The Celebration of Mediocrity

For some reason, Coldplay are seen as national treasures. They dominate the airwaves; and the festival bills. You can’t escape them. They are everywhere music is, they even played the whole of a ceremony for a major international sporting event.

It baffles me. Besides a few good, catchy singles, they are awful. Their album songs start nowhere, go nowhere and finish nowhere. The composition is usually terrible and the music can border on painful to listen to.

Despite that, I kept thinking the next album would be better and from their second up to Mylo Xyloto bought every single one. They sit amongst my CD’s like blood stains on a white wall. We all have albums we are embarrassed to own and for us (as Emma shares my view), it’s Coldplay.

Parachutes:

Coldplayparachutesalbumcover

Emma owns Parachutes, and to be fair it’s not a dreadful debut album. It’s also remarkably average. There’s no doubt that Yellow and Trouble are good songs, but this only reinforces the Coldplay stereotype rather than redeems the album. The rest of the album is instantly forgettable.

Rating: 4/10

A Rush of Blood to the Head:

A_Rush_of_Blood_to_the_Head

I’ve listened to Coldplay’s second album more than most, however I never really truly got into it. Again, the singles are good songs – Clocks, The Scientist, In My Place, and the rest of the album falls flat. You see now why I’m grouping the reviews together? Every Coldplay album merges into the last in one stream of unforgettable tripe for 90% of the time held up by 10% of decent-ness. Daylight and A Whisper are two god-awful tracks.

Rating: 3/10

X&Y:

440px-Coldplay_X&Y.svg

The most disappointing of Coldplay albums. And yet, it somehow manages to explain Coldplay perfectly. The best singles can be found amongst X&Y; including the much maligned Fix You. The terrible album tracks are also there: What If, Swallowed In The Sea, however amongst it all is a gem. Til Kingdom Come is, hands down, the best track Coldplay have never released. And yet, in true Coldplay fashion – it can only appear as a hidden track. For that, X&Y gets marked down.

Rating: 2.5/10

Viva la Vida:

Viva_la_Vida_or_Death_and_All_His_Friends

My favourite Coldplay album. Of the 10 songs found within it, 5 were released as singles – meaning half the songs are listenable! Even the album tracks are decent, with 42 an attempt by Coldplay to step outside of their comfort zone and write something without a chorus. It worked, and I appreciate that. The first Coldplay album I bought, and the only one I vaguely like.

Rating: 5/10

Mylo Xyloto:

Myloxyloto

I’d argue MX is the worst of all of the Coldplay albums I own. Convinced to buy it after hearing Paradise, it only contains three decent songs. Out of 14, that just isn’t enough. I really tried to listen to it and love it, however was never able to. The album when I finally gave up trying to like Coldplay.

Rating: 2/10

As for the rest… we heard Magic and decided not to bother with Coldplay’s attempt following MX. Magic was an awful song, with none of the usual tricks, which draw unfortunate listeners into their singles. I haven’t heard anything from their latest album, and nor do I want to. My Coldplay phase is over, and thankfully at that.

In hindsight, it would be much more advisable to buy a Coldplay greatest hits album, or in this day and age just download their hits. I never thought I’d suggest downloads, however Coldplay’s infuriating inconsistency merits it.

Coldplay have made a career violating modern society’s desire for one or two tracks rather than an album. I’d almost admire that, if younger me hadn’t wasted so much money buying their worthless attempts at making music.

My main problem with Coldplay can be summed up: they have no soul; they possess no character. They are only in music to make money.

Advertisements

The most unlikely of album releases

nodevotion

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t really know how to write this, how long it’s going to be or how much of it will make sense. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it without sounding too naïve, childish, young. It’s difficult because I’m not sure how I feel about it myself and as has been pointed out to me, I didn’t go through it so can’t have that strong emotions regarding it. I can’t imagine how the direct participants in it felt. I can’t begin to imagine the lows they felt, the feeling that their world had been taken from underneath them and turned upside down, that their dreams had been cancelled, that all their hard work over many years was all for nothing. I can’t imagine being huge names in music one day, then being nobodies the next.

