The Affs Awards 2019 – Album Of The Year

It’s been a funny old time for music in 2019. Similarly to the country’s political landscape, music in this final year of the decade has often been baffling, sometimes vilified, or worse, met with a bit of a “meh” from many quarters (I’m looking at you, Tool).

A stop-gap year in many ways, it’s been tricky to find the true stand-outs, but fear not, your erstwhile purveyor of opinion is here to sort through the chaff and deliver the top five records of the year for your delectation.

 

Puppy - The Goat5 – Puppy: The Goat

London trio Puppy had been gaining momentum with a couple of highly-rated EPs since their formation back in 2014 and with their debut album the band got 2019 off to a cracking start.

Ripping up the rule-book by taking their influences from a massive variety of bands (there are nods to Deftones and Helmet in here as much as there are Ghost and Judas Priest), The Goat defies categorisation and is all the better for it. Tracks like Vengeance combine the urgent pummel of Metallica with a Wildhearts breakdown, whilst Black Hole segues from a riffy verse into a chorus that Weezer might’ve come up with whilst sat out on the Californian coast.

The sound of a band who have always threatened to make a record this good, The Goat was everything you get from a Puppy live show ramped up to 11.

 

Frank Turner - No Man's Land4 – Frank Turner: No Man’s Land

Well, this one got a bit awkward. Before No Man’s Land was even released, Frank Turner received an unwarranted backlash for daring to write an album about historical female figures. Enough of that though, what we should focus on here is Turner‘s undoubted strength as a a storyteller, a trait that shows true passion and intelligence to boot.

Taking the time to research and study each of the women in question, the stories that make up the 13 songs on No Man’s Land as well as the record’s accompanying podcast series, are hugely informative and with The Lioness especially, Turner has another live favourite on his hands already.

Far from a gimmick, this is a fascinating trip into a slightly different subject that enlightens as much as it entertains.

 

Dinosaur Pile-Up - Celebrity Mansions3 – Dinosaur Pile-Up: Celebrity Mansions

It’s good to have a guilty pleasure and Dinosaur Pile-Up delivered one right to our front doors this year with their third full-lengther, Celebrity Mansions. Full of clever, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and catchy riffs, the band’s latest outing saw them really hone their sound into a short, sharp, pop-rock classic. A self-deprecating tale about the trials and tribulations of their own career, it’s an eminently likeable outing that celebrates your inner geek whilst proving that hard work truly can pay off.

Combining some mid-90s US punk influences with a couple of grunge-y bangers along the way, the record takes you on a whirlwind tour of Americana, from the furious Thrash Metal Cassette all the way to the godzilla-stomp of Back Foot via a few Dwayne Johnson references for good measure.

A quirky, foot-tapping, grin-inducing record, Celebrity Mansions could take DP-U to the next level.

 

Servers - Ad Nauseam2 – Servers: Ad Nauseam

It’s tough to survive as an independent band, fiercely passionate about your music, yet constantly up against venue closures, the sheer volume of groups jockeying for position and the ‘power’ of streaming where you’re earning nothing from your music as a result.

Fortunately, bands such as Servers can channel this energy into a sound totally unique in today’s heavy scene and with their third record, Ad Nauseam, the band truly came of age. A well-rounded, sweepingly dark effort full of hypnotic riffs and razor-sharp vocals from frontman Lee Storrar, the record grabs the listener right into its dark heart and spits you out on its own terms.

Themes of lust, longing and control once again prevail throughout, yet this time, there’s an even greater urgency, with the goth-y Blind Faith hitting hard and the brooding doom of The Cellar drawing you in then smashing a soaring chorus right into your face.

A powerful and emotive record, Ad Nauseam is a modern metal masterpiece.

 

Ginger Wildheart - Headzapoppin1 – Ginger Wildheart: Headzapoppin

For an album that wasn’t even on the radar 12 months ago, Ginger Wildheart’s Headzapoppin certainly took many people by surprise; mainly because it’s downright brilliant.

