Monday, 31 December 2012

Year in review: 2012!

2011 was a great year for new music, but 2012 has trumped it in almost every respect. It goes without saying that top 10 lists are highly personal and unscientific, so I...erm, won’t say it (unless I have already, of course...). Anyway, there are obviously loads of potentially fabulous albums I haven’t heard at all, and others I haven’t heard enough to pass final judgement on, but the below all made an impact and, as with all great albums, continue to reveal more of themselves with each subsequent listen. If two or three (or more) are on your own personal lists you could do far worse than check out the rest (as you clearly have taste – well done!).

Top 10 Albums of 2012

10: Ten – Heresy and Creed: Long-time followers of Ten seem to agree that this doesn’t match the band’s first three albums for quality, but if that’s the case those albums must be pretty special indeed. Personally I rate this one slightly higher than last year’s Stormwarning, which I also enjoyed immensely. Choice cut: The Lights Go Down.

09: Martin Page – A Temper of Peace: The definite winner of the ‘under the radar’ award for the year, I only discovered that this album was out after randomly checking Page’s Wikipedia entry (strangely enough the same way I found out about 2008’s In the Temple of the Muse, the only difference being that this time I was two weeks, rather than two years, behind the times!).  Page pulls off the conceit of performing every instrument himself better than most (although I’d always rather have Jimmy Copley on drums than a machine, take note for the next one please Mr Page!!) and uses this as an excuse to take a few stylistic left-turns (notably on The Washing of the Heart and Soulprint) with great success. Fans of his previous albums will undoubtedly enjoy this just as much as, differences aside, it is another first-rate adult-contemporary album from a much overlooked artist. Choice cut: When the Harvest is in.

08: Ian Anderson – Thick as a Brick 2: What could have been the worst idea in the world – a belated follow-up to 1972’s classic original Brick -  turned out to be an inspired reflection on the various paths a single person could have followed to reach middle-age. A ‘mature’ work, but with plenty of style and wit to it. See my review of the album and tour for more on this one. Choice cut: Thick as a Brick 2. ;-)

07: The Reasoning – Adventures in Neverland: A band I’d foolishly ignored prior to their support set for Marillion in September (see the top 5 support acts list below), this was one of my pleasant surprises for the year. I have no idea how it stacks up against their earlier efforts, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Choice cut: No Friend of Mine.

06: Robert Lamm – Living Proof: Who needs a new Chicago album (okay, I still do...) when keyboardist/vocalist Lamm is creating solo works as immense as this? The only album that I’ve devoted a full review to this year – months later and I stand by every word. Choice cut: I Confess.

05: Asia – XXX: When the supergroup reconvened with its original line-up for their 25th anniversary in 2007 nobody believed they’d get past that tour, yet here they are, celebrating another anniversary with their third post-reformation studio album (one more than they managed on the first pass) and easily their best since their debut (well I still love Astra and several of the John Payne albums, but I’m talking the (full) original line-up here). It builds on the success of 2010’s Omega, but is trimmed of the filler that dominated the final third of that album. If you haven’t paid much attention to Asia since 1982, it’s high time you gave them another listen. Long term devotees will be well-pleased indeed. Choice cut: Bury Me in Willow.

04: Anathema – Weather Systems: I was first exposed to Anathema at last year’s High Voltage festival – and as you can tell from my review I came away from it with some curiousity intact, but no burning desire to investigate further. But this album generated such a buzz that it was impossible to ignore and I’m glad I ultimately gave in and bought it – it’s as powerful, emotional and beautiful as it’s many advocates proclaimed. So another band with a back-catalogue worth exploring (although not as far back as their death-metal days methinks!). Choice cut: The Beginning and the End.