Maybe the best place to start would be with the facts. There was a band, hailing from Pontypridd in Wales (funnily enough, the same town as Tom Jones) who called themselves Lostprophets. They were an alternative metal band, heavier and darker than most stuff I liked but, in my experience, not heavy or dark enough to be considered a band that anyone above the age of 15 should like. Not something I agree with, but a view held by many. Anyway, enough of that, they released 5 successful albums and were creating a legacy for themselves in music and Wales. It all ended when, on the 19th December 2012, their lead singer, Ian Watkins, was arrested for child sex offences.

I had been a Lostprophets fan for quite a while, ever since A Town Called Hypocrisy – so all the way through 3 albums, and I had bought their previous 2 as well. At the time, and indeed for quite a while afterwards, they were my second most played band on last.fm. I had their poster on my wall back home. It was fair to say that they were one of my favourite bands. On the 8th November, so about a month before the allegations emerged, I saw them live at Manchester Apollo and quite frankly, I was blown away by how good they were. It had reignited my love for them. They only played 6 more gigs as a band.

For most people, Lp weren’t a 6-piece band – they were a one man one. If anyone could name any of them it would, even before Dec 2012, have been Ian Watkins. The other 5 were fairly anonymous, living in the shadow of a front man who was very good at being one. Very few people would know who Lee Gaze, Stuart Richardson, Mike Lewis, Jamie Oliver and Luke Johnson are, let alone recognise them in a promotional picture. It was immensely unfair on all of them, who all had more talent than Watkins had anyway. If there is one thing I remember from the gig I went to, it was being seriously impressed by guitarist Gaze’s skill.

Most people wouldn’t know that they were on the verge of splitting up anyway, that Watkins had become impossible to work with and at least one member, Gaze, has confirmed that he found the music they were making inappropriate for 30-odd year olds. Gaze and Richardson refuse to listen to the music they made together, in fact Richardson has smashed their platinum disc received for Liberation Transmission. All of the members have children; all of them would have felt the betrayal and deception as parents let alone band-mates, even friends. All of them refuse to be seen as victims, they all say the real victims are the families involved with the actual abuse and they are spot on there.

For almost a year we heard nothing, before they confirmed that Lostprophets were officially over as a band (it didn’t really come as a shock!). I follow them all on twitter as they apparently went their separate ways. Gaze focused on his love for coffee, Oliver decided to print some of his paintings (interesting side note: Jamie only came into the band because they couldn’t afford to take an extra member on tour in their early days yet wanted a photographer so he learnt the turntables) and Lewis became the manager of some smaller bands in America. Then, in April 2014, rumours began to grow that the band were back in the studio.

0005309254_10

No Devotion, made up of Lostprophets’ 5 members as well as former Thursday lead singer Geoff Rickly, debuted their first single on the 1st July. It was nothing like the Lp members had done before, being more mainstream rock and less like it was made for teenagers. There was a sigh of relief amongst the fan base, who had been through hell for almost two years, here we were finally re-embracing 5 musicians who had done nothing wrong except choose their friends badly yet were being tainted by association. It was yesterday, quite a while after Stay’s release, that their debut album, Permanence, was released.

Here’s the thing. Technically, I’m going to class this as a review yet I’m not going to review a single track. The reason? I will never judge Permanence on whether I find the music good or not, it’s worth more than that. It’s the album that I, the whole of the fan base, the whole of the music industry, never thought would be made. I can’t listen to Lostprophets now, every now and then I try again but find it too difficult, but at least I have some music, more than that a record, which I can listen to made by the good guys of Lp, the men worth being so in love with Lostprophets in my teenage years.

If No Devotion release nothing else in their career, at least the five of them (Johnson has since left) will always have their contributions to this record. It won’t be as commercially successful as the stuff they did before but it was unquestionably mean infinitely more to them personally. They sunk to the bottom but kept their heads up and managed to rise again. There is no question that Ian Watkins is a horrible human being that deserves to rot in jail. He tainted all of their names; he made the music they had made for years worthless. He ruined many lives, not just these 5 men but all the families who he abused. While I hope they have turned their lives around, this record proves that the members of No Devotion have.

