George East’s Top 50 Albums of 2014: #50-#41

by George_East on January 3, 2015

The time has come. The time for the definitive countdown of the best 50 albums of the year (or at least my top 50). Although 2014 had plenty of good albums it was I think overall an inferior year to 2013 in that it did not have as many truly outstanding albums. Yet I found it more difficult to reduce my list to 50 albums (I will post some honourable mentions outside of the top 50 later in the series).   I bought over 200 new albums in 2014 and about half of those were serious contenders for the list as I worked my way back through them over the course of December.  One of the things that annoys me about the main critics’ top album lists is that they mostly appear in November (The Guardian and Pitchfork were honourable exceptions this year). The absurdity of this is that it is easy for albums that are released at the very end of the year to be missed completely.   This happened with the Beyonce album last year (for my money the best pop album of 2013) and there is at least one example of it in my top 50 this year.

The two clear albums of the year according to the main critics’ lists were St Vincent‘s eponymous fourth album (which topped The Guardian and NME polls) and The War on Drugs’ third Lost In A Dream (heading the Uncut, Q and Radio 6 lists) – two albums that were very far apart in style. Other albums that headed credible critics’ lists were Beck’s Morning Phase (top of Mojo’s list), Temples’ debut Sun Structures (top of the Rough Trade shops list) and Run The Jewels’ imaginatively entitled second album Run The Jewels 2 (which Pitchfork voted top album).

Before getting to my list there is a brief disclaimer – although I’ve listened to a lot of new music this year there are some albums which were rated very highly by critics which I have not heard. Who knows whether they would have made the cut if I had heard them in time. These  include: Run The Jewels 2, Sleaford Mods’ Divide and Exit (though I have got their excellent compilation album Chubbed Up), J MascisTied To A Star, Nick Mulvey’s First Mind and the Taylor Swift album.

And to be clear about the rules – no compilation albums or reissues allowed (which has disallowed a few corkers, but more about that later in the series).

So….

50. Morrissey – World Peace Is None of Your Business

In 2013 the 50th position was occupied by Johnny Marr’s debut solo album, The Messenger and so it is kind of a neat parallel that his former Smiths’ partner,Morrissey - World Peace
Morrissey gets the 2014 slot. Indeed 2014 also saw the second Johnny Marr album, Playland which was pretty poor, sounding like late Oasis outtakes.

World Peace Is None of Your Business on the other hand saw a return of form of sorts for Mozzer, after an absence of 5 years. When I say ‘of sorts’ I mean that it is an album that is not worthy of being mentioned in the same paragraph as the Smiths’ output or Morrissey peak solo work on Viva Hate. But if you had a penchant for the mid-00s Morrissey (as I do) of You Are The Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors this was right up there.

This is Morrissey at his most acerbic, dealing with pushy parents, vegetarianism, environmentalism, bullfighting (‘hooray hooray the bullfighter dies and nobody cries because we all want the bull to survive’) and the remoteness of politicians from realities, amongst a whole bunch of other things. If the title track is a little Russell Brand (‘each time you vote, you support the process’), the music is good enough to carry it over this triteness.

49. Wilko Johnson/Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

The cheeriest news in pop and rock music all year was Wilko Johnson’s announcement in October that he was cancer free.   2014 had started with Wilko Wilko Johnson Roger Daltrey
Johnson undertaking a farewell tour, which had ended with him being too ill even to play the planned homecoming final gig of the tour in Canvey Island. His pancreatic cancer had developed to a stage where he had decided not to have any further treatment. But a second opinion and surgery appears to have given him a new lease of life.

When this album was recorded and released Johnson thought it would be his final record. The album consisting of Johnson playing his trademark blistering r&b guitar (and I mean r&b in its old sense not in its more recent D’Angelo sense) with Who front man Daltrey taking on the vocals. It is rock n roll at its rawest and purest.   The ten original Johnson compositions (including some Feelgood classics) and blues chugger cover of Bob Dylan’s Can You Please Crawl Out of The Window are the kind of music that should be heard in the sweaty pubs that Johnson cut his teeth with Dr Feelgood. And it doesn’t get much better than that.

48. Wu Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow

December’s return of the Wu Tang Clan came as a bit of a surprise after the falling out between the RZA and Raekwon earlier in the year. The challenge to theWu Tang Clan A Better Tomorrow RZA’s authority as leader of the greatest hip hip outfit of all time, seemed to scupper the much flagged since 2011 prospects of a 6th album with the full Clan (sans Ol Dirty Bastard, of course, who died a decade ago).

The album starts off making clear that the Wu Tang Clan (having been slagged off by some younger hip hop artists as ‘too wordy’) still consider themselves to be the standard by which hip hop is to judged. The opening Ruckus In B Minor states right out that they are ‘still number one’ after ’20 years’ in the business. That may be an exaggeration given how rarely they record together and the deep fissures that now exist in the Clan (though they are touring later in the year), yet there is still something about what they do which makes it utterly compelling listening – whether it is the riff on Dusty Springfield of Preacher’s Daughter or the superb Method Man and GZA workout on Keep Watch.

