix", "Multitude Of Casualties", "Lord, I'm Discouraged", "Yeah Sapphire", "Confusion In The Marketplace", "Entitlement Crew", "Hornets! Hornets!", "Chips Ahoy!", "The Weekenders", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Most People Are DJs", "Slapped Actress", "Blackout Sam", "Stay Positive", "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Nashville 9-5-19): "Denver Haircut", "Sequestered In Memphis", "The Swish", "Entitlement Crew", "Party Pit", "You Did Good Kid", "Banging Camp", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Chips Ahoy!", "You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came To The Dance With)", "First Night", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "The Weekenders", "T-Shirt Tux", "Stuck Between Stations", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Yeah Sapphire", "Massive Nights", "Southtown Girls", "Blackout Sam", "Ask Her For Adderall", "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night", "Killer Parties"

tracks (Cambridge 9-15-19): "Ask Her For Adderall", "Magazines", "Hurricane J", "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You", "Epaulets", "Chips Ahoy!", "The Swish", "Denver Haircut", "Sequestered In Memphis", "Girls Like Status", "The Ambassador", "Yeah Sapphire", "Traditional Village", "Stuck Between Stations", "Constructive Summer", "Entitlement Crew", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Massive Nights", "Crucifixion Cruise", "How A Resurrection Really Feels", "Blackout Sam", "For Boston", "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night", "Killer Parties"

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Roger Waters
Us + Them

TRUMP IS EEN VARKEN (Dutch for "Trump is a pig") - A giant, arena-wide, projection.

Us + Them is a concert film from the Amsterdam show of his 2017/2018 tour promoting Is This The Life We Really Want?. It's bookended by songs from Dark Side Of The Moon, with other Pink Floyd songs and songs from Is This The Life We Really Want? mixed in along the way. The big centerpiece of the film is a pair of songs from the Floyd's angriest album, Animals: "Dogs" and "Pigs (Three Different Ones)". Before "Dogs" begins, an enormous, arena-spanning set of screens roll down and give the look of Battersea Power Station (from the cover of Animals) floating over the crowd. Starting with "Pigs (Three Different Ones)", a mixture of images attacking and belittling Donald Trump are projected on the screen culminating with "TRUMP IS EEN VARKEN" projected along the side in gigantic letters.

The band sounds terrific and the visuals are spectacular, especially in the second half of the film. And as I warned about Is This The Life We Really Want?, if Roger's politics annoy you, the film and Roger's brief speech at the end of the show in the film and CD will too. There are two surprising omissions from the main film: "Comfortably Numb" and "Smell The Roses". Both are included as bonus tracks on the video formats, but they're not on the soundtrack album. The soundtrack does include the last two songs from the film, alternate studio versions of "The Last Refugee" and "Déjà Vu". Both are interesting and put a nice ending on the show. The video also contains an interesting behind-the-scenes documentary, A Fleeting Glimpse.

Overall, the film is an absolute must-see. The band sounds great and the visuals are staggering. The soundtrack is basically an excellent Roger Waters live album and certainly worth getting.

A couple of extra notes:

  • On my concert page, I've got some photos I took at the Columbus show on the same tour if you want to get a peek at some of the visuals.
  • In "Pigs (Three Different Ones)", don't let the lyric "Hey you, Whitehouse / Ha, ha, charade you are" fool you. It was written about British morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse and not the US government. It's just a convenient coincidence.

tracks: "Intro", "Speak To Me", "Breathe", "One Of These Days", "Time", "Breathe (Reprise)", "The Great Gig In The Sky", "Welcome To The Machine", "Déjà Vu", "The Last Refugee", "Picture That", "Wish You Were Here", "The Happiest Days of Our Lives", "Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2", "Another Brick In The Wall, Part 3", "Dogs", "Pigs (Three Different Ones)", "Money", "Us & Them", "Brain Damage", "Eclipse", "The Last Refugee (Reprise)", "Déjà Vu (Reprise)"

bonus tracks (video formats only): A Fleeting Glimpse, "Comfortably Numb", "Smell The Roses"

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Frank Zappa
Halloween 81 [Costume Box Set]
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Frank Zappa
Halloween 81 Highlights [1 CD]

Tax the churches. Tax the businesses owned by the churches. - from "Heavenly Bank Account"

Halloween 81 is the third in a series of box sets documenting Zappa's famous New York Halloween concerts. The 1981 stand was famous for including the first cable simulcast of a concert when the Halloween midnight show was broadcast live on MTV. The six CD set contains both Halloween shows as well as an almost-complete recording of the November 1 show.

Zappa had released his excellent You Are What You Is in September of '81, and the Halloween shows included 15 of the 20 songs from the album, generally in mini-suites played in the same order as the album. In the middle of one of those suites was the trio of "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", "Dumb All Over" and "Heavenly Bank Account". These songs are a brutal attack on televangelism, and religion in general, marking Zappa's return to social commentary in his lyrics. Along with the new material, the shows mix in a wide variety of older material that show off the range of Zappa's catalog, and of course his blistering guitar work.

I became a Zappa fan in 1979 when I heard "Dancin' Fool" on the Dr. Demento show. In 1981, I finally got to see a Zappa show and it absolutely floored me. The MTV simulcast came 11 days after that show and just cemented my fandom. While I'm admittedly biased, this lineup is a big favorite of mine. Ray White and Robert Martin are two of Zappa's best-ever singers - check out Martin's vocals on "Whippin' Post" if you need proof. Steve Vai is dazzling on "stunt guitar", playing all the complex bits that Frank weaves into his songs.