Reliving Records: Muse’s The Resistance

Theresistance

Muse’s fifth studio album, The Resistance, is 6 years old today. Widely regarded by Muse fans as part one of the two-part black sheep of their album collection, in my opinion it is grossly underestimated and harshly treated. I don’t think it’s Muse’s best work however it’s far from being their worst. This album spawned a top 10 single, saw Muse break away from their comfort zone and has been classified 2xPlatinium in this country.

Personally, this was the first Muse album I bought on the day it was released. I came late to the Muse hype, finding them after hearing Supermassive Black Hole a few weeks after it was released (although, as it turns out, I had already heard Time Is Running Out – I just didn’t know it was them) and thus The Resistance was the first album they released with me as a fan. After college, I rushed into town to buy the deluxe edition, containing the making of DVD. I spent the whole night listening to it.

I used to tweet a lot. A hell of a lot, and unfortunately for me there is an app, which sends me daily reminders of how embarrassing they were. Timehop scours your social networks and tells you what you posted on this day 1,2,3,4,5,6 etc years ago. It is worth downloading for free if you want a laugh. It turns out that 6 years ago, I wrote a very embarrassing track-by-track review of The Resistance, based on my first listens. The question is, how have my opinions changed in 6 years?

One thing I noticed from re-reading the reviews was how overwhelmingly positive I was about the album. Every track got an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10, which does seem a bit ridiculous, but is arguably how I feel about every Muse album as soon as I get it. In fact, there’s a more general point there – I imagine I feel more strongly about every album I buy in the weeks after I’ve bought it than 6 years later. So, I started this review thinking the scores would be considerably lower, and they probably will be, however listening to The Resistance again has reminded me just how much I love it.

The main thing I love about Muse is how they don’t take themselves too seriously; a lot of what they do is tongue-in-cheek or too overblown to be genuine. They write about environmental destruction, nuclear war, space invaders or drone warfare and aren’t afraid to make grand assertions. They do it without being serious and on The Resistance; this was in evidence in spades. Right from the Queen references in United States of Eurasia, the song about psychological manipulation conducted by the CIA, the French opera inspired number up until the finish with a 3-part symphony.

Having said I love that, it’s also good when Muse strip down. The highlights of most of their albums end up being the ballads, songs that you don’t associate with them which end up being stadium-filling cracker jacks of songs. The Resistance has one of my favourites of the lot, which is an unbelievably unpopular opinion in the eyes of most Muse fans.

The Resistance isn’t perfect though; it has more than a few flaws. The ending of the album is a lot weaker than the start for one, and for another the production is too overdone. The beauty of the early Muse albums is you can undoubtedly hear Matt breathing throughout pages, making the music more like a live experience than most albums. This is still evident on The Resistance however it has been toned down – which is no surprise really given that by this point they were already the biggest band in Britain.

Overall, The Resistance is a good album. It was the start of Muse’s experimental period, although the majority of songs are played on their bog standard instruments – thereby making it a transitional album and it works well in that regard. The usual Muse elements are there, high difficulty of songs, many influences of sounds, combined with newer directions and a higher quality of song writing than usual. It was, in my opinion, the album that cemented their place at the top of the hierarchy of British rock music.

Let’s go through this track-by-track, with the help of my reviews from 6 years ago. They are unbelievably embarrassing – so I’m not quite sure why I am plastering them on the Internet again! Unfortunately, my reviewing skills haven’t got much better and still rely on horrendously overused descriptive words.

The_Resistance_CD_DVD_back_cover

Uprising:

What I said then: Really good pop song to start with. My mum asked to listen to it yesterday, even asked for it to be the new Doctor Who theme tune! Nuff Said 😀 (8/10)

What I say now: The thing about my mum was important because she never asks to listen to Muse! That aside, I wasn’t wrong about it being a really good song to start with. Based around the Doctor Who theme tune, set to the backdrop of a revolution, here is a song to chant to, to rock to and to belt out. Catchy and meaningful, this is Muse at the peak of their powers.