If no longer essential, the Wu Tang Clan still take some beating.

47. Shellac – Dude IncredibleShellac Dude Incredible

I had no idea that noise legend producer Steve Albini’s Shellac were still together (their last album, Excellent Italian Greyhoud was released in 2007), when I
saw mention of their new album, Dude Incredible mentioned on Twitter.

This superb album of minimalist grunge is heavily rooted in the extraordinary pile driving rhythm section of Todd Trainer (drums) and Bob Weston (bass).   This music that inhabits the punkier rather than metal end of the guitar spectrum, with heavy doses of Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and the Descendants and a liberal smattering of Nirvana’s debut, Bleach.

46. John Grant With The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra – Live in Concert

The only live album in this year’s top 50 comes from allthatsleft favourite and twice album of the year winner John Grant. If you didn’t get the opportunity to John Grant live at the bbcsee him on his autumn tour with the Northern Sinfonia, then this live album of a full concert with the BBC Philharmonic is the next best thing.

If you know the material on the first two albums there won’t be any great surprises here, but live the haunting, honest and spine-tingling songs that are so familiar gain an extra level of immediacy. The orchestral accompaniment enhances rather than drowns the songs (as so often happens).  The strings making the romantic longing and failed relationships seem even more tragic and the anger at the rejection and the lies even more raw.

45. Caribou – Our Love

A couple of months back I was browsing a local market. The day was one of those clear skied early winter days – cold enough to see your breath but sunny. AndCaribou our love as I strolled around I heard a dance tune thudding through the air.   It was a track that couldn’t help but make me walk with a springier step and with a smile on my face.

The track, as I soon discovered was All I Ever Need by Caribou, playing on vinyl from a new record stall that has opened in the market. It is a track that has that ecstatic feel that only dance music of certain kind can. Although it is the stand out track on the album, Our Love, it is of a piece.

This is probably the most joyous album of the year. If I was more attuned to dance music it would probably been in my top 10.

44. Ben Watt – Hendra

Ben Watt Hendra The former Everything But The Girl man released his first solo album in 31 years (and only his second ever) with Hendra. This is a beautiful collection of perfectly crafted folky pop songs with Beatles-like flourishes and easy listening touches, a mile away from the experimental electronic stuff that he has been associated with as a producer over the last decade or so.

With Bernard Butler’s wonderful John Martyn-esque guitar playing accompanying him this is a reminder of what a truly great songwriter Watt is.   The album is a reflective contemplation of love, loss and failure. The title track which opens the album is a masterpiece and worth the album’s price on its own.

One for Bobby West.

43. Royal Blood – Royal Blood

The year’s best White Stripes‘ album came from Brighton two piece Royal Blood on this their eponymous debut.   It can hardly be described as original, wearingRoyal bloo its influences like tattoos on its arms. But that should not diminish its power – there is always space for good dirty stripped back blues-infused rock n roll and Royal Blood are that in spades.   To be fair since Jack White’s own material has become more complex and more produced, there was an undoubted opening for a band playing it like White Blood Cells.

I suspect they are going to be massive. One for the kids (and Mrs East intriguingly). One for the indie discos.In a good way.

 

42. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

The Manics have now reached national treasure status, even though they remain one of the few big bands (maybe the only one) who are prepared to release inManic Street Preachers your face radical political songs.   They haven’t really released a bad album, even if they haven’t released a masterpiece since 1996’s post-Richey Everything Must Go.   They are a band we kind of need.

We know exactly what to expect from a Manics‘ album. But Futurology, their 12th album, confounds these expectations somewhat. It primary musical influences are Krautrock, early Simple Minds (who suddenly seem to be all the rage at least their material before they became a bombastic second rate U2, if such a thing is imaginable) and glam rock.   All of these come together on, for my money, one of the tracks of the year, Europa Geht Durch Mich.

With guest appearances by German actress, Nina Hoss and in a little unexpectedly from Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside, this is an album bubbling with ideas and as the title suggests without the nostalgia that was the hallmark of the Manics’ last album, Rewind The Film.

 

41. Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

From one 12th album to the next.   English Oceans by Alabama’s Drive-By Truckers see Jackie South’s favourites delivering what we expect from them once DBT - English Oceansagain.

This is full of trade mark DBT on an album almost evenly split between Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley compositions, taking in the personal, political and the regional in the way that only they know how (though if you like Drive-By Truckers, then do also check out the Lee Baines III & The Glory Fires’ Dereconstructed – an album that only just missed my cut).

On The Part of Him the band rail against a corrupt politician who ‘never worked an honest day, just kissed up to a better way’ and ‘Made Up English Oceans’ about former George Bush adviser and spiritual father of Karl Rove, Lee Atwater.     As ever these songs are mixed in with the far more personal – of the death of a friend on Grand Canyon or a heartbreaking exploration of depression on Hanging On.

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