In recent years, the erstwhile Wildhearts frontman has been focusing on battling demons and outing them in country-folk records such as Ghost In The Tanglewood and The Pessimist’s Companion. Both records were often heart-breaking with chinks of light shining through now and again, outlining the changes the singer/songwriter was going through in his life as well as his reflections on a cruel and dark society. As with The Wildhearts’ triumphant 2019 return Renaissance Men, Headzapoppin still features some thoughts on mental illness and isolation, but here Ginger has reverted to 555%-era pop-rock and the record is 40 minutes of catchy-as-hell hits as a result.

From the retro 80s waves of Saturday Matinee through to the classic rock riffs of Meet My Killer and Catch That Stranger, via the pounding As Theodos Spoke and the emotionally uplifting The Answer Is Yes, Ginger’s 10th solo studio outing is an utter triumph. Honest, accessible and quirky, Headzapoppin is a big-hearted and infectiously optimistic record that demands to be heard.

Even better, with a physical release to follow in 2020, this might just be album of the year next year too!

1994 – The Albums That REALLY Changed Music 25 Years Ago

With all this talk of certain albums allegedly changing music forever in 1994, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what a 15 year old Affs had on the old deathdeck 25 years ago. And oh boy was I impressed. In fact, I’m not sure how I managed to find time to get through the huge amount of classic records released in this year as well as knuckling down ahead of GCSEs, taking my bike out for a spin AND hitting my first ever live shows. The vitality of youth, eh?

Amongst the stone cold classics, arguably never to bettered by the rest of the band’s output since (see Dookie, Smash, and Sixteen Stone) there are also some cult smashers (Helmet’s Betty, Cannibal Corpse’s The Bleeding, KyussWelcome To Sky Valley) some chilled out classics (MTV Unplugged, Jar Of Flies, Dummy) and some that are still in my all-time favourites list to this day (Troublegum, The Holy Bible, How To Make Friends And Influence People).

It’s also interesting to see the debut efforts from Korn and Machine Head as well as Cradle Of Filth and Marilyn Manson who kick-started a whole new era of theatrics in rock and metal, as well as decent long-players from L7 and Sonic Youth, keeping the grunge flame alive after Kurt Cobain’s death. And let’s not forget Superunknown and Far Beyond Driven; following Badmotorfinger and Vulgar Display Of Power is no mean feat but Soundgarden and Pantera absolutely nailed it with both records. You might also ask whether some of the bands in this list were struggling to live up to previous records with their 1994 releases, but give Divine Intervention and Youthanasia a re-listen and you’ll find a few tracks on each that hold their own 25 years on.

Anyway here’s the full list of albums released in 1994 that were on my bedroom’s stereo system. A veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of the great and the good:

Mark Lanegan – Whiskey For The Holy Ghost

Alice In Chains – Jar Of Flies

Prong – Cleansing

Green Day – Dookie

Therapy? – Troublegum

Emperor – In The Nightside Eclipse

Cradle of Filth – The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Nailbomb – Pont Blank

Soundgarden – Superunknown

Pantera – Far Beyond Driven

The Offspring – Smash

Cannibal Corpse – The Bleeding

Hole – Live Through This

Terrorvision – How To Make Friends And Influence People

Live – Throwing Copper

Sonic Youth – Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star

Weezer – Weezer

Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso

Helmet – Betty

Kyuss – Welcome To Sky Valley

L7 – Hungry For Stink

Amorphis – Tales From The Thousand Lakes

At The Gates – Terminal Spirit Disease

Marilyn Manson – Portrait Of An American Family

Machine Head – Burn My Eyes

Portishead – Dummy

Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible

Body Count – Born Dead

Sugar – File Under: Easy Listening

Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction

Various Artists – The Crow Soundtrack

Slayer – Divine Intervention

Testament – Low

The Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot

Korn – Korn

Nirvana – MTV Unplugged

Megadeth – Youthanasia

Cryptopsy – Blasphemy Made Flesh

Dimmu Borgir – For All Tid

Pearl Jam – Vitalogy

Bush – Sixteen Stone

Napalm Death – Fear, Emptiness, Despair

Frank Turner’s ‘No Man’s Land’ – Misogyny Or Hero Worship?

This has vexed me somewhat and you know what happens when I’m vexed, the blog cogs start turning!