Rating: 9/10

Resistance:

What I said then: Omg. Love it. So Catchy. Been singing it all day 🙂 (8)

What I say now: Ok, here is my first grievance with The Resistance. Yes, it’s catchy (and yes, I was an annoying 16 year old) but it’s been overplayed by Muse, is a bit too long and I only really listen to it when I feel in the mood to. Probably the Muse song I’ve skipped the most. However, it’s still better than what most bands make and that pre-chorus is wonderful.

Rating: 6/10

Undisclosed Desires:

What I said then: Love the RnB opening and a perfect show of how amazing Muse actually are 😀 (8)

What I say now: I don’t get the hate for UD. It’s a valiant attempt at a genre where Muse aren’t comfortable yet it manages to fit in with the rest of their back catalogue. There are still times, 6 years later, where nothing fits the mood like UD. It’s no SMBH, MotP, KoC, SD or CE (¹) but it’s a good song in it’s own right. The beat is catchy and the chorus has sing-a-long potential.

Rating: 8/10

United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage):

What I said then: Muse doing something that sounded like Queen the first time and now just sounds truly amazing. 3rd favourite song. (9)

What I say now: A Queen inspired, Chopin imitating blast of a number. The falsetto part was really where Matt channelled Freddie Mercury and did it in a way that led Brian May to praise it. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I dare you to listen to this song and not chant “Eura-sia! Sia! Sia! Sia!” As a song, it just works, and the altered Chopin piano piece at the end rounds of a beautiful piece. One of my favourite live songs, although admittedly, I have seen it enough now and would like to hear other piano songs like Ruled By Secrecy or Space Dementia.

Rating: 9/10

Guiding Light:

What I said then: So beautiful. The beautiful songs on the albums (Unintended, Citizen Erased (nb, presumably 16 year old me meant the quiet bits!), Blackout and Invincible) are matched amazingly by this. 2nd favourite song (9)

What I say now: All right, time to don my tin hat and get ready for abuse. Guiding Light has become not only my favourite song from The Resistance but one of my favourite songs of all time. And, truth be told, I think only Matt Bellamy agrees with me on that. The hate it received when they played it at the Etihad stadium was disappointing, and I was the only one around who was happy! I think it’s beautiful, I think it’s powerful and I think it’s a hidden gem in amongst all the riffs, chants and falsettos this album is now famous for.

Rating: 10/10

Unnatural Selection:

What I said then: The riff at the end sums Muse up. Unpredictable and amazing (8)

What I say now: Not really that unpredictable a riff, but still a monster of one that was designed for stadiums. The perfect closing song on their arena tour, it could realistically fit anywhere within the set list around the time it was written. But now, I don’t know – I certainly am in no hurry to see it live again. Don’t get me wrong, I love shouting “I WANT THE TRUTH”, it’s just that Muse have so many better songs in their arsenal and it now gets lost a bit.

Rating: 5/10

MK Ultra:

What I said then: I cannot wait to see this live. Actually can’t. My favourite song from this album. Potential to be my favourite song ever. (10)

What I say now: Well I never got to see it live, and it isn’t my favourite song of all time but it is still one of the highlights here. Hey, the 7th song on Muse albums are usually great (Unintended, Micro Cuts, Assassin, Animals) and this is no exception. Different to what Muse usually do, a bit quicker, a bit syncopated in the breakdown and hence why it was difficult to play live. It reached perfection with the line “we are losing control”. Well worth a listen, especially if you haven’t heard it before.

Rating: 9/10

I Belong To You (+Mon Cœur S’ouvre à Ta Voix):

What I said then: Probably everyone will think this is the weak link of the album. I disagree. This sounds like 70’s pop with Matt’s voice. And the French. Wowwww. What more could you want in life? Well MK Ultra maybe… (8)

What I say now: Where to start with that two tweet review? Firstly, it is almost certainly the weak point of the album. Secondly, the French isn’t that great (although the clarinet solo afterwards definitely is) and thirdly, you can want a lot more in life! Hey, it’s a good effort at something different and certainly isn’t a poor song – it has many redeeming qualities (being upbeat and slightly more listenable than the heavy stuff for one) but it was remixed and used in a Twilight movie. As my 16-year-old self would say, nuff said.