As with the other "Halloween" box sets, a single-CD "Highlights" edition was released, and it focuses on older material. I think the You Are What You Is material was a big highlight of these shows, so the highlights CD is missing a big part of what makes these shows so good. However, it does include the performance of "Strictly Genteel" that was cut from the November 1 show on the box set.

Additional note: Both of the Halloween shows were videotaped, and highlights of that footage were available on several different videotapes over the years. An authorized single DVD combining footage from both shows was released in 2008 as The Torture Never Stops. If you enjoy Halloween 81, you should check out that DVD as well.

October 31, 1981 (Show 1): "Chunga's Revenge", "You Are What You Is" [Take 1], "You Are What You Is" [Take 2], "Mudd Club", "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", "Dumb All Over", "Heavenly Bank Account", "Suicide Chump", "Jumbo Go Away", "Envelopes", "Drowning Witch", "What's New In Baltimore?", "Mōggio", "We're Turning Again", "Alien Orifice", "Teen-age Prostitute", "Flakes", "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", "The Blue Light", "Tinsel Town Rebellion", "Yo Mama", "Bobby Brown", "City Of Tiny Lites", "Strictly Genteel", "Dancin' Fool", "Whipping Post"

October 31, 1981 (Show 2): "Black Napkins", "Montana", "Easy Meat", "Society Pages", "I'm A Beautiful Guy", "Beauty Knows No Pain", "Charlie's Enormous Mouth", "Fine Girl", "Teen-age Wind", "Harder Than Your Husband", "Bamboozled By Love", "Sinister Footwear II", "Stevie's Spanking", "Cocaine Decisions", "Nig Biz", "Doreen", "Goblin Girl", "The Black Page #2", "Tryin' To Grow A Chin", "Strictly Genteel", "The Torture Never Stops", "Joe's Garage", "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?", "The Illinois Enema Bandit ", "King Kong", "Auld Lang Syne"

November 1, 1981 (Show 2): "Zoot Allures", "I'm The Slime", "Pound For A Brown", "Cosmik Debris", "Montana", "Easy Meat", "Dumb All Over", "Heavenly Bank Account", "Suicide Chump", "Jumbo Go Away", "Envelopes", "Drowning Witch", "What's New In Baltimore?", "Mōggio", "We're Turning Again", "Alien Orifice", "Teen-age Prostitute", "Sinister Footwear II", "Stevie's Spanking", "Cocaine Decisions", "Nig Biz", "Goblin Girl", "The Black Page #2", "Whipping Post", "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", "The Torture Never Stops"

HIGHLIGHTS CD: "Chunga's Revenge", "I'm The Slime", "Montana", "Easy Meat", "Joe's Garage", "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?", "Sinister Footwear II", "Stevie's Spanking", "Goblin Girl", "The Black Page #2", "Strictly Genteel", "Whipping Post", "The Torture Never Stops"


OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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Billie Joe Armstrong
No Fun Mondays

During quarantine, Billie Joe Armstrong uploaded a series of cover song videos to YouTube. No Fun Mondays captures 14 of the covers into an album that's quite impressive. Billie Joe has taken songs from a wild range of sources, from Shaun Cassidy and The Bangles to Johnny Thunders and The Clash and gives them a Green Day-style power pop treatment. A surprising choice that really worked is Billy Bragg's "A New England". Hearing a power pop version instead of Bragg's usual stark guitar & vocal arrangement sounds great, and it's a big highlight of the album. Armstrong also does a terrific version of The Clash's "Police On My Back", but my favorite on the album is a cover of The Wonders' "That Thing You Do!" from the movie of the same name. This one is a lot of fun.

tracks: "I Think We're Alone Now" [Tommy James & The Shondells], "War Stories" [Starjets], "Manic Monday" [The Bangles], "Corpus Christi" [The Avengers], "That Thing You Do!" [The Wonders], "Amico" [Don Backy], "You Can't Put Your Arms Round A Memory" [Johnny Thunders], "Kids In America" [Kim Wilde / The Muffs], "Not That Way Anymore" [Stiv Bators], "That's Rock 'n' Roll" [Eric Carmen / Shaun Cassidy], "Gimme Some Truth" [John Lennon], "Whole Wide World" [Wreckless Eric], "Police On My Back" [The Equals / The Clash], "A New England" [Billy Bragg],

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Biffy Clyro
A Celebration Of Endings

A Celebration Of Endings is a blend of all of Biffy's different styles. "Tiny Indoor Fireworks" and "Instant History" are classic Biffy singles: loud, catchy songs that you just want to sing along with. But the album also includes lovely, quiet songs like "The Champ" and "The Space", which are more reminiscent of last year's soundtrack for Balance, Not Symmetry. They also pull in their more abrasive past on the closing "Cop Syrup", which for me is the only low spot on the album. Simon Neil wastes his terrific singing voice by screaming through a lot of the song. Ignore that one and enjoy the rest of the album.

tracks: "North Of No South", "The Champ", "Weird Leisure", "Tiny Indoor Fireworks", "Worst Type of Best Possible", "Space", "End Of", "Instant History", "The Pink Limit", "Opaque", "Cop Syrup"

bonus tracks:

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James Dean Bradfield
Even In Exile

James Dean Bradfield's first solo album, 2006's The Great Western, sounded like a Manic Street Preachers album in all but name. This second album feels like a true solo project. Even In Exile is a concept album about the late Chilean singer/poet/activist Víctor Jara with lyrics by playwright Patrick Jones (the brother of Manics bassist Nicky Wire). If not for Bradfield's distinctive voice, you'd never make the connection to the Manics. "Under The Mimosa Tree" is a lovely little acoustic guitar ballad, and the closer "Santiago Sunrise" ends the album on a dramatic note. The album also includes a cover of one of Jara's songs, the moody "La Partida", and it fits right in. Two biographical songs are the big highlights for me: "The Boy From The Plantation" (about Jara) and "Without Knowing The End (Joan's Song)" about his widow, Joan. This is an excellent album, and an interesting change of pace for Bradfield. It might not sound like the Manics, but the band's fans should definitely check it out.

