It wouldn't be fair to exclude Adrian Grainger from our top ten rundown of albums, we dragged him out of the pub and sat him down with a pen and paper and left him to it. They say that if you put enough monkeys in a room with a typewriter, they'll eventually produce the entire works of Shakespeare, we applied the same logic with Adrian and hoped that he'd come up with a list of albums that have rocked his world during 2015, here's his choices....
10 Tremonti – Cauterize
Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti steps into the spotlight as lead singer on his eponymous band which also features Wolfgang Van Halen on bass (when he isn’t performing that role with dad Eddie and Uncle Alex). The material is – unsurprisingly – reminiscent of Alter Bridge but a fair bit heavier and Tremonti proves himself to be a decent vocalist. Not a case of “lookout Myles Kennedy”, but it does mean that Tremonti has a safety net should Kennedy – who does like a “side project” himself - decide he wants to move on.
9 The Blow Monkeys – If Not Now, When?
I admit it - I went into reviewing this one with the blinkers on. Back in the 80s, this lot were all smooth suits and white soul-boy smooth funk tunes. Fast forward to 2015 and whilst there is still a lot of saxophone on this record, it’s essentially The BM’s making an album for their teenage selves. “If Not Now, When?” is a – gasp – glam album!! There are songs that actually sound like the offspring of Blockbuster and The Jean Genie. It shouldn’t work but does so and brilliantly. Surprise package of the year.
Download: Ok, Have It Your Way, The Sound of Your Laughter, Shadow Boxing
8 Funeral For A Friend – Chapter and Verse
What turned out to be Funeral For A Friend’s swansong, seemed to have marked a bit of a return to form compared to recent releases. Although much more raw than previous Funeral For A Friend albums, the melodic edge to their almost punk rock fury was still noticeable and with their hidden track (normally annoying but quite possibly the best thing on this album) hinting at a possible return to the style of their classic debut album – 'Casually Dressed and Deep In Conversation' – there seemed to be much promise for their future. Sadly, they will take their final bow after an already sold out 2016 tour.
7 The Darkness - Last of our Kind
Everyone’s favourites after the release of their debut and the ubiquitous 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love' – pretty much nobody was surprised that it all imploded in a fit of drug habits and pomposity during the second album. The fact that they managed to regroup and produce a decent third album after a few years apart was impressive – but their latest release went one better. The trademark falsetto and innuendo have been dialled back slightly but without taking away their edge. The Darkness have really found their feet again, despite the loss of long term drummer Ed Hawkins and his replacement Emily Dolan Davies (who stayed just long enough to record the album). Interestingly, their current drummer is Rufus Taylor, son of Queen’s, Roger. Justin Hawkins has admitted that he doesn’t know how long Rufus will last as he “may be a little freaked out that I have a tattoo of his father on my finger”. Any band with Hawkins canny way with a line (not of drugs!) is surely halfway to winning.
6 We Are Harlot – We Are Harlot
The debut album from Danny Worsnop (Asking Alexandria) was a rock album, that proudly wore its 80's influences on its sleeve – without ever sounding dated. A nifty trick in anyone’s book. The material was so strong that Worsnop decided that this side project should actually become his main focus and duly left Asking Alexandria. With the ability to write everything from out and out rockers to ballads, this surprise package promises much – here’s hoping the follow up album is as good.
5 Romeo’s Daughter – Spin
The 80's AOR veterans continued their return with their 4th album. Brimful of accessible melodic rock, it sees them take further steps in shedding their image as protégés of Mutt Lange. Leigh Matty was and still is the draw for the band (especially for males of a certain age!) but ignoring that, this is still an album that deserves to be heard. In “Radio” they have produced one of my favourite 5 songs of the year.
4 FM – Heroes and Villains
Another band that are in a rich vein of form since regrouping after over 10 years apart, FM shouldn’t be producing possibly their best material at this late stage of their career but somehow, they keep writing songs that will lodge in your brain. In Steve Overland they have possibly the finest rock vocalist Britain has ever produced and considering the competition, I don’t make that statement lightly…… Heroes and Villains carries on where their previous albums “Metropolis”, “Rockville” and “Rockville II” left off. Fate always seemed to conspire against them and for a band that should have been huge in the US, they’ve never played there live. Someone should stump up the cash to take them over there – I would like to think they would be very successful.