Rating: 5/10

Exogenesis Symphony:

What I said then: The perfect end to an almost perfect album. No other band would dare to right (nb, presumably I meant write) this as no other band could pull this off. Had my doubts about this at first but no more. It is simply outstanding. (9)

What I say now: Apart from the dreadful mix-up of homophones in the middle, I can’t disagree with anything I said. Exogenesis is really where Muse separate themselves from modern rock bands. Not afraid to drop classical influences into their music, they wrote a whole 3-piece symphony. Split into 3 parts on the album, they fit seamlessly as one and, as they’ve proved at live gigs, work when apart as well.

Rating: 8/10

Average rating: 7.5/10 (Excellent)

United_States_of_Eurasia,_Score_in_Milan...

Overall, I think it’s clear that you overrate (or underrate) albums when they first come out. First listens always bring strong emotions, which lessen out over time (essentially, that’s why hits aren’t always classics and why some albums are growers). Overall, The Resistance has stayed remarkably consistent in my mind. I still rate the same songs I did then, I still listen to all. I think I recognise that it isn’t Muse’s best work in terms of the music, however it has a special place in my heart thanks to the fact I rushed out to buy it (the first in it’s kind in that regard for Muse albums).

I know that what I like and dislike from this album is widely seen as controversial in the Muse fan-base, for example UD and GL will never be favourites whereas I believe US and Resistance are liked. However, isn’t that what makes music worthwhile? That we can all hear the same notes, chords and arrangements yet form different favourites in our minds. Some songs just resonate with us, and others with other people and that’s why music continues to flourish.

Happy Birthday The Resistance, you underappreciated gem.

 

¹ Key:

  •  SMBH = Supermassive Black Hole
  • MotP = Map of The Problematique
  • KoC = Knights of Cydonia
  • CE = Citizen Erased
  • SD = Space Dementia

Reliving Records: Editors’ An End Has A Start

Editors-An-End-Has-a-Start

One of my favourite parts of doing album shopping is the times you walk into a shop, see a band you’ve vaguely heard of and purchase one of their albums without knowing how good or not it is. No matter how good or bad an album is, buying it is never a waste of money, so even if you don’t like it it’s just something you did once that you wouldn’t again but it’ll still be part of your collection. If the album turns out to be fantastic, well then it can be one of your most treasured possessions. Our music taste has the ability to expand and diversify, and if we just bought albums by our favourite bands then we would be denying it the opportunity to do so. Indeed, sometimes the albums I buy on whims become ones by my favourite bands.

I have bought loads of these albums but my favourite one has to be the time I walked away from HMV with Editor’s second album An End Has A Start. I first heard Editors on the radio, and heard bits and bobs from them over the next couple of years – on Fifa street for example. I was a huge fan of Munich and Blood but admittedly didn’t realise they were by the same band until I borrowed their debut album from my Dad. I listened to The Back Room a little bit, but back then I didn’t really listen to album tracks (oh dear, oh dear – album tracks really are the highlights of albums) so I didn’t get a proper feel of the record. Still, I heard Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors on the radio and loved it, so when I saw An End Has A Start as I walked into HMV that day I made a gut decision to get it.

Released in 2007, An End Has A Start is still Editors’ finest work (please don’t ever call them “The Editors” – there is no the before it), combining their catchy riffs with their huge choruses, even better bridges and the sombre themes that stand them apart from other bands. The album received almost worldwide praise, has been classified platinum in UK and gold in Ireland and Belgium. In fact, one of the few criticisms I found of it criticised it for being too serious – well, quite frankly there’s nothing wrong with that and there are a lot of positive themes running alongside the serious ones. An End Has A Start has always been one of my favourite albums of all time, and that’s not a feeling that is decreasing with time – in fact, I may love it more now than I ever have in the past.