tracks: "Recuerda", "The Boy From The Plantation", "There'll Come A War", "Seeking The Room With The Three Windows", "Thirty Thousand Milk Bottles", "Under The Mimosa Tree", "From The Hands Of Violeta", "Without Knowing The End (Joan's Song)", "La Partida", "The Last Song", "Santiago Sunrise"

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Electric Light Orchestra
Secret Messages
The Bug Club Unofficial Definitive Edition

In 2018, ELO released a 35th anniversary edition of Secret Messages, purported to be "the album as it was originally intended". The hard-core fans complained that the release omitted "Beatles Forever" with the official story being that it was never intended to be on the album in the first place. Known acetates and the running times of the sides made it clear that there was some revisionism going on and "Beatles Forever" was indeed part of the original. A recording of "Beatles Forever" purportedly recorded on a video camera hidden in a purse circulated on the net for years and gave fans a chance to hear the song, although in with awful sound.

A new bootleg remastering of Secret Messages by "The Bug Club" puts things right. Somehow, they managed to score a clean recording of "Beatles Forever" and the album as originally intended is finally available. "Beatles Forever" isn't an ELO classic. The lyrics are a bit "fanboyish", but it's a pretty good song otherwise. In any case, it's wonderful to finally hear it properly. In addition, a second CD worth of material is included that includes ELO b-sides and single mixes from the time, along with two Dave Edmunds songs recorded the same year. The Edmunds songs were produced by Jeff Lynne and feature ELO's Richard Tandy on keyboards. The downloadable version includes cover art, lyrics and liner notes. It's extremely well done. This is basically what ELO should have released in 2018: The whole double album with some bonus goodies.

Want to hear it yourself? Thanks to Nicolas Guibert's "Discovery" website, you can download a copy. You can also listen on The Bug Club's YouTube Channel.

tracks: "Secret Messages", "Loser Gone Wild", "Bluebird", "Take Me On And On", "Stranger", "No Way Out", "Beatles Forever", "Letter From Spain", "Danger Ahead", "Four Little Diamonds", "Train Of Gold", "Endless Lies", "Buildings Have Eyes", "Rock 'N' Roll Is King", "Mandalay", "Time After Time", "After All" [short version], "Hello My Old Friend"

bonus tracks: "Secret Messages" [Soundcastle Mix], "Four Little Diamonds" [Extended Intro], "Mandalay" [Extended Outro], "Ballbuster (Grieg's Piano Concerto In A Minor)", "Helpless", "Tears In Your Life", "After All" [full version], "Information" [Dave Edmunds], "Slippin' Away" [Dave Edmunds], "Who's That?"

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Ray LaMontagne
Monovision

On Monovision, Ray LaMontagne moves away from the dreamy, Meddle-era Pink Floyd vibe of his last two albums towards a folkier sound. "Strong Enough" is the most upbeat song on the album, and it's the clear highlight. "Rocky Mountain Healin'" sounds like a lost outtake from Neil Young's Harvest and it's the other big highlight. Overall, Monovision is a nice listen, but nowhere near the level of his last two.

tracks: "Roll Me Mama, Roll Me", "I Was Born To Love You", "Strong Enough", "Summer Clouds", "We'll Make It Through", "Misty Morning Rain", "Rocky Mountain Healin'", "Weeping Willow", "Morning Comes Wearing Diamonds", "Highway To The Sun"

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Paul McCartney
McCartney III

Paul McCartney's solo debut, McCartney and 1980's McCartney II were both experimental solo albums with Paul playing all the instruments and moving away from his expected style. Lockdown inspired Paul McCartney to record a third in the series, and it's experimental as well, but not as weird as McCartney II was. It's nowhere near as good as New or Egypt Station, but it's still worth a listen.

tracks: "Long Tailed Winter Bird", "Find My Way", "Pretty Boys", "Woman And Wives", "Lavatory Lil", "Deep Deep Feeling", "Slidin'", "The Kiss Of Venus", "Seize The Day", "Deep Down", "Winter Bird/When Winter Comes"

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Bob Mould
Blue Hearts

Blue Hearts starts out with a bit of a head fake. "Heart On My Sleeve" couples a gentle melody and the clicks you'd hear on old vinyl with a furious lyric about global warming. After that, Bob and his band cut loose like like the second coming of Hüsker Dü with one song just steamrolling into the next until the gentle closer "The Ocean". Songs like "Forecast Of Rain" lets up on the gas pedal slightly, but this is the most intense album Mould has recorded in ages. It's an angry album for angry times. The songs individually are excellent, but it can be a little much to take in all at once.