The NME (yes, they are apparently still a thing) have published a bit of a hatchet job on a record, Frank Turner’s ‘No Man’s Land’, that has yet to be released (bar one song), jumping on the story created by Milk Teeth’s Becky Blomfield over on Twitter who stated in a multi-tweet post that Frank Turner shouldn’t release an album about female historical figures as it’s just him profiteering over women and people of various races when he’s never been a woman or anything other than a white man himself. For context, Turner’s press release for the new record and accompanying podcast series states: “13 episodes and tracks about real historical women… including one about my mum! Exploring and celebrating their fascinating stories.” Is that really such a wrong thing to do?

Seemingly no stranger to controversy, Turner has also recently been held to account by fellow artist Koji who queried the name of Frank’s hardcore side-project Möngöl Hörde deeming it to have racist connotations. Frank replied that the name was taken from a Van Pelt song from two decades ago and that it wasn’t decided upon with any offence considered; and let’s face it, aren’t there other band names through the ages that could be deemed offensive due to their connotations (Joy Division and indeed New Order to name but two). Does that mean we should ignore or even worse re-write history, or is it a good thing that such terminology exists to act as a reminder of what has happened throughout human history whether good or bad?

I’ve never met Frank Turner, but whenever I’ve gone to see him at a gig or a spoken word-style occasion, he’s always been articulate, respectful and intelligent. He’s been a big supporter of the Safe Gigs For Women initiative and performs at a lot of charitable occasions. He has sometimes been a target for the far left-leaning crew who don’t think he’s ‘punk enough’ to pitch himself as a folk/punk artist, but I’ve never considered him to be one to try and latch on to a scene, he’d rather just produce good music and tour endlessly so that as many people as possible can experience his live shows. Again, is this such a bad thing?

I’m not saying that Turner’s music is to everyone’s tastes by any means, but the current criticism around how he shouldn’t write about things he hasn’t personally experienced is at best naïve and at worst massively hypocritical. With some critics citing Turner’s race, gender and class as reasons why he shouldn’t be partaking in this particular endeavour, the nay-sayers appear to be pigeonholing as much as those they so vehemently protest against. It’s 2019 guys, an age where gender is supposedly fluid and no-one should be picked out negatively due to their skin colour. Mental health is also massively stigmatised yet some of the comments directed at Turner are vile and hate-filled and in other circles would be considered bullying. Hmm…

So, what are the dos and don’ts for artists when considering album subject matter, and are we really the ones who should judge? If songs should only be written about experiences that have been personally lived, does this mean that no song should ever be about dragons or the war, or a different country, race or religion to that of the author? How do people think history has generally been passed down over the centuries? Spoiler alert, it’s through song, and the written word.

Having listened to Frank’s first podcast (about Sister Rosetta Tharpe), it’s fascinating to hear him go and explore her origins, her performances and her music in her homeland. He does it by bringing in local (and female) historian Nwaka Onwusa to discuss Sister Rosetta’s tale and his studio discussion is with singer-songwriter Emily Barker who has also written a song about the same subject. Funnily enough, Turner has also brought in a completely female group of musicians (and producer) for this record but people still assumed he had made it with usual backing band the (all male) Sleeping Souls and criticised him for it before looking up the facts. And again, does this really matter anyway? Surely we should always just employ the best people for any given job?

I certainly learned a thing or two from Turner’s initial podcast but the doubters continue. “He’s just cashing in” – what, by writing songs about women that people quite possibly haven’t heard of? Surely that’s not a profitable scheme? “He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman” – that’s fair enough, but should that really stop him from writing and performing songs about women’s lives? He’s not writing from the point of view of the women from what I’ve heard, so is it really that big a deal? To me, it smacks of people going out of their way to be offended, without figuring out what they’re actually offended about. I’ve attempted to engage in debate with some of the critics who are so keen to tag Turner in on their comments, yet none have responded.

The only saving grace about this NME piece is that the comments are nearly 100% in support of Frank. And of course I did point out to them that it’s rather hypocritical linking up with paid ad providers who post clickbait stories at the foot of your articles that state if you’re a woman over 50 you should cut your hair short. Ah well, only another 12 tracks of supposed controversy to go…

The Affs Awards 2018 – Album Of The Year

2018 has certainly been an odd year for music. We’ve seen the usual bunch of album anniversary tours, a raft of comebacks and a lot of big bands going even more stratospheric playing bigger and more bombastic shows, but there have also been a few let-downs with groups struggling to produce original work that really captures the imagination. Fortunately, your erstwhile blogger is here to lead you away from the chaff into the glorious wheat, as I countdown to my coveted Album Of The Year Award for 2018.

