The latest instalment of our albums of the year run-down, starring Anathema, The Gaslight Anthem, Judas Priest and Wilko Johnson.
19 Gaslight Anthem
Get Hurt Island
It had been pitched by frontman Brian Fallon as “the weird album”, but in the event – thank God – Get Hurt didn’t mess with the New Jersey soul-rockers’ founding qualities of blue-collar yearning and wrecking-ball choruses. The inverted heart on the sleeve might have hinted at Fallon’s divorce during the writing process, but the No.4 chart placing on both sides of the pond confirmed that everyone else loved them more than ever.
18 Judas Priest
Redeemer Of Souls Columbia
After the sprawling conceptual misfire of Nostradamus, Priest returned to basics with an album that accentuated their strengths. New guitarist Richie Faulkner played his part in revitalising the veteran metal gods, adding bite to their trademark power. Better still, the band themselves pulled off the difficult trick of nodding to their 70s heritage while showing they could still keep pace with the demands of modern metal. There’s plenty of life in the old dogs yet.
Jetpack Soundtrack Weathermaker
Anyone missing a Clutch record this year could have done worse than investigate their friends Lionize. The Maryland quartet came from broadly the same musical place, but added reggae, funk and shades of hardcore punk on their four previous albums. With Jetpack Soundtrack, they streamlined all that into a muscular, charismatic whole, serving up such gems as Replaced By Machines and the organ-reeling Breather. Living proof that originality isn’t dead.
16 Blackberry Smoke
Leave A Scar Earache
Rather fittingly, it was a bunch of grizzled 40-something southern rockers who decided to fish the double live album out of the dustbin of history. Like Blackberry Smoke themselves, Leave A Scar was an album out of time: a gloriously uplifting concoction of old-school tuneage, tasty guitar work and gospel-souled harmonies that, at its very best, could stand shoulder to shoulder with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the like. Best served neat, on ice.
15 Joe Bonamassa
Different Shades Of Blue Mascot/Provogue
Like the daredevil on the sleeve, Bonamassa’s 11th album had the distinct whiff of death-or-glory, as the guitarist finally put forward new, original material after too many years of water-treading covers and wagon-circling live albums. This was a purist-baiting return – with songs co-written in Nashville that yanked the definition of blues around by the hair – but his first Top 10 Billboard chart placing confirmed that The Dude In The Suit was back in business.
Distant Satellites Kscope
Oh, how times change. It’s truly shocking to think that these Scousers started life as a dreadlocked death-doom act – never more so than when listening to their 10th studio album. This was truly original, profoundly intriguing rock that knitted together epic orchestration, sophisticated electronic passages and some astonishingly fluid guitar work. Forget The Endless River – this is the album Pink Floyd should have released this year.
The world is hardly facing a shortage of earnest, blue-collar Americans clutching Born To Run under one arm and London Calling under the other, but none showed as much ambition as Augustines. Brimming with pathos, grit and a heart-rending reach, Brooklyn’s backstreet balladeers leapt forward light years with an utterly graceful and mature second album devoid of cynicism or guile. Bold use of strings, brass and, on standout track Cruel City, street-gospel left their peers still at work.
12 Tom Petty
Hypnotic Eye Reprise
Defying received wisdom that old rockers should mellow out, Hypnotic Eye was a snarling, frequently angry record – American Plan B and Fault Lines rocked harder than anything Petty had written in a long time. But he could still bust out the laid-back Americana when he wanted – the arid jangle of Red River came on like The Byrds if they’d been stranded in the Mojave desert for a week, while the scorched Burnt Out Town out ZZ Topped ZZ Top. Even in a year where rock’s baby boomers burned brighter than their younger compatriots, few dazzled like Petty.
11 Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey
Going Back Home Chess
Informed by the power-chord rush of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, Johnson’s choppy guitar licks on this heartfelt collaboration were as inflamed as anything from his Feelgood days, while Daltrey turned up the heat with some belting bluesy vocals. In a year that saw Wilko finally free of the pancreatic cancer that was first diagnosed as terminal, the album’s unexpected success put a crowning touch on the most heartwarming story of 2014.
First off, congratulations on winning Album Of The Year at the Classic Rock Awards.
Given the things that have happened to me over this last couple of years, you just couldn’t make it up. I spent a whole year thinking that my life was going to come to an end – they’d told me I had ten months left to live – only for someone to pop up and say they could do this operation. I’d decided that this record was the last thing I was going to do. So to get Album Of The Year is really gilding the lily.
Going Back Home is a very British take on R&B…
As I got to know Roger, we realised there were so many things we had in common. He was telling me how The Who were influenced by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, which was exactly the same with Dr Feelgood. And I didn’t know that. When we started Dr Feelgood, I can remember saying, “Right, we’ve got to be just like Johnny Kidd & The Pirates!”
You made it quickly. Was that down to the cancer?
Partly, because by the time we recorded it I was already in extra time. Also, Roger’s so busy that we just managed to find eight days to squeeze it in. Doing it fast like that, you’re not worrying about any kind of finesse. So much credit belongs to Dave Eringa, the producer, because he turned it from a bash into an album. I can’t praise him highly enough.
Having prepared yourself for the worst, have you come to terms with having a future again?
No. And that is a very difficult thing. When you’re given this diagnosis, it’s just three words: “You’ve got cancer.” And bang! Your life, your consciousness, everything changes forever. You can never feel the same way again because you’re going to die. As it happens, I accepted this and in many ways it was quite a marvellous feeling. You really do find out what it means to be alive, what’s important and what ain’t. We were all sitting in the control room during the mixing and I said, “This is great in here, isn’t it? It really makes me sorry that I’ve got to die, because I’d like to do some more.” Well, be careful what you wish for.
Does that mean there’ll be some new solo work coming soon?
Oh yeah. I’m still gradually coming back down to earth, though I’m not a hundred per cent yet. It’s hard to believe what I’ve been through. I have a huge scar on my stomach and it’s going to be a while before I have the stamina to actually do a gig. But I’m hoping to do something early next year. It might be a couple of one-off things.