Bob Mould also issued a career spanning CD box set, Distortion: 1989-2019 includes all of his post-Hüsker Dü albums and 2 CDs of guest appearances. It looks cool, but it's very pricey.

tracks: "Heart On My Sleeve", "Next Generation", "American Crisis", "Fireball", "Forecast Of Rain", "When You Left", "Siberian Butterfly", "Everyth!ng To You", "Racing To The End", "Baby Needs A Cookie", "Little Pieces", "Leather Dreams", "Password To My Soul", "The Ocean"

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The Third Mind
The Third Mind

I had a crazy idea and was looking for musicians who perhaps didn't think it was so insane. - Dave Alvin

The Third Mind is a new all-star band founded by guitar ace Dave Alvin. Joining Alvin in the band are Victor Krummenacher and David Immerglück from Camper Van Beethoven, and Michael Jerome from the Richard Thompson Electric Trio. Jesse Sykes guests on guitar and vocals and D.J. Bonebrake from X appears on vibes. The "crazy idea" Alvin refers to is taking Miles Davis' improvisational approach to recording, although Alvin didn't go for pure improvisation. Five of the six songs are covers of songs by Alice Coltrane, Fred Neil, Grateful Dead, The Butterfield Blues Band and Roky Erickson. The lone improvisation, "Claudia Cardinale" is a real showcase for Dave Alvin's blazing guitar. The others still have a jammy, improvised feel none-the-less. The result is something wildly different than you'd expect from any of the participants, but it's absolutely worth checking out.

tracks: "Journey In Satchidananda", "The Dolphins", "Claudia Cardinale", "Morning Dew", "East-West", "Reverberation"

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Richard Thompson
Bloody Noses

Recorded during lockdown, Bloody Noses is an EP of six new acoustic Richard Thompson songs, with only slight overdubbing and backing vocals from Thompson's partner Zara Philips. The standout track is the dramatic opener "As Soon As You Hear The Bell", although "If I Could Live My Life Again" is close. And the closing "What's Up With You?" is a blast, but I think it's really crying out for a fresh recording by his Electric Trio to really bring out the best. Overall, an excellent EP. Highly recommended to fans of Thompson's acoustic work.

Bandcamp: Bloody Noses

tracks: "As Soon As You Hear The Bell", "If I Could Live My Life Again", "She's A Hard Girl To Know", "Survivor", "The Fortress", "What's Up With You?"

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The Waterboys
Good Luck, Seeker

The latest Waterboys album feels like an album in two parts. The opener, "The Soul Singer", is horn-driven soulful pop, and it's the best part of the first half. A welcome surprise is a cover of Kate Bush's "Why Should I Love You?" (from her 1993 album The Red Shoes) which really fits the Waterboys style. "Dennis Hopper", "Freak Street", and "The Golden Work" are built around repetitive tape loops and they don't completely work.

One of the big highlights of last year's Waterboys album, Where The Action Is, was "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" which featured a beautiful melody with a dramatic reading by the main Waterboy, Mike Scott. Clearly, Scott liked the combination as the second half of the album has all six songs using variations on the same formula. Scott mixes up the styles of the backing, which helps it feel less repetitive than you'd expect. It works pretty well and it's the better half of the album. "My Wanderings In The Weary Land" and "Everchanging" use epic rock backgrounds, and they're the best of the bunch. "Postcard From The Celtic Dreamtime" has a moodier feel, and "Good Luck, Seeker" and "The Land Of Sunset" are excellent as well. Ironically, only "Beauty In Repetition" fails to deliver.

My first reaction was surprise at all the monologue songs (especially in a row), but they really are the best part of the album. Overall, it's about on par with the last few albums. Certainly worth a listen.

As on the last two Waterboys albums, the deluxe edition contains a bonus CD of alternate versions and demos. And as on the last two, there are a few interesting moments there, and the version of "Low Down In The Broom" on the bonus disc is better than the official CD. A few of the monologue songs are included as instrumentals, and they were an interesting listen. Still, it's really for the completists.

tracks: "The Soul Singer", "(You've Got To) Kiss A Frog Or Two", "Low Down In The Broom", "Dennis Hopper", "Freak Street", "Sticky Fingers", "Why Should I Love You?", "The Golden Work", "My Wanderings In The Weary Land", "Postcard From The Celtic Dreamtime", "Good Luck, Seeker", "Beauty In Repetition", "Everchanging", "The Land Of Sunset"

bonus tracks (deluxe edition): "The Soul Singer" [instrumental], "(You've Got To) Kiss A Frog Or Two" [instrumental], "Low Down In The Broom" [gtr/vocal], "Dennis Hopper" [demo], "Why Should I Love You?" [instrumental], "My Wanderings In The Weary Land" [vocal only], "Postcard From The Celtic Dreamtime" [instrumental], "Beauty In Repetition" [instrumental], "The Soul Singer" [demo], "The Land Of Sunset" [instrumental]

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Paul Weller
On Sunset

Paul Weller's latest, On Sunset, opens with quite a curveball. "Mirror Ball" is a seven-minute mix of several music and effects that sometimes feels like a collage, and sometimes feels like a conventional song. It's a strange way to open an album and is quite out of step with the rest of the album. The following track, "Baptiste" is Weller's soulful pop and for me, the start of the album proper. On Sunset continues the mellow feel of his last album, 2018's True Meanings but with his full band this time around. "Old Father Tyme" and "Village" are the highlights of the album, but the album on the whole is very consistent. Ignore the opening track and enjoy the rest.

The deluxe addition adds three new songs and two remixes. "Ploughman" is good and the orchestral mix of "On Sunset" brings back a little of the vibe from True Meanings, and it works well.

In November, Weller aired a livestream called Mid-Sömmer Musik. The show was an hour of "live in the studio" performances of songs from On Sunset and True Meanings along with four songs from an upcoming 2021 album, tentatively titled Fat-Pop (Volume 1). The new songs are as good as anything from On Sunset, and maybe better. Looking forward to hearing the new album.

tracks: "Mirror Ball", "Baptiste", "Old Father Tyme", "Village", "More", "On Sunset", "Equanimity", "Walkin'", "Earth Beat", "Rockets"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "4th Dimension", "Ploughman", "I'll Think Of Something", "On Sunset" [Orchestral Mix], "Baptiste" [Instrumental]

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Frank Zappa
Zappa
Original Movie Soundrack
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Frank Zappa
Zappa
Original Movie Soundrack
Kickstarter Backer Edition

Alex Winter (of "Bill & Ted" fame, but a documentarian as well) got the blessing of the Zappa Family Trust to do the first authorized documentary about Frank Zappa's life. Frank obesessively recorded pretty much everything he could and had the tapes stored in a massive vault below the family home. Winter given access to the vault to make the film but realized that much of the contents were desperately in need of preservation. As a result, a Kickstarter campaign to "Save The Vault" launched in 2016 raising over $1,000,000 to save the contents. Those saved films and recordings were then used as part of the documentary.

