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The 50 Best Rock Albums of 2019 (so far)

10. Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind: CollectiV

Keith Richards’ 1964 Gibson Hummingbird may be responsible for opener Sex Robots brassily exultant, Exile On Main St-tinged choruses. The song elsewhere resembles Kick Out The Jams if shoved into a state of still less intelligible ecstasy. The riffs are thunderous, the sound in the room gigantic, and Jones’s voice a panting definition of crazed carnality. 

A whole album of this sort of bludgeoning seedy rock’n’roll would be more than alright. Jones’s range with the Righteous Mind – which he has sought to extend since his previous, more rockabilly-focused band the Jim Jones Revue ran out of steam – allows far more.

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9. Devin Townsend: Empath

To say that his latest album covers a broad spectrum of music is like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground. All bets are off, all doors open and consciousness is expanded. The last track on the album might come in at more than 20 minutes long, be subdivided into six parts (including There Be Monsters and Here Comes The Sun!) and include some wonderful lyrical guitar playing from Steve Vai set atop waves of lush harmony from Anneke Van Giersbergen, but after what Devin Townsend has come up with previously that’s not even a surprise. 

In fact you’d be disappointed if it wasn’t so histrionic, indulgent and driven. In context, it sounds like the final mental thrashing of a fever dream; the clashing of the real world against the fantasy bends of the mind as you awake.

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8. Walter Trout Band: Survivor Blues

By rights, Survivor Blues should be a posthumous release; between them, Walter Trout and his band can boast rogue livers, triple bypasses and a thousand booze-sodden brushes with oblivion. and that talent for escapology not only gives Survivor Blues its title, it also lifts a potentially workaday covers album above its station, flooding every track with hard-won soul. 

Critically, Trout knows when to doff his cap and when to deface his heroes – so Luther Johnson’s Woman Don’t Lie is turned into a dirty funk workout, while Be Careful How You Vote is revved up with palpable spite, Trout seemingly on the brink of breaking from Sunnyland Slim’s lyric to tear strips off the politicos. These dead men walking make one hell of a sound.

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7. Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars

If his last album of original material, 2012’s Wrecking Ball, acted as an accomplished update of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street stampede, Western Stars – melodically up there with his finest collections of down-home tear-jerkers – brings a rich new texture to his more reflective forays. 

The tormented lovers fleeing for the wilds with the weight of broken affairs on their shoulders on Tucson Train and Chasin’ Wild Horses, or haunting the shut-down Moonlight Motel chasing memories of trysts they enjoyed there, do so with a certain grace thanks to vaporous arpeggios and crashing crescendos that could soundtrack a Jurassic Park. 

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6. Sammy Hagar & The Circle: Space Between

You can’t beat pure class. While Van Halen continually drag their heels, Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony have put all thoughts of a reunion firmly behind them with this highly entertaining album. Joined by Jason Bonham and Vic Johnson, they’ve conjured up a timeless mix of classic American hard rock, combining experience with youthful panache. 

The band aren’t afraid to celebrate their roots – Can’t Hang deliberately recalls Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks, while Trust Fund Baby reimagines the riff from Montrose’s I Got The Fire – but they go beyond such detail, through songs embracing a range of emotions.

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5. Whitesnake: Flesh & Blood

David Coverdale understood American radio in the 80s, and that might be why he still writes for it. And he does it so well. Hey You (You Make Me Rock) is a rousing arena set-opener much like Bon Jovi used to write before Jon started wondering what musical legacy he might leave. Always & Forever is the kind of mid-tempo groove that made Coverdale enough money that he never had to worry about buying turquoise jewellery again. 

It’s easy to be snide, but it’s a truly lovely song, as is the slowly chugging When I Think Of You (Colour Me Blue). If MTV still showed music videos there’d be no getting away from it, and nor would you want to. He’s all mic stand and trousers in songs like Trouble Is Your Middle Name and Get Up, but you can forgive him those clumsy transgressions for a song like the gentle After All, even if Sands Of Time lets you know how much he still wishes he’d written Kashmir.

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4. Queensryche: The Verdict

The Verdict has the modern Queensÿche in commanding form. An improvement on their 2015 album Condition Hüman, it has all of the hallmarks of the band’s early classics – the heavy metal power and prog rock finesse, the majestic twin-guitar harmonies and glass-shattering vocals. 

Blood Of The Levant is a model of controlled aggression, but there is beauty, too, in the melodic pull of Light-Years and the subtle shifts in Dark Reverie. For Queensrÿche, the battle is won.

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3. Dream Theater: Distance Over Time

At times guitarist John Petrucci’s shredding on this record is so insanely, implausibly fast that it recalls the sound cassette tapes made when they jammed and became spaghetti. These Berklee College Of Music drop-outs will forever be labelled prog-metal, but at heart this album is metal with just the occasional hint of prog. Like Muse after excessive espressos, they plant a bomb under bombast. 

The band moved into an upstate New York barn where, for the first time in their 33-year history, they lived together while recording. Their claim that this enhanced their energy and enjoyment is supported by the direct, heads-down avalanche of aggression on the record. Drummer Mike Mangini seems intent on proving that Mike Portnoy isn’t missed, while James LaBrie sings in one of those so-clean-it’s-dirty AOR voices. 

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2. Rival Sons: Feral Roots

it’s the brooding mix of urgent and mysterious tones that really pulls you in, and gives the whole album an almost cinematic quality. The Zeppelin-esque title track is a stunning embodiment of this, its acoustic lines of folky mystique trickling out before bursting into a commanding, full-on rock chorus. 

Tracks that seem to be one thing have a way of surprising you (see the gorgeous chorus gear shift of Imperial Joy). Gospel backing singers appear across the record, and the soulful sway of Stood By Me merges old-school blues-and-soul warmth with Isley Brothers-infused guitar blasts. 

Feral Roots isn’t Rival Sons’ most instant album yet; this isn’t a record of tracks like Keep On Swinging and Open My Eyes. It’s partly that, but it’s also an album of depth and impact that merits luxuriant poring over. And perhaps most significantly, it’s the sound of 2019’s answer to Page and Plant throwing down the gauntlet, daring the competition to make their moves. Bring it on.

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1. The Wildhearts: Renaissance Men

It starts at full tilt with Dislocated – which in places sounds like Motörhead, until a prime-cut Gingerbridge gives it away – then crashes, via a howl of feedback, into Let ’Em Go in which a gang chorus sings about rivers of shit. Fine Art Of Deception celebrates lack of commitment with sinister yet customary honesty: ‘Don’t let my proximity mean what it may imply/I’m just working on a way to say goodbye.’ 

The centre-piece of the album is Diagnosis. The best and longest of the 10 tracks, it builds slowly into a rant about mental health professionals and how they let people down. Ginger launches another brutal attack, this time on the pharmaceutical industry, in Emergency (Fentanyl Babylon), but he’s funnier when referencing drugs in My Kinda Movie and closer Pilo Erection

So, is Renaissance Men as good as Earth Vs The Wildhearts? No. On a par with Fishing For Luckies and p.h.u.q.? Close – and easily the best thing since.

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Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 35 years in music industry, online for 22. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović. Likes cats.