It's that time of the year where we spend hours - nay, days! - debating, arguing and occasionally descending into fisticuffs as we decide on the beast records released this year. And now, as we wipe the sweat from our brows and the blood from our noses, here they are: the 50 Greatest Albums Of 2014.
50 California Breed
California Breed** ** Frontiers
Glenn Hughes put the wreckage of Black Country Communion behind him with his new trio’s debut. Hotshot guitarist Andrew Watt is a real find, but it’s really all about that unassailable voice.
Bringing back the crunch of their 2004 debut, the Manchester veterans’ fifth album heralded an attitude-heavy, chop-hewn new dawn in their prog-rockin’ canon.
48 Ming City Rockers
Ming City Rockers Mad Monkey
Named after their home town of Immingham, Ming City Rockers came on like the The Stooges’ babies, their debut album dealing a hand of punky, bluesy rock’n’roll with a healthy balance of brattish fight.
47 Uriah Heep
Heep’s late-career hot streak continued with this, their 24th studio album. Like a musical blood transfusion, Outsider gave things a shot in the arm while retaining their original strengths. Long may they continue.
46 Work Of Art
Sweden’s claim as the home of modern AOR was put beyond doubt by the Stockholm trio’s immaculately crafted third album. Lush, lavish and sleeker than a vintage Ford Capri, this was trend-proof, in the best way possible.
45 Walter Trout
The Blues Came Callin’ Provogue
Recorded ahead of a life-saving liver transplant, it saw bluesman Trout dig deep lyrically and musically for what might still turn out to be his final album. The result was graphic, heartfelt and ultimately moving.
His seventh – seventh! – album in two years showed no slacking off. This was shining, all‑pistons-firing pop‑rock, its heavy grooves offsetting the 90s bounce.
43 Urban Voodoo Machine
Love, Drink And Death Gypsy Hotel
Think The Pogues meet the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Think Brecht, Bad Seeds and Bon Scott, Waits, Weill and Wilco J. The UVM’s cocktail of country, blues, punk and vaudeville never sounded so good.
42 Flying Colors
Second Nature Music Theories/Mascot
Easing into proggier territory, these refugees from Dream Theater, Deep Purple and Spock’s Beard sounded far more complex and cohesive on this second album.
Escape From The Shadow Garden SPV/Steamhammer
Magnum are such a part of the furniture these days that their charms are overlooked. But their seventeenth album proved that Tony Clarkin is the unsung master of melodic rock.
Commune Sub Pop
These enigmatic Swedes were the most elusive band of the year, mixing fuzz guitar, frenetic Afro-beat jolts and Funkadelic weirdness. Dizzying, brilliant and other-worldly.
Something Supernatural Nuclear Blast
With their sassy yet ferocious debut album, US underground peacocks Crobot showed that stoner-rock funk and sci-fi imagery make fantastic bedfellows.
38 The Black Keys
Turn Blue Nonesuch
The Keys laboured for almost three years over this “headphone record”. Turn Blue might not have offered the same hooks as 2011’s El Camino, but it still got under your skin.
37 John Mellencamp
Plain Spoken Republic
More grizzled than ever, Mellencamp scrutinised the human condition on this sparse, world-weary set, articulating baby boomer ennui in the language of Steinbeck and Faulkner.
Once More Round The Sun Reprise
Atlanta’s finest tiptoed further towards the mainstream with their sixth album, without ever losing their inbuilt weirdness. They’re still setting metal’s bar impossibly high.
35 The War On Drugs
Lost In The Dream Secretly Canadian
On his band’s third album, mainman Adam Granduciel married his gift for atmospherics to a newfound songcraft. The results sounded like Pink Floyd reinterpreting Neil Young.
34 David Crosby
Croz Blue Castle
Twenty-one years after his last solo album, Laurel Canyon’s melodic master produced a sepia-hued return to form, working from the fold-out couch in his son’s studio. Now 73, he still brimmed with insurgent energy.
33 Electric Wizard
Time To Die Spinefarm
Re-emerging from the primal ooze, Electric Wizard’s molten doom-jams gave them serious momentum in 2014. Other bands do dark and slow, but no one does it quite like this.
32 Blues Pills
Blues Pills Nuclear Blast
The Swedish/US band’s dynamic debut served up burning blues rock with a psychedelic twist. Keenly etched songs and Joplin-esque vocalist Elin Larsson completed the package.
Tearing Down The Walls Earmusic
Five years ago, Erik Grönwall was basking in the thrill of winning Swedish Idol. The then-21-year-old had triumphed in front of his home country’s equivalent of Simon Cowell with renditions of Skid Row’s 18 And Life, Europe’s The Final Countdown and Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills. What Grönwall hadn’t banked on was the Swedish media’s sudden obsession with him.
“I had stalkers and there were people outside my front door,” he says today with a grimace. “It wasn’t safe to put anything in my bins.”
But there were deeper problems than just the side effects of instant celebrity. The novelty of winning a TV talent show was all well and good, but for an ambitious young singer like Grönwall, it was no substitute for credibility.
“I hated that people only knew me from a television show, and I wanted to write my own songs,” he says. “That’s why I joined H.e.a.t.”
It was fortuitous timing for both parties. H.e.a.t had formed in 2007 in Upplands Väsby, the same Stockholm suburb that produced their spiritual forefathers Europe nearly 30 years before. Their two albums, 2008’s H.e.a.t and 2010’s Freedom Rock, were promising slices of youthful melodic rock of the kind that Scandinavians do so well. Like Grönwald, they too had dallied with mainstream pop culture, unsuccessfully attempting to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest. More pressingly, H.e.a.t had just lost their original singer.
Initially it seemed like an incongruous match – Grönwall recalls performing his UK debut with the band, sporting “short blond hair, looking like an utter faggot”. Coiffeur aside, the singer slotted into the band perfectly. Their third album, 2012’s Address The Nation, toughened up their sound, while Grönwall’s livewire presence helped turn H.e.a.t into a must-see live proposition, as anyone who witnessed them making mincemeat of the rest of the bill at the final Firefest earlier this year can vouch.
“That’s one of our strengths,” says Grönwall, who now sports a semi-Mohawk. “We’ve lots of energy and there’s lots that we want to achieve. Some of those older guys feel like they already have their career, but we want to play bigger and bigger venues. For us it’s a different kind of hunger.”
That hunger is in evidence on this year’s Tearing Down The Walls. Jettisoning the last vestiges of their AOR past, it’s a tough, streetwise record. When the long-overdue resurgence in melodic rock finally hits, H.e.a.t are likely to be leading the charge. And is arena-sized success something they crave?
“Absolutely,” he fires back. “But I should probably be careful what I wish for.”