5 – TurbowolfThe Free Life

One of the finest moments of 2018 was discovering that Turbowolf are still as hard to pin down as ever with third record The Free Life being their most psychedelic and heaviest outing yet. Hitting festival season hard, the Bristol rockers had plenty of new material to batter audiences with, such as the riffy Domino (featuring Mike Kerr from Royal Blood), or the low-slung groove of Capital X (guest starring Joe Talbot from fellow West Country outfit IDLES).

Throughout the record, Chris Georgiadis nails his most impressive Turbowolf performance to date, veering between his recognisable rapid-fire delivery up to an insane squeal on the epic title track, while drummer Blake Davies thumps away at his kit with what sounds like a pair of granite slegehammers.

Live, songs from The Free Life have already come across like old friends, and even the sudden temporary departure of bassist Lianna Lee Davies to give birth in late 2018 hasn’t slowed the ‘Wolf down, running riot with support slots to Killing Joke across the UK. The Free Life is certainly an evolution of the band’s sound and you can see how it will garner more crossover appeal, but at the same time this is very much a record that only this four-piece could make. You can see the passion of Turbowolf fans at every show as they hurtle themselves into the pit and the band have delivered another set of oddly-danceable rock and roll tunes in return.

 

Eureka Machines - Victories4 – Eureka MachinesVictories

I keep banging on about being a recent convert to Eureka Machines but I should probably stop, having now been schlepping around the country to watch them for the best part of six years. The four piece produce some of the most joyous live shows out there but it’s with 2018’s Victories that they’ve knocked out their most rounded recorded work to date. Helped by frontman Chris Catalyst opening himself up a lot more with his 2017 solo album Life Is Often Brilliant, Victories has some of the most tender lyrics on any of the band’s albums yet. But fear not, the ingenious wordplay is still present and correct, in fact this record arguably features Catalyst’s finest wordsmithery, and coupled with some absolutely belting musicianship from the four piece, Victories is a record that’s impossible to tire of.

From the traditional EM bounce-a-thon of Misery to the Manics-inspired My Rock And Roll Is Dead to the epic, delicately 60s-tinged House Of Butterflies, there’s something for all era of fan here. It sounds wrong to call it a more mature performance all round; EM may always have had an impish nature but it would be ignorant to claim the band only made simple, juvenile music. The band have long made intelligent, intricate songs but with Victories there’s definitely a little extra crunch and intensity, making each track sound that little bit more fresh, and eager to jump out of the speakers at the listener. A truly genre-defying British rock record.

 

Pete Spiby - Failed Magician3 – Pete Spiby Failed Magician

The first time I saw Black Spiders, in a sweaty club in Bristol, I was instantly blown away. Part good time rock ‘n’ roll machine, part absolute riff lords, the Spiders were always infectiously inventive in pedaling hard rock anthems across their two albums and various EPs. When they called it a day a couple of years ago I was genuinely sad and felt like the live music scene was a poorer place because of it. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the guys started popping up in other outfits and lead singer/guitarist Pete Spiby revealed his next escapade; Failed Magician.

Re-invigorating the Pledge Music platform by offering not only an original album but also a reworked acoustic version and a covers record to boot, Spiby’s debut solo outing was pretty high up my wanted list and it hasn’t disappointed one bit. Offering a more bluesy take on modern rock than Black Spiders, Failed Magician is introspective, emotive, yet still all kinds of memorable. Take Friday Night Just Died (In Saturday Morning’s Arms) for example, a love song of sorts, it offers a taste of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern drawl but with the hooks of a Guns N’ Roses ballad, just with fewer hissy fits. And for a seven minute song, it doesn’t overstay its welcome one bit.

Elsewhere on the record, Bible Studies is a beautifully layered outing, whilst Guiding Light and Why Not Let Them Come are perhaps more akin to Spiby’s past, offering more up-tempo, classically riffy tracks which nestle nicely alongside the album’s starker songs. The acoustic version of the record is no less fascinating, frequently dropping Spiby’s vocals down to a husky bluegrass drawl over the top of some wailing guitar work especially on the stomping Lightning Bolt Blues that owes a debt or two to Black SpidersSt Peter.