What makes it so good? Sometimes Editors’ lyrics don’t make much sense but on AEHAS they almost all hit a chord and resonate inside me. The reason for this is the emotion that is apparent on almost every song. There are love songs and there are songs about helping people who are down. The range of emotion and compassion shown on this album is beyond what most modern musicians are capable of. Furthermore, Tom Smith’s vocals are at their peak here – his brooding deep voice fits the themes perfectly and has always been the closest pop voice to one I can sing along with! Chris Urbanowicz has since left, however was a big part of early Editors with his guitar work and nowhere showcases it better than their second album, songs like Bones, The Racing Rats and Escape The Nest wouldn’t work without it.

am991397_lb02

The way I’m going to do this review is by taking you through each track, not by order of the album but by order of my favourites – from least to most.

  1. Spiders

If I have one criticism of the album then it’s that it doesn’t end as well as it starts. Spiders doesn’t really go anywhere, held together by Ed Lay’s rhythmic drumming and Tom’s voice but has little else of note. One of the songs where the lyrics make little sense or have no purpose to them. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not terrible, it just isn’t what the rest of the album is.

Rating: 4/10

  1. Well Worn Hand

The closing song, it’s better than Spiders on account of the final two lines. A simple song, combing Tom’s voice with his piano playing and Chris’ guitar – it works as a closer but fails to match the heights of the songs before it. Worth listening to though for the emotion at the end as Tom belts “I’m so sorry for the things that they’ve done, I’m so sorry about what we’ve all become”. I get goose bumps from that bit every time I hear it.

Rating: 5/10

  1. Push Your Head Towards The Air

Push Your Head is a powerful song and it’s testament to how good this album is that it only features at 8th on my list. NME described it as one of the songs to download; while I see better songs on the record it certainly isn’t a bad shout. Raising to a crescendo, the song talks about how someone should remain positive at all times for there will be someone there for you (“don’t drown in your tears babe, I will always be there). The raise sends shivers down my spine but unfortunately the song doesn’t kick on and therefore doesn’t get placed higher.

Rating: 6/10

  1. When Anger Shows

Once again, a song with a sombre mood running throughout, it seems to tell the story of a person seeking hope from someone else as they realise that life can fail. It’s a song about relying on someone, putting your faith and trust into your loved ones. It takes a turn towards the end, saying “How can you know what things are worth if your hands won’t move to do a days work?” which I admit I don’t understand how it fits in with the song however it sounds great so we can ignore that.

Rating: 7/10

  1. Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors

Controversial, I know, to put probably Editors’ most famous song only as my 6th favourite of the album but that really isn’t testament to how much I love this album, even so many years later. It’s the song, which made Editors huge, changing their sound by making it bigger, complete with choir and pounding bass, and guitar, Russell Leetch and Chris working in tandem wonderfully well. “We’ve all been changed from what we were, our broken hearts smashed on the floor” produces such noise when being sung along at all their gigs – it’s a song which has all the qualities of the best. It also introduces the positivity amongst seeming negativity – “can someone turn us around, can we start this again?”. A message of despair, yes, but also one of possible hope.

Rating: 8/10

  1. The Weight Of The World

We’ve all suffered down periods in our lives; times when no one and nothing can help improve our mood. Constant periods of worrying, of despair; resulting in a lack of desire to do anything or see anyone. I’m no exception, especially throughout a difficult high school time. While it’s unbelievably cheesy to say music saved me, sometimes it’s difficult not to listen to a song and feel connected to it. The Weight Of The World kept me going, it’s as simple as that. The core message “every little piece of your life will add up to one, every piece of your life, well it means something to someone” is one that needs to be repeated again and again. You don’t know who is struggling with various demons, and you might be yourself but this song and the truth is that every part of you will be loved by someone. As Tom sings, “there are tears in my eyes, love replaces fear”. Positivity will always arise from negativity.

