So, rather than a list of my top albums, I have a list of my muscial highlights for the year. They arnt in any particular order.
First up is a highlight and a lowlight. The Manic Street Preachers released a new album, The Ultra Vivid Lament, and as seems to be the way over the last decade or so, it is a belter. There are tunes reminiscent to their lost gem Lifeblood, with a glacial tuneful sound. One song (The Secret He Had Missed) even has ABBA like piano. The songs knaw into your brain, and pop up unannounced. It is in short a triumph. There are the customary guest appearances (Julia Cummings and a gravel voiced Mark Lanegan on Blank Diary Entry). Dont Let The Night Divide Us, Still Snowing In Sapparo and Into The Waves Of Love are particular favourites.
So why a lowlight? I had to miss seeing the tour when it rolled into Wembley Arena due to fears of Covid. Gutted is too small a word to describe how I felt. I have seen the Manics live for every tour for the past couple of decades. They are a great band live, James is my guitar hero, and Nicky a cool tower of a bass player, with Sean as the most amazing powerhouse drummer.
I did however make two gigs during the year, a pretty poor amount in comparison to other years. First up was the long delayed final ever gig by Martin Rossiter, formerly lead singer with the band Gene. Unfortunately none of that band were on stage with him, and by all accounts had not been informed before it had been announced. The gig started with one of his solo songs (Three Points On A Compass), before hitting a run of Gene classics. The band with him took a while to grow into the gig (they did look very young), but it did take flight. I had forgotten how well the Gene back catalogue soared when performed live, and it took us back to the high spots of their live gigs of the late 90s and early 00s.
Second gig was another delayed one, this time The Levellers. Originally this was going to be in support of their most recent album, but was now a 30th anniversary of Levelling The Land (where did the time go?). This meant the album in full, followed by some greatest hits. At a time of great political stories (the PM amongst others not behaving shall we say) it was amazing how relevant the intro film from the early 90s was. Their gig was great, and a big surprise was the support act, The Leylines, who were probably the best support I have ever seen. They really got the crowd going, and were a perfect warm up for the main event. It is always great to find a new favourtie band when you watch the support, and is also a good way to help new music.
Back to my favourite albums. Next is the War on Drugs with I Dont Live Here Anymore. I had their earlier album Lost In The Dream, but had lost touch until reading about and hearing initial songs this year. They produce wide range, broad music, the kind of music you play on a long road trip across California. Similar heft to the Manics in terms of the need to be in the open air, on the road – must be a reaction to our being cooped up in lockdown on and off for the last two years.
Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream always talks a good talk, and his band have done exceptional work in the past. This year he released an album with Jehnny Beth, a kind of modern Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, called Utopian Ashes. This is brilliant, smoky late night music, with a swagger and softness to it. Remember We Were Lovers in particular is a highlight.
One of my favourite tracks of the last couple of years was James All The Colours of You, and the accompanying album didnt disappoint. They have grown as a band in the last few years (I saw their farewell tour nearly two decades ago, so was shocked when they reformed!), and the political element along with a mature songwriting fits the vibe for 2021!
Finally albums that caught my ear, but havent been played anywhere near enough include the Coral and The Anchoress. The Coral have had a resurgence in the last couple of years, and are back to their peak. Lover Undiscovered a highlight. The Anchoress is a special artist and her second album maintains the levels of her debut. She first came to my attention when dueting with the Manics, and her voice has an amazing quality to it. Her efforts for musicians rights need to be mentioned as well.
Other individual tracks have caught my attention. I mentioned Gene, and their drummer Matt James has released solo music, Snowy Peaks and A Simple Message, both sounding very good, and boding well for an album in 2022.
Dancing around the kitchen with the children has brought about some modern pop to my ears – Olivia Rodrigo with Good 4 U, and Dua Lipa with Levitating particular favourites. They werent sure about the Foo Fighters covers of the Bee Gees (released as the Dee Gees), but I will keep trying. I also struggled to get them interested in Wet Leg and Chaise Longue, but I liked the track – witty clever indie pop. Sleaford Mods were not played in those kitchen sessions for obvious reasons, but Mork and Mindy was great at the start of the year, and we loved the Weezer song Hero – unironic throwback hair metal.
So all in all, a good year. I have tried to listen to more new music, but have also found a great many throwbacks being pulled out. The need to reconnect with the past has been evident, but we have to keep forging forward.
There is plenty to look forward to in 2022 – I have some gigs booked, and hopefully I will get around to watching the Beatles documentary! Plus all being well, some new music will catch my ear, and I will find a new favourite.