As for the covers album, there are many very apparent influences here, with Soundgarden’s Hunted Down and a haunting take on L7’s Pretend We’re Dead, but it’s the surprise inclusions that really win, namely Alexander O’Neal’s Criticize and The CardigansMy Favourite Game both turned into creepy, downbeat little monsters. It’s a superb package by Spiby and one that really shows his passion for the business and refusal to walk away from it all following the Spiders’ split. We should all be grateful that the guy’s got more music in him.

 

Therapy? - Cleave2 – Therapy?Cleave

It’s not always easy to stick with a band through all they’ve ever released, as musicians have that tendency to wander into an impenetrable ego-driven diversity that doesn’t always translate well to even the most diehard of fan. With Therapy? though, they’ve always struggled to put a foot wrong; admittedly they’re not a band to everyone’s taste, and they’ve certainly changed their style on numerous occasions, but their brief dabble with the mainstream in the mid-90s has ensured they’ll always drag a few old school fans back into the fold with each record, and on album number 15 they’ve done just that.

Cleave may be a relatively short record but the 10 songs on offer are some of the most biting the band have ever released. From mental health to the environment and homelessness, no issue is too big for Andy Cairns to lyricise about, spitting venom at the UK government as much as he does at the rest of the world’s supposed ‘leaders’ who are dragging us further and further into oblivion.

The album’s first single, Callow, harks back to the band’s most successful period but does so with older, wiser eyes. It’s here where the returning Chris Sheldon’s production really shines through, encouraging the band to strip things back so they sound like a proper three-piece; no rhythm guitars taking the listener off on a tangent, just a supremely focused lead, bass and drum-driven assault on our senses that helps to get the message across perfectly.

Cairns’ familiar snarl lends itself more effectively than ever to tracks like Expelled and Success? Success Is Survival as his guitar screeches around Neil Cooper’s furious drumming and Michael McKeegan’s rumbling bass with the whole record becoming a strangely uplifting experience despite its content. No Sunshine brings things to an anti-euphoric close in a way that has to be heard to be fully understood and the first thing you’ll want to do is start all over again from track one. An oddly addictive experience, Cleave ekes its way into your psyche like no Therapy? record has done before and gives pretenders to their throne a severe kick up the backside too.

 

Ghost - Prequelle1- GhostPrequelle

It’s getting tricky to find superlatives for the phenomenon that Ghost have become. Not content with reinventing a dead 1970s genre, they’ve consistently upped their game with each release and capped off 2018 with a stunning show at the Royal Albert Hall. Next year’s support slots with Metallica aside, it’s tricky to figure out quite where Cardinal Copia and his Ghouls can go next but it was this year’s fourth full-lengther, Prequelle, that truly helped them cross into the mainstream.

Becoming more and more polished since their retro and stripped-bare debut, Prequelle is the culmination of Tobias Forge’s vision for the band. Equal parts grandiose, intricate, melodic, comedic, and dripping with Hammer Horror kitsch, Prequlle is divisively overblown and all the better for it. Lead single Rats split existing fans right down the middle, some erring on the side of “genius” versus the predictable cries of those who felt Forge had sold out with something so melodramatic (especially with the high-camp video). In reality, Rats set the stall out well; it’s supremely tongue-in-cheek, owes as much to Meatloaf as it does Blue Oyster Cult, and offers a hugely accessible route into a band whose image alone could still put people off taking a listen.

Elsewhere on Prequelle, the crunchy Faith gives Ghost another live headbanger, See The Light offers an Infestissumam-style storytelling vibe and if you’re yet to witness the majesty of Miasma’s closing sax solo, then you’re missing out on one of the most surprisingly offbeat, yet brilliantly executed musical moments of the year.

Disco-stomper Dance Macabre wins 2018’s award for ‘Song Most Likely To Get Stuck In Your Head For Months” whilst Pro Memoria ups the creepiness levels before the medieval boogie of Witch Image and the epic emotion of Life Eternal. There really isn’t any filler on Prequelle and it veers successfully from rock opera to 80s cop movie soundtrack to Satanic ode to desolation brilliantly. A regular on the death deck in 2018, and containing some of the greatest ear worms of this or indeed any year, Prequelle will see Ghost hit stratospheric heights over the next couple of years, and quite rightly so.