The film itself is excellent. It documents Frank's life and in terms of major events (like the founding of The Mothers and his testimony in front of Congress) instead of being an album-by-album review. The rare clips included are amazing, and interviews with Frank's late wife Gail and his former bandmates just makes the film. Percussionist Ruth Underwood steals the show. Her stories and her obvious affection for the man and his music are the highights of the film.

Two soundtrack albums were released. The official soundtrack is a 3 CD set containing a mix of previously released Zappa songs, some rarities from the Vault, some related recordings, and the original score by John Frizzell. The soundtrack is in the same spirit as the film. It's not a greatest hits album, it highlights the music that's important to the film. As a result, there's more coverage of The Mothers than Frank's solo work. There are also recordings of Varèse's "Ionisation" and the finale of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" that were a massive influence on Frank. You also get a brief taste of his time as a label chief with songs from the first Alice Cooper album and the lone GTO's album.

The rarities on the soundtrack include a song FZ co-wrote and produced in 1963 for The Heartbreakers (no, no, neither Tom Petty or Johnny Thunders' bands), some live material from 1968, a bit of "Call Any Vegetable" and "Happy Together" from the Flo & Eddie Mothers, a terrific rehearsal take on "Apostrophe'", a live "Mo's Vacation" from 1978, an excellent live "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" from 1984, and a live Overture from 1992 with Frank conducting Ensemble Modern. Kickstarter backers also received a single CD that overlaps much of official soundtrack but a few new bits as well: an interview excerpt, a couple of live songs and some goofing around in the studio, all from 1968.

Overall, the soundtrack is an interesting cross-section of Zappa's career, but I wouldn't recommend it for a new listener. For a newbie, I'd recommend either One Size Fits All if you want a single album, or either the Strictly Commercial or Zappatite: Frank Zappa's Tastiest Tracks.

tracks (Official Soundtrack): "Anyway The Wind Blows", "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here", "Everytime I See You" [The Heartbreakers], "Motherly Love", "Memories Of El Monte", "Oh! In The Sky", "The Duke", "How Could I Be Such A Fool?", "The Reason We Have Stayed Together...", "Black Beauty", "Absolutely Free", "You Didn't Try To Call Me" [basic tracks], "Agency Man", "Oh No", "Mother People", "Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite: Finale" [Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille & Myung Whun Chung], "FZ on Varèse", "Varèse: Ionisation" [Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Pierre Boulez], "The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes" [GTO's], "No Longer Umpire" [Alice Cooper], "Road Ladies", "Call Any Vegetable", "Happy Together", "Scumbag" [Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention with John and Yoko], "Your Mouth", "Cheepnis", "Apostrophe'", "Muffin Man", "Dancin' Fool", "Mo's Vacation", "The Black Page #1" [piano version], "Sofa", "Fembot In A Wet T-shirt", "Valley Girl", "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", "H.R. 2911", "G-Spot Tornado", "Envelopes" [London Symphony Orchestra], "Overture" [Frank Zappa / Ensemble Modern], "Get Whitey" [Frank Zappa / Ensemble Modern], "Nap Time", "Watermelon In Easter Hay"

tracks (Official Soundtrack - Score by John Frizzell): "Frank's Library", "Edgewood Arsenal", "Frank's Parents", "The Blackouts", "Greeting Cards", "Studio Z", "Frank Goes To Jail", "Musically Difficult", "The Parts Are Complicated", "Murray Roman's TV Show", "Frank Put His Foot Down", "Laurel Canyon", "The Manson Family", "Are We Going To Get Paid", "Steve Vai's Perspective", "Frank Could Be Hardcore", "Bruce Bickford's Zappa Head", "If I'm Alive", "Keep This Guy Under Check", "Frank's Business Perspective", "Fake It", "Don't Have Any Friends", "Hi, I'm Moon", "Frank Addresses Congress", "Turn Off That Zappa Music", "Frank Getting Sick"

tracks (Kickstarter Edition): "Toronto (Excerpt)", "Memories Of El Monte", "Oh, In The Sky", "The Duke", "Theme From Run Home Slow", "The Little March", "Oink", "Randomonuim", "Humble & Naive ", "Mo's Vacation", "None Of The Above" [Kronos Quartet], "Envelopes", "Overture" [Frank Zappa / Ensemble Modern]

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Frank Zappa & The Mothers
The Mothers 1970

The Mothers 1970 documents the birth of the Flo & Eddie edition of The Mothers, covering the time between the formation of the band in May 1970 up to Jeff Simmons leaving the band in December during the filming of 200 Motels. The box set has one album worth of studio recordings, including a terrific Zappa guitar showcase, "Red Tubular Lighters", and early versions of "Wonderful Wino" and "Envelopes", and an alternate mix of Sharleena from the one that appears on Zappa's 1970 album Chunga's Revenge. The rest of the set includes a heavily bootlegged show from the Dutch TV show "Piknik" and highlights from several other 1970 shows. The live shows are an interesting blend of the 60's Mothers sound and the first bits of the "comedy rock" Mothers of the love-it-or-hate-it Fillmore East, June 1971. Overall, The Mothers 1970 is a really interesting listen because you're hearing the band evolve from one style to another. If you're a fan of the Flo & Eddie years, you'll like this.

