Lucinda Williams, Billy Idol, Benjamin Booker, Orange Goblin and more make it into our Top 30 Albums Of The Year.
30 Lucinda Williams
Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone Highway 20
Her 11th album found Williams forgoing the anguished balladry of her most recent output for literate R&B and downbeat country soul. Compassionate, fierce and wise, it showed that some talents only deepen with age.
Illusory Blues Svart
Crafting the worlds of prog, psych and folk into a dynamic, accessible form, this London band did their bit for the ongoing rehabilitation of progressive rock.
28 Chrissie Hynde
With The Pretenders on hold, Hynde unleashed a solo debut stacked with waspish hooks and ballsy vocals. Aimed at both hips and heart, the album was an antidote to what she saw as an epidemic of overly serious “glory rock”.
The Way 1-2-3-4
The punk-pop pioneers returned to vintage form on their first album in eight years. Pete Shelley provided heartbreak and sarcasm, while Steve Diggle indulged his inner mod to the max. The spirit of ’77 lives on.
26 Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams PAX AM
After three years and one scrapped album, there was palpable relief as Adams made it back from the wilderness. Slicker and harder-rocking than 2011’s Ashes & Fire, this 14th album wiped the tarnish from the alt.country golden boy’s halo.
25 Billy Idol
Kings And Queens Of The Underground BFI
Age cannot wither him: the 59-year-old sneer-on-legs returned with his finest album since the 80s, dragging his pop-punk sound into the future and injecting it with an unrepentant dose of heartfelt nostalgia.
24 Benjamin Booker
Benjamin Booker ATO
Having detonated the club circuit on his debut British tour, the New Orleans bandleader’s first studio album established the 25-year-old as everybody’s favourite Next Big Thing.
23 Syd Arthur
Sound Mirror Harvest
A deal with the reactivated Harvest label allowed the Canterbury band to further channel their musical, and geographical, ancestors. Their progressive acid-folk and psychedelic jazz patchworks were warmly embraced.
22 Leonard Cohen
Popular Problems Columbia
Cohen’s 80th birthday present to himself was the work of an elder statesman whose world‑weary wit and poetic finesse remained as strong as ever. That elemental Old Testament rasp still sounds like a one-man weapon of mass seduction.
21 Kill It Kid
_You Owe Nothing _ Sire
The name suggested a mid-ranking emo band. But this was big, bold, grungey blues, played by four people young enough to have a healthy lack of respect for the form. Charismatic and utterly captivating.
20 Orange Goblin
Back From The Abyss Candlelight
As their 20th year in the harness looms, Orange Goblin continue to embody dogged determination. Crusading metal missionaries to a man, these elder statesmen of the UK underground boast an everyman appeal that’s seen them rise inexorably from a humble toilet circuit genesis to the dizzying heights of 21st-century album chart success.
Back From The Abyss, the quartet’s eighth full-length sonic assault on the senses, peaked at an unprecedented No.98. A comparatively modest commercial success perhaps, but in the current climate, expectations of exactly what rock ‘stardom’ entails have had to be significantly recalibrated.
“We don’t even have a hotel room,” says vocalist and bushy-of-beard, six-foot-five rock leviathan Ben Ward. “We’re all living in the back of a nine-bunk bus. It’s still very humble. We can’t afford a big crew so we’re loading in ourselves, selling the merch ourselves and I tour manage the band. We knew when we took this on as a profession that touring’s hard work. We don’t gripe and complain about it – we just get on with it.”
Back in ’95, when the band formed (initially as Our Haunted Kingdom), Britrock was riding high. Bona fide hit records were still within a band’s grasp – even a band like Orange Goblin.
“When you first join a band, you have aspirations of being on Top Of The Pops and the stardom that comes with it,” says Ward. “But you soon realise, especially in the underground scene we were born out of, that it doesn’t work like that.”
Instead, it’s been their unflinching perseverance that has driven the band forward. Over the past year, the band have all had the opportunity to give up their day jobs (Ward worked for David Gilmour’s management company, though they’ve all done time in jobs that Derek & Clive would have blanched at, from delivering paint to making sandwiches at Wembley Arena). The band’s ascent to fully professional status has altered their modus operandi in not-so-subtle ways.
“There is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with professionalism,” he says. “You have to think: ‘Maybe I won’t have those extra five or six beers before I go on stage tonight.’”
The heart of Orange Goblin’s appeal is the band’s humility. Their audience identify with Ben Ward in the same way that 70s Sabbath fans identified with Ozzy. What he does is neither sophisticated nor pretty, but it’s completely honest. He’s the stage invader who’s never left the stage, the heavy metal everyman.
“We’re still the band you can have a pint with in the bar before, and after, the show,” says Ward. “We’re just regular metal fans who grew up loving rock music. I’m very proud we’ve managed to keep the band going while retaining our dignity, and, forty this year, surely I should know better by now.”
Indeed, 2015 is Orange Goblin’s 20th anniversary – two decades that have been marked by frequent downs among the ups. In 2000, they were primed to tour The Big Black album with Queens Of The Stone Age, only for their label, Music For Nations, to go under. The same thing happened with 2007’s Healing Through Fire (the guilty label this time was Sanctuary). Last year, guitarist Joe Hoare had to fly home two-thirds of the way through a tour after snapping his Achilles tendon.
“Even on this tour we’ve been pulled over by the police three times. I guess it comes with the territory when you’re dirty, scruffy rockers with long hair and a beaten-up old van… An English number plate in a foreign land, you’re a prime target.”
And then there’s all the preposterous old nonsense they’ve had thrust upon them in the name of promotion. They’ve stripped for tattoo magazine photo shoots and posed with grass turf on their heads in Germany. To my shame, I once forced them to race around a dirt track in Docklands on miniature motorcycles. All was going well until their drummer broke his finger.
“Sometimes, when you’re doing that sort of stuff, you think, ‘God, this is as cheesy as hell,’ but with a name like Orange Goblin, you can’t expect to be taken too seriously.”
As The League Of Gentlemen’s Les McQueen might well have put it: ‘It’s a shit business.’ So has there ever been a time when Ward has been tempted to simply pack it all in?
“There’s definitely times when you’re missing your wife and children and you think: ‘What am I doing here, stuck in a dirty old venue in Dresden, in the middle of winter?’” he says. “But you get through it. You have to consider yourself lucky that you’re doing something you love and getting paid for it. If we ever did stop doing Orange Goblin, there’d be a massive hole in our lives.”