 

Hats Off To The Insane – Therapy? Are Back In The Charts

Last week, Therapy?‘s new record Cleave entered the UK Album Chart at number 43. This might not seem impressive at first, especially when the charts in 2018 are such a confusing amalgam of on and offline sales, streams and other black magic. Nevertheless, this is a band with their 15th album, on the cusp of 30 years into their career remaining relevant enough to compete against the vast swathes of nonsense you hear across various aural media.

Throughout my life I’ve banged Therapy?’s proverbial drum, telling everyone about their passion, honesty and downright integrity, and for three decades now, they’ve delivered. Not everything has been a 10/10 to these ears but that’s the beauty of the band and of music in general. They’re caustic and aggressive. They’re confrontational and catchy as hell. They pull no punches, yet they’re also some of the nicest guys you could meet, grateful and proud. If, after 30 years of doing what I do, I’m that content with my body of work, I’ll be very surprised yet overjoyed.

The success of Cleave is certainly a reminder of what makes Therapy?‘s music great; the band have gone from media darlings to relative obscurity and back again and have retained a loyal fanbase throughout it all. They’ve toured the anniversaries of classic records, supported too many bands to mention and headlined their own fair share of shows pulling together intriguing setlists of old and new material, each of which have been blisteringly honest from start to finish.

To me, Therapy?’s commitment and perseverance is a testament to the human spirit; speak your mind, spread your message, but always keep that glint in your eye and that smile on your face.

Here’s to another 30 years!

Read my review of Cleave over at Pure Rawk!

The Best Albums In The World – EVER

The Facebook Top 10 albums of all time challenge that’s been doing the rounds recently got me thinking and made me realise how hard it is to pick out your favourite music from all genres, over four decades of listening to the stuff. In fact, it surprised me how many records that are over 20 years old still resonate with me today and that’s even when I’m avoiding a rose-tinted view of childhood. I’ve fallen in and out of love with bands over the years, discovered some records years after they were first unleashed and picked out new meaning from songs that I’d heard 100 times before. First and foremost though I’ve always been a supporter of British music, especially bands who deserve to be far bigger than they are, and I’m pleased that this list has ended up being reflective of that.

To give an idea of how hard a task this was, these are the album names that missed out, and I’ll think you’ll agree there are some bona-fide classics amongst them: Sixteen Stone, Demanufacture, Appetite For Destruction, Antichrist Superstar, Korn, In Utero, Metallica, Dookie, How To Make Friends And Influence People, Cruelty And The Beast, And Out Come The Wolves, Angel Dust, Chaos AD. Sorry all, but the competition was tough; you’re all still in my heart.

Anyway, onwards!

10) Tropical Contact: XS (2016)

There are a few modern classics that could easily have made this list, and it shouldn’t feel wrong to praise a record that has yet to pass the test of time. Ghost, Servers, Turbowolf and Creeper all very nearly hit this Top 10, but if I have to pick out one record from the most recent decade that can go toe-to-toe with the rest it has to be Tropical Contact‘s debut full-lengther. Talk about fulfilling potential, every single song on this one is a cracker, auto-biographical, funny and always catchy. XS was even better than we all expected and I challenge anyone who hears it not to be taken in by Hero Brigade‘s charm or to not shimmy a shoulder to the earworm that is 8/10.

 

9) Ginger Wildheart: 555% (2012)

So much of my life today is based around The Wildhearts and the extended family of associated bands but the group themselves never trumped Terrorvision, Therapy? and the Manics when I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Earth Vs and Phuq but I lost a bit of interest with the impenetrable Endless Nameless. Years later, this triple slab hit and reminded me what a great songwriter our Ginger was and it was only after this that I really got into Chutzpah! too. Forget About It is one of the best album openers ever, providing an insta-grin every single time, whilst songs like Lover, It’ll All Work Out and Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus add real emotional depth.