tracks (Trident Studios, London): "Red Tubular Lighter", "Lola Steponsky", "Trident Chatter", "Sharleena" [Roy Thomas Baker Mix], "Item 1", "Wonderful Wino" [FZ Vocal], "Enormous Cadenza", "Envelopes", "Red Tubular Lighter" [Unedited Master], "Wonderful Wino" [Basic Tracks / Alternate Take], "Giraffe" [Take 4], "Wonderful Wino" [FZ Vocal / Alternate Solo]"

tracks ("Piknik"): "Introducing… The Mothers", "Wonderful Wino", "Concentration Moon", "Mom & Dad", "The Air", "Dog Breath", "Mother People", "You Didn't Try To Call Me", "Agon", "Call Any Vegetable", "King Kong, Pt. I", "Igor's Boogie", "King Kong, Pt. II"

tracks (Pepperland, San Rafael): "What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?", "Bwana Dik", "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy", "Do You Like My New Car?", "Happy Together"

tracks (Live Highlights): "Welcome to El Monte Legion Stadium!", "Agon", "Call Any Vegetable", "Pound For A Brown", "Sleeping In A Jar", "Sharleena", "The Air", "Dog Breath", "Mother People", "You Didn't Try To Call Me", "King Kong, Pt. I", "Igor's Boogie", "King Kong, Pt. II", "Eat It Yourself…", "Trouble Every Day", "A Series of Musical Episodes", "Road Ladies", "The Holiday Inn Motel Chain", "What Will This Morning Bring Me This Evening?", "What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?", "What's the Deal Dick?", "Another M.O.I. Anti-Smut Loyalty Oath", "Paladin Routine #1", "Portuguese Fenders", "The Sanzini Brothers", "Guitar Build '70", "Would You Go All The Way?", "Easy Meat", "Who Did It?", "Turn It Down!", "A Chance Encounter In Cincinnati", "Pound For A Brown", "Sleeping In A Jar", "Beloit Sword Trick", "King Solos, Pt. I", "Igor's Boogie", "King Solos, Pt. II", "Gris Gris", "Paladin Routine #2", "King Kong - Outro"


THE TOP TEN FOR 2020

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#10
X
Alphabetland

I wasn't exactly sure what we were gonna get, and it was like: 'Fuck, we got X!' - album producer Rob Schnapf

After releasing four critically acclaimed albums in the early 80's, X switched producers from former Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek and moved away from their mashed-up rockabilly-punk sound into conventional hard rock for 1985's Ain't Love Grand. It's not a bad album, but it sounds way more generic than the first four. Following that album, guitarist Billy Zoom left the band. The band continued for on-and-off for a while, but it wasn't the same. 1987's See How We Are is excellent, but it feels like the work of a completely different band. Since 1997, there have been occasional reunions of the original lineup, but with the exception of a one-off Christmas single, there was no new material. In 2019, a surprising announcement came out that new recordings were in the works. In early 2020, Alphabetland came out and the quote above is spot on - the album sounds like vintage X. It could have easily followed More Fun In The New World and been the band's proper fifth album. The album cooks from the beginning with Zoom's guitar powering the title track like X of old. John Doe's voice sounds as strong as ever, and those weird off-kilter harmonies between John and Exene are right back where they should be. The original demos for "Delta 88 Nightmare" and "Cyrano De Berger's Back" date back from the sessions for their 1980 debut album, Los Angeles, and it's cool to have final versions* here. The only song that doesn't sound like X is the closing track, "All The Time In The World". It's a short spoken-word piece by Exene with jazzy backing from Billy Zoom on piano, guitar from Rob Schnapf and some moody slide guitar from Robby Kreiger, keeping their Doors connections intact. It's totally different than anything X has ever done, but it's an interesting way to close out the album. Alphabetland is a must for any X fan.

* Yes, I know that X recorded "Cyrano De Berger's Back" on See How We Are. I like that version a lot, but I think it's cool that there's a version now with the original lineup.

Bandcamp: Alphabetland

tracks: "Alphabetland", "Free", "Water & Wine", "Strange Life", "I Gotta Fever", "Delta 88 Nightmare", "Star Chambered", "Angel On The Road", "Cyrano De Berger's Back", "Goodbye Year, Goodbye", "All The Time In The World"

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#9
Doves
The Universal Want

The Universal Want, Doves' first album in over a decade, picks up where the band left off with Kingdom Of Rust. The sound is still moody and hypnotic with Jimi Goodwin's booming voice sounding as good as ever. Two of the poppier numbers are the big highlights for me: "Prisoners" and "Broken Eyes". They're right up there with older Doves classics like "Pounding" and "Black And White Town". In a way, the most surprising thing is that you really can't tell by listening that it's been so long since the last Doves album. The Universal Want sounds like the band is supposed to sound. It's their best album since The Last Broadcast.

tracks: "Carousels", "I Will Not Hide", "Broken Eyes", "For Tomorrow", "Cathedrals Of The Mind", "Prisoners", "Cycle Of Hurt", "Mother Silver Lake", "Universal Want", "Forest House"

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#8
The Flaming Lips
American Head

The Flaming Lips' more recent work, starting with their series of bizarre singles in 2011 and 2013's unlistenable The Terror, had made me pretty much give up on the band. When I heard the lead single, "Flowers Of Neptune 6", I was floored - the old Flaming Lips were back. On American Head, the band brings back the sound of their classic Soft Bulletin / Yoshimi / Mystics albums. It's like the last decade-plus of the band didn't exist. You'd be forgiven for thinking that American Head was simply the follow-up to At War With The Mystics.