03: Magnum – On the 13th Day: Having provided 2011’s album of the year with The Visitation my almost-favourite band struck gold yet again this year – and returned to the UK top 50 for the first time in 20 years to boot. This time around the songs are slightly more concise (some would say commercial) but all contain the hallmarks of classic Magnum at their best – and they’ve been back at their best now for four albums in a row. In any other year this would also have made it to the top spot on my list, but the two above it were just too good. Choice cut: Dance of the Black Tattoo.

02: Rush – Clockwork Angels: Rush are undeniably a great band, but I’ve never quite fully embraced them as I have with my other favourites, perhaps because they often appear slightly removed emotionally from their material. That isn’t the case with this, their first ‘proper’ concept album (with a concept so sprawling it’s needed a full novelisation to let the story be fully realised), which like the Ian Anderson album is striking for its maturity – the sentiment behind Wish Them Well being only one example of a song that (sadly) couldn’t be conceived by a younger band. Despite being set on a different world the album plays on universal themes of hope, disappointment and redemption and is immensely relatable as a result. Choice cut: The Garden.

01: Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made: Just because Marillion are my favourite band of all time does not make their appearance at #1 here a fait accompli by any means, but they’ve outdone themselves with this one. The title track is simply the best thing I’ve heard all year, and is definitely on the list of 50 Marillion songs that *might* be my very favourite – along with almost every other track on this album, from the tour de force opener that is Gaza to the elegiac, heartstring-tugging The Sky Above the Rain. They took their time with this one and the result is simply superb and not to be missed. The deluxe edition is also a thing of beauty and well worth owning whether you are a die-hard Marillion fan or not. Choice cut: Sounds That Can’t Be Made.

5 other great songs from 2012:

Europe – Bag of Bones
Flying Colors – Everything Changes
Steve Hogarth/Richard Barbieri – Only Love Will Make You Free
Tyketto – Faithless
Dante Fox – Who Stole the Innocence?

The top 10 gigs of 2012:

2012 wasn’t the greatest gig year for me, a combination of health issues for most of the year, and a lack of gigs in London due to the Olympics meant that things really only picked up in the last few months. Nevertheless I still managed to attend a healthy number of brilliant gigs, of which the below stood out:

10. Ian Anderson (Hammersmith Apollo, 27 April)
09. Darren Hayes (Brighton Dome, 29 September)
08. The Reasoning/Touchstone (The Garage, 12 October)
07. Flying Colors (Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 21 September)
06. h Natural (Cargo, 18 December)
05. Europe (Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 01 December)
04. Firefest Friday - Lionville, Dante Fox, Ten, Tyketto (Rock City, Nottingham, 19 October) REVIEW
03. Paul Simon (Hard Rock Calling, Hyde Park, 15 July)
02. Magnum (Bristol, 18 November) REVIEW
01: Marillion (Sheffield, 14 September) REVIEW

The top 5 support acts of 2012:
(headliners in brackets)

05. DeeExpus (Marillion, London)
04. Trillium (Magnum, London)
03. Mr. So & So (Marillion, Sheffield)
02. Chris Ryder (h Natural, London)
01. The Reasoning (Marillion, Cardiff)

5 albums from 2011 that I listened to more in 2012:

There are always albums that you don’t get around to listening to properly the moment they come out- or just come out too late in the year to be compared fairly with everything that’s come before (this year Jimi Jamison, Neal Morse and Lionville are such cases for me), so these are albums that gave me more pleasure this year than last -  only one of them featured in my 2011 round-up.

05.Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare
04.Work of Art – In Progress
03.Fergie Frederiksen – Happiness is the Road
02.Edison’s Children – In the Last Waking Moments...
01. Serpentine – Living and Dying in High Definition

Plenty of proof then for the doubters that good music is in as healthy a state as ever – you may need to work a little harder to discover it than the days when they simply played it on the radio – but it is there. 2013 is another year that has a very tough act to follow, but with new releases in the next few months from the likes of Steve Lukather, Heaven’s Basement and Steven Wilson I suspect it will do happy new year and ROCK ON!