 

8) Iron Maiden: Brave New World (2000)

Perhaps a surprise that this is my favourite Maiden album rather than something from their 80s pomp, but (whisper it) I wasn’t that down with them when their classics were first released. I did however stick with them through the Blaze era, but Brave New World was what we all really wanted and it delivered in spades. The Wicker Man is a perfect statement of intent and the lighters-aloft call to arms of Blood Brothers sends a shiver down the spine to this day. This record also helped build a musical bond between my step-brother and me that made last year’s Maiden gig with him even better than it already was.

 

7) Offspring: Smash (1994)

This was the hardest pick of the list. Punk’s resurgence in the mid-90s saw a plethora of classic records, but there were also iconic grunge albums, quirky alt-rock efforts and some late 90s black and death metal to consider. I also feel really guilty about leaving Terrorvision out of my Top 10 but it’s the consistency of Smash that won through. With the band leading the charge when it came to mainstream modern punk Smash is packed full of classic tunes, from the furious Nitro to the shouty ire of Bad Habit and the iconic Self Esteem. Interestingly, I’m not really a fan of anything the band did before or since, but this record is brilliantly constructed and a singalong classic.

 

6) Ash: 1977 (1996)

I feel like I grew up with Ash, listening to Trailer on repeat, seeing them live for a fiver when they were essentially kids like I was and their first full record, 1977, is probably still their finest hour. There are actually some far from perfect songs on here, but that just adds to the charm; 1977 is full of Undertones punk ethos and teen angst. Kung Fu and Girl From Mars remain rock club staples whilst Lose Control is a hurricane blast of an opener. Even better was the ridiculous concept of having two bonus songs BEFORE the start of the album; an iTunes nightmare!

 

5) Pantera: Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

A lot of stuff on this list is British and pretty light compared to some of the other music I was listening to at the time, and none more so than the absolutely brutal Vulgar Display Of Power. From Walk‘s swagger,  A New Level‘s crushing hammer blows through to This Love‘s balladeering, each song fits brilliantly alongside the next and the combination of Anselmo’s snarl and Dime’s fretwork has arguably never been bettered in heavy metal. Far Beyond Driven was possibly more fully-formed but this for me is Pantera at their raucous peak.

 

4) Type O Negative: October Rust (1996)

When you’re an emo-teen, what better record to get you through life than Type O‘s paean to gothic romance? Already MTV darlings by this point, Pete Steele and co banged out an epic collection of blacker than black, tongue-in-cheek hits like My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend, Love You To Death and a great cover of Neil Young‘s Cinnamon Girl. Ingenious wordplay, big riffs and atmospheric keyboard work make October Rust a pleasure on each return visit two decades on.

 

3) Baby Chaos: Safe Sex Designer Drugs & The Death Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1994)

When a support band is as good as Baby Chaos are you know you just have to get involved which is exactly what I did after I saw the band playing back-up to Terrorvision in 1994. The era was full of melodic and poppy bands all upping their game against each other but Baby Chaos managed to throw down an effortlessly brilliant record on their first attempt. Go To Hell‘s light and dark moments can still catch you out today and the lyrics to the beautiful Breathe are hanging on my bedroom wall for a reason. True story; Safe Sex… only just claimed its place in this list over most recent effort Skulls Skulls Skulls, the band are THAT consistently good at writing emotive pop rock.

 

2) Manic Street Preachers: The Holy Bible (1994)

They were my first gig, my first obsession as far as music goes and the self-destructive The Holy Bible was everything a Manics fan could ask for in 1994. Heavy in its use of dialogue samples, THB is a bruising, caustic effort, made all the more raw by Richey James’ cataclysmic state of mind. Die In The Summertime and 4st 7lb are given added gravitas by James Dean Bradfield’s never-to-be-bettered vocal performance yet the Manics still proved they could write chart-bothering classics with instant numbers like Faster and Revol.

 

1) Therapy?: Infernal Love (1995)

Troublegum is probably a perfect 10 album but the 9/10 Infernal Love has to be my top Therapy? record due to its middle finger waving place in the band’s career and in parts its drug-addled ridiculousness. There’s the Nick Cave-esque Bowels Of Love, the epic A Moment Of Clarity and Me Vs You, the catchy as hell Stories and Loose and the can’t-begin-to-count-the-times-I’ve-played-it heartbreakingly bleak cover of Hüsker Dü‘s Diane. Maybe not a starting point for a would-be T? fan, this is still a glorious summary of mid-90s excess and pop rock majesty.