As on the three albums above, The Flaming Lips couple bittersweet lyrics with gorgeous, dreamy pop that works together perfectly. One of the big highlights is the lovely music and tragic lyrics of "Mother Please Don't Be Sad" which segues into the hypnotic instrumental "When We Die When We're High". It's as good as anything on The Soft Bulletin. If you're like me and you miss the late 90's/early 00's edition of The Flaming Lips, you absolutely need to hear this.

tracks: "Will You Return / When You Come Down", "Watching The Lightbugs Glow", "Flowers Of Neptune 6", "Dinosaurs On The Mountain", "At The Movies On Quaaludes", "Mother I've Taken LSD", "Brother Eye", "You n Me Sellin' Weed", "Mother Please Don't Be Sad", "When We Die When We're High", "Assassins Of Youth", "God And The Policeman", "My Religion Is You"

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#7
Bruce Springsteen
Letter To You

I'm a late convert to Springsteen fandom, and that interest has been focused on his legendary 70's and early 80's albums. When I learned that this was the first time he'd basically recorded an album live in the studio with the E Street Band, I got very curious. The album opens with the gentle and folky "One Minute You're Here" which made me question those reports. When the second song (the title track) kicks in, the band is in full flight and there are no more doubts. That song, plus other highlights like "Burnin' Train" and "Ghosts", sounds like this album's been put together specifically to be played in stadiums in front of enormous crowds. An interesting surprise was the inclusion of "Janey Needs A Shooter", a very early Springsteen song that Warren Zevon radically reworked into "Jeannie Needs A Shooter" on his 1980 album Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School. Except for the lyrics in the chorus, you'd never recognize it. Two other songs, "If I Was The Priest" and "Song For Orphans" also come from the same era, but you'd never know it. They slot in perfectly with the new material. Letter To You is terrific and makes me want to dig in to some of Bruce's other more recent work.

tracks: "One Minute You're Here", "Letter To You", "Burnin' Train", "Janey Needs A Shooter", "Last Man Standing", "The Power Of Prayer", "House Of A Thousand Guitars", "Rainmaker", "If I Was The Priest", "Ghosts", "Song For Orphans", "I'll See You In My Dreams"

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#6
Eels
Earth To Dora

The feel-good hit of the feel-worst year - ad copy for the album.

Eels' latest starts out surprisingly upbeat. "Anything For Boo" and "Are We Alright Again" are upbeat Eels pop and start the album on a positive note lyrically. By the time you hit "Who You Say You Are", things take a turn that ends up with bleak with "Are You Fucking Your Ex". Surprisingly for Eels, the album rebounds and ends with an upbeat closing pair of "Baby Let's Make It Real" and "Waking Up". Musically, the album is the quieter side of the band's sound skipping the loud guitars from Wonderful, Glorious and going with the more subdued sounds of albums like Electro-Shock Blues and The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett. Highly recommended.

tracks: "Anything For Boo", "Are We Alright Again", "Who You Say You Are", "Earth To Dora", "Dark And Dramatic", "Are You Fucking Your Ex", "The Gentle Souls", "Of Unsent Letters", "I Got Hurt", "OK", "Baby Let's Make it Real", "Waking Up"

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#5
Adult Cinema
Hot And Cold

In short, Adult Cinema is the sound of a master craftsman decoding and rebuilding Classic Rock. - from the band's bio.

Adult Cinema is a one-man band. Mike Weston writes, performs, and produces everything, and the term "master craftsman" is right on the money. However, the second part of that quote only gets it half right. Adult Cinema's sound is more a modern blend of Classic Rock and classic Prog. Along with rockers like "Have You Ever Flown Across The Sky" and "The Sun", you also get a three song suite of "The Rain", "Egg", and "It's The Future For Us" with the multi-part sections and tricky time signatures you expect in classic progressive rock. Along the way, Weston mixes in a little country blues into "The Wind", some delicate acoustic guitar into "Continuum 5", a little of Pink Floyd's early Seventies sound in the epic closer "Here It Comes". This is a great album.

Additional note: The second Adult Cinema album, Teaser Trailer is available as a free download from the band's website. You'll end up getting some promotional emails for the other albums, but the album itself is really good.

tracks: "Hot And Cold", "Black God", "Have You Ever Flown Across The Sky?", "She Won't Ever Let You Down", "Continuum 5", "Spanish Garden", "The Sun", "The Wind", "The Rain", "Egg", "It's The Future For Us", "Here It Comes"

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#4
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Sideways To New Italy

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever doesn't tinker with their sound much on their second album. It's pretty much out of the same mold as their amazing 2018 debut Hope Downs, and that's not a bad thing at all. Sideways To New Italy starts out with a bang: "The Second Of The First" has that three-guitar sound that just pulls you in to the rest of the album. That song, "She's There", "Cars In Space" and closing "The Cool Change" are the big highlights, but there's not a weak song on here.