3 Public Service Broadcast – The Race For Space
So how do you describe this album?? Essentially a mish-mash of styles, no vocals apart from recordings of TV/Radio reports plus recordings of the control rooms of both NASA and the Russian space agencies. This shouldn’t work but does brilliantly. This is a stunning album that does exactly what it says on the tin – it tells of man’s history in space via some absolutely stellar tracks but with some mood pieces thrown in for some light and shade. How do they top this? I was so smitten by the track “Go!” that I pestered most people I know to listen to it – there were way more compliments than I usually get when I try and force my music on my friends………
2 The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak
Another admission – I sometimes will listen to music because the band are great instrumentalists and not necessarily because I think their songs are great - Primus and Dream Theater are decent examples. I would still count them among my favourite bands – call it one of the foibles of your musical tastes after you take up an instrument. I first decided to listen to this band because Mike Portnoy (ex- Dream Theater, drums), Billy Sheehan (Ex Mr. Big and David Lee Roth, Bass) and Ritchie Kotzen (Shrapnel Records “shredder” and…erm… Poison, guitar) are all virtuoso instrumentalists. Before listening to their first, eponymous album, I expected to be blown away by their playing but not envisaging there would be many memorable songs. Totally wrong – that album was a brilliant classic rock album with a 70s vibe. The fact that it was so well received convinced all three that this should be a band with a future, which leads us on to their second album. Again it’s an ensemble piece with any “chops” normally adding to the song rather than the songs being the vehicle for their musical dexterity. There are a couple of exceptions (the title track) but the flash parts don’t seem to be too intrusive. Annoyingly Richie Kotzen is not only a great guitarist, he’s a good looking rock dude with an excellent voice AND he plays keyboards. This band is superb and one I would recommend to any rock fan – do yourself a favour and get hold of both albums.
1 Clutch – Psychic Warfare
Some 25 years into their career, Clutch are finally beginning to see the levels of success that eluded them despite some serious amount of time spent with major record labels. Following on from 2012’s fantastic 'Earth Rocker' album, is their current release – which actually manages to top that album. Clutch have morphed from a hard edged, growly metal band early in their careers, into one not scared to show it’s groovy side. The material is still heavy, but has an edged that will make even the toughest, meanest rockers tap their feet and sway a little. Clutch have built themselves up on the back of a sometimes punishing touring schedule but they have earned their moment, by releasing fantastic albums. Psychic Warfare is no exception and highest chart placings of 20 in the UK and number 11 in the US Billboard top 200, reflect the deserved success Clutch are having right now. Weighing in at just under 40 minutes, this album arrives does its job and shuts up - the most complete album of the year. Surely any album that includes the lyrics:
"Before I could complete it, I was quickly overtaken by the angry spirits of Ronald and Nancy Reagan"
has got to be worthy of some of your time??
There were so many more acts and bands that didn't quite make the shortlist, this doesn't mean that they are not worthy of a mention and please, do take some time to go and check them out, here they are;
The Proclaimers - Let's Hear It For The Dogs [Probably number 11 for the year. The Proclaimers are consistently good – this album is no exception]
Motorhead - Bad Magic [The tunes were all there but Lemmy’s voice is beginning to get weaker and weaker. Even the great man himself is affected by age, sadly]
Tragedy Vampires - Reasons To Be Tearful [As my mate played guitar on this, I had to discount it – for fear of being accused of nepotism!]
Duran Duran - Paper Gods [disappointing compared to their previous release – sounds like the Taylors (John and Roger) hardly turned up at the studio]
Falling With Style - Lost and Found [Great - but discounted as it was only a 6 track EP]
Magic Pie - King For A Day [Prog rock from Norway. This is pretty fantastic but having a 27 minute song cost it a chance of a place in my top 10]
Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls [Not a bad album by any stretch - just not a favourite of mine. They took a step closer to becoming a proper prog band with some really long songs]
House By The Lake – Woodlands [More from Norway – not something that really grabbed me]
Thunder - Wonder Days [a really good album – possibly the best they’ve made but I’m not a huge fan of theirs. Situation may change if they release more like this, though]
That's it for 2015, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year folks! See you in 2016
All words, views and opinions are those of Adrian Grainger.