Jailed Cells – Is It The End For Mobile Phones At Gigs?

Phones At A GigIt’s nothing new that people like to take photos and videos at gigs to remind them of the good times they’ve had. Often it’s simply an “I was there” willy wave but for some bands it’s a way of getting far cheaper publicity, promo shots and footage they can use to get themselves out to a wider audience. But is all that about to change? It’s been a rising trend in recent months, but as the debate has now reached these shores, it’s interesting to look at the increase in mobile phone bans at gigs.

Chris Rock and Jack White are proponents of the Yondr system for their shows in the UK this year. For those unaware, this sees punters give their phones over on the door to pouch-toting staff who gleefully pop your device in a lockable sleeve. Said sheath will only unlock after the show unless you take your device to a designated “phone zone” during the show. Obviously these artists are doing this to protect their material as well as everyone else’s experience but is this really the right way to go about ensuring a show is as enjoyable as possible?

I’ve posted a fair amount on Twitter about gig etiquette over the years; I’ve asked people to pipe down at acoustic shows a few times, much to their displeasure, for the crowd and the artists’ benefit and I’ve been stuck behind people who insist on filming pretty much a whole gig on their clapped out Nokia so they can be the first to put their fuzz-o-vision on YouTube afterwards. But really, locking a person’s phone away? I’m in no way a human rights activist but has it really come to this, that people need their phone to be physically prohibited for them to enjoy an outing? On the flip side, those protesting the ban by saying ‘what if there’s an emergency’ need to remember the early 90s when there weren’t any mobiles to take to gigs. And let’s face it, how many ACTUAL emergencies do you get on your mobile anyway? It’s like when people drop their phone down the khazi and go straight on Facebook to tell EVERYONE they can reach them on there if they need to. Anyone ever bothered? Nope. But I digress…

Yondr sleeve
The Yondr ‘solution’

I go to a fair few gigs by myself and I review them too. During the show I’ll take notes on my phone, always out of anyone’s line of distraction and always with brightness down to its lowest setting. No offence promoters, but if you start deciding I can’t take my phone in with me, and you want me to keep that much info in my brain after 39 years of muddlement, my reviews probably won’t be that thorough. I guess I could take a pen and notebook in but presumably ‘sharp’ objects would be frowned upon too. Also, in an age where we’re trying to reduce “drink culture” in the UK, is removing a slightly less harmful distraction between bands really going to help? Again, if you’re flying solo at a gig, what do you do with yourself in the 30-40 minutes in between sets other than a quick check of Twitter here, a move on Words With Friends there; probably better for you in the long run than a couple of extra pints.

So what is the solution? As ever it appears to be education. Schools and parents need to teach people from an early age that technology is a tool to take advantage of but also to respect. Encourage people to look up from their screens, and enjoy life through their own eyes and consider those around them, just like you would if puffing on an e-snout or dropping your litter in the street; there are much wider issues here around respect, dignity and common decency than just locking away a mobile for a couple of hours at a time. It might be slightly rose-tinted, but before the current boom, this worked for those who carried ‘compact’ cameras to shows with them; in typically British fashion a sign stage left or right simply stating “No Flash Photography” would be enough to put off even the most ardent of proto-David Baileys out of respect for the artists and fellow concert-goers.

To be fair, the current Yondr phase seems to mainly involve American acts and comedy ones at that and I’d say that theatre audiences in the UK are largely well-behaved when it comes to not recording shows. I saw staff at The Lowry Theatre tap a front row patron on the shoulder to remind them of the rules at a recent Bruce Dickinson spoken word show and that acted as enough of a deterrent to stop others following suit, but for how long will this be enough? And what about Smartwatches? I can do all my texting through that if I I like, do I need to take that off too? What if someone simply states they don’t have a mobile phone upon their person, will searches now class an iPhone in the same contraband category as booze and weaponry?

Needless to say, there are plenty of questions left unanswered around this topic, and we probably won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. If I’ve got one thing to say to artists and gig promoters though, it’s to maybe focus on the real issues around rip off ticket resellers and snide merch hawkers before targeting actual fans who have paid with their hard-earned cash to do, within reason, whatever they see fit to do once they enter a live arena.