I added a few extra YouTube links below. "Angeline" is a "recorded at home" video, and the song's as good as anything on Sideways To New Italy. Additionally, there's a link to a really cool live performance from an Australian TV series. "Deeper Water" features Stella Donnelly on lead vocals, and her voice works very well with the band's sound. In the spirit of 2020, the video shows the band playing live in the center of a darkened, empty stadium. Really worth a watch.

tracks: "The Second Of The First", "Falling Thunder", "She's There", "Beautiful Steven", "The Only One", "Cars In Space", "Cameo", "Not Tonight", "Sunglasses At The Wedding", "The Cool Change"

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#3
Days Between Stations
Giants

Days Between Stations' last release, 2013's In Extremis, used a slew of guest musicians and felt like two long suites with some short songs breaking them up. This time around, Days Between Stations has gone in the opposite direction. The songs all stand alone this time around (although three are over nine minutes long), and the band has settled down into a smaller lineup without sacrificing anything in their sound. Keyboardist Oscar Fuentes Bills and guitarist Sepand Samzadeh are joined by Yes' Billy Sherwood on bass, drums, production, most of the lead vocals, and some of the songwriting. That core trio is joined by three other guest singers, including Durga McBroom on the lovely waltz "Witness The End Of The World" and XTC's Colin Moulding for the catchy pop-prog of "Goes By Gravity". Both are big highlights. The title track is the centerpiece of the album. "Giants" couples a lyric inspired by Oscar's father's fight with Alzheimer's with an epic backing that goes through several movements. For "The Gathering", Sherwood was insistent that one song be just Sepand and Oscar, and it's a lovely instrumental highlight of the album. While Oscar's Hammond organ will remind you of Keith Emerson and Sherwood's trebly bass will make you think of Chris Squire's sound in Yes, Days Between Stations has its own sound. I just hope it doesn't take another seven years for a follow-up.

Bandcamp: Giants

tracks: "Spark", "Witness The End Of The World", "Another Day", "Goes By Gravity", "Giants", "The Gathering", "The Common Thread"

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#2
The Dirty Knobs
Wreckless Abandon

Mike Campbell, Tom Petty's "co-captain" in The Heartbreakers, launched The Dirty Knobs back in 2001 as a side project to let him play live when The Heartbreakers were on breaks. The band never recorded an album in deference to Campbell's "day job". After Tom Petty passed away, Campbell joined Fleetwood Mac and went back on the road for a tour. With Fleetwood Mac on a break, The Dirty Knobs finally got their debut album, and it's a stunner. Campbell's voice sounds quite a bit like Petty's, but the similarities end there. The Dirty Knobs have a less polished, more guitar-heavy sound than The Heartbreakers. Songs like "Wreckless Abandon" and "I Still Love You" are old-school, non-nonsense rock, but there's also some blues ("Don't Wait"), folk rock ("Anna Lee"), a touch of country ("Pistol Packin' Mama"), and even some John Lee Hooker style boogie ("Don't Knock The Boogie"). Don't miss the video for the laid-back "Fuck That Guy" (linked below). An amazing debut.

In April, Mike Campbell recorded the timely "Lockdown", playing all the instruments himself. It's a wonderful slab of garage rock that fit the times perfectly. Six months later, The Dirty Knobs recorded a new version, "Lockdown Part II", with updated lyrics and it's even better. Both songs are avaialable as downloads.

tracks: "Wreckless Abandon", "Pistol Packin' Mama", "Sugar", "Southern Boy", "I Still Love You", "Irish Girl", "Fuck That Guy", "Don't Knock The Boogie", "Don't Wait", "Anna Lee", "Aw Honey", "Loaded Gun", "Don't Knock The Boogie (Coda)"

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#1
Fish
Weltschmerz

I'm a huge fan of the early "Fish-era" Marillion albums. Despite that, I never really checked out his solo career. Fish announced that his latest album, Weltschmerz, would be his last and the reviews have been absolute raves, so I figured I needed to hear the album. The reviews aren't wrong, this is a spectacular album.

The album is a sweeping epic without big guitar or keyboard solos. The focus is on the melodies, so Fish's powerful voice and lyrics take center stage. At the center of the album are a pair of epics. The first, the nearly 16-minute "Rose Of Damascus", has a catchy melody coupled with a poetic lyric about a woman in Lebanon torn between the Western life she wants and the society she lives in. The second is the poignant highlight of the album. The gorgeous ballad, "Garden Of Remembrance", is a song about a married couple dealing with the early stages of dementia from both of their points of view. The heartbreaking lyrics, the lush arrangement, and Fish's superb vocal combine to create a masterpiece. "This Party's Over" couples a jaunty melody with an "F.U." to the music industry, "C Song" sets a defiant lyric to a pretty waltz, and the closing title track wraps Fish's career with one last epic. As I mention above, I'm not that familiar with the rest of Fish's solo career, but Weltschmerz is a spectacular way to wrap it up.

tracks: "The Grace Of God", "Man With A Stick", "Walking On Eggshells", "This Party's Over", "Rose Of Damascus", "Garden Of Remembrance", "C Song (The Trondheim Waltz)", "Little Man What Now?", "Waverley Steps (End Of The Line)", "Weltschmerz"


ALSO CONSIDERED

  • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Blue Moon Rising
    Third of three planned EPs and similar in style to the first two. Worth a listen.
  • Robyn Hitchcock - The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities
    Demos and outtakes from The Man Upstairs. Includes a nice cover of "Arnold Layne".
  • Manic Street Preachers - Gold Against The Soul: Deluxe Edition
    Three-disc reissue of the Manics' second (and weakest) album. It's a nice package and worth it for a big fan, but the Manics' first two albums don't quite measure up to the rest of their catalog.
  • The Who - Essential
    Sigh. Yet another greatest hits album. The album includes a few deep cuts that I wouldn't include on a greatest hits album. But for a change of pace, there's a 3rd CD of live material and they made better choices there (nothing new though). My rant from 2014 still applies.
  • Neil Young - Homegrown
    Long unreleased "lost" album. "Vacancy" is amazing, and the title track is fun. The rest didn't do much for me.

PAST YEARS' BESTS

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

2019: Sunshine Rock2018: Hope Downs2017: Is This The Life We Really Want?2016: case/lang/veirs2015: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Chasing Yesterday2014: Wilko Johnson / Roger Daltrey - Going Back Home2013: Biffy Clyro - Opposites2012: Rush - Clockwork Angels2011: 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