Rating: 9/10

  1. An End Has A Start

Upbeat, catchy and simple. An End Has A Start, the title track, has everything that makes Editors wonderful, both live and in the studio. The chorus is impossible not to belt out “You came on your own, that’s how you’ll leave, with hope in your hand and air to breathe”. A recurring theme on this album is the bridges following the second choruses and AEHAS has one of the better ones before Tom sings the chorus with only the two guitars to accompany him and then the band kick in ending with a flurry of energy. Tom sounds great, the track sounds great.

Rating: 9/10

  1. Bones

My favourite love song of modern times, mainly because it isn’t obviously a love song. It’s a realistic one. “In the end, all you can hope for is the love you’ve felt to equal the pain you’ve gone through” and “I’d forgive you every single time” are examples of this. Searching for love in real life is difficult, full of complications and human mistakes. Most people don’t account for that, Editors did. But, in the end, they also produced possibly the sweetest lines they’ve ever written: “Are your eyes showing off for mine? Your face in my hands is everything that I need” and “Bones, starved of flesh surround your aching heart, full of love”. Already powerful, Chris’ guitar makes it perfect and one of Editors’ finest ever pieces of music.

Rating: 10/10

  1. Escape The Nest

The epitome of everything that is great about this album. Everything I talked about in that paragraph above, a serious theme, Tom’s voice, Chris’ guitar and raw emotion are all apparent in Escape The Nest. “Look up, through the trees to feel as small as you can. You hear the clocks counting down, the nights are longer now than ever before but now you see the lights from the town”. Ok, so when you listen to it ignore the bits about ants – the music more than makes up for those lyrics. The chorus, the bit I’ve referenced above is sung with such passion and power that ETN has always been a song I can listen to over and over again. The first 2 choruses are amazing, the third reaches perfection. Tom sings without the aid of drums, pauses after “the lights of the” building up suspense before bringing the outro in as he sings “town”. That, is one of my favourite moments from all the songs I own.

Rating: 10/10

  1. The Racing Rats

If Bones was Editors’ finest work and ETN contained one of my favourite parts in music, then how can anything match, let alone beat, those? The Racing Rats does it. The theme is apparently a plane crash, albeit a metaphorical one rather than a literal one – with the plane references used to reference problems in personal lives leaving a person desolate and desperate. It poses the question “if a plane were to fall from the sky, how big a hole would it leave in the surface of the earth” which can be both literal and representative. The bridge is, once again, incredibly powerful and the guitar reaches its peak. It’s always been my favourite Editors song and that shows no signs of wavering. Along with The Weight Of The World, it was when Editors made an emotional impact on me.

Rating: 10/10

Average Rating: 8/10 (Excellent)

414909

It’s been 8 years since An End Has A Start was released, and in that time Editors have progressed from a 4 piece to a 5 piece, integrating 2 new members. They’re about to release their 3rd album since then and have evolved if not necessarily improved. They are still a wonderful band, indeed their last album is my second favourite by them, yet it would be very difficult to match what an album AEHAS is. It’ll never be considered a classic album, but does that matter to me? No, because it is one of my favourites and will always be an album which helped me, inspired me and properly introduced me to one of my favourite bands.

We all own albums we love, we all own ones we don’t. Part of the risk of trying to discover new music is the possibility that it won’t be something we enjoy yet that risk is nullified by the prospect that it could be something we absolutely adore years later. If my experiences, especially with An End Has A Start, tell me anything it’s that you should never be afraid to buy an album on a whim – you never know, it might just turn out to be something wonderful.

Hitting the nail on the head: Duke Special’s Look Out Machines!

IMG_0491

At Christmas, Emma bought herself and I tickets to see Duke Special play at Nottingham’s Glee Club on the 12th March. It was a seated acoustic night with Peter Wilson (ie Duke Special) sat at the piano playing songs and talking with the audience. It showcased what a wonderfully talented, as well as genuinely lovely, man he is and was an evening you couldn’t help but enjoy. It was the 6th or 7th time I had seen him live, and one of the reasons I could quite easily see him another 6 or 7 times is because of how different every gig is. I’ve seen him with an orchestra of 7, or one of 3, I’ve seen him by himself and I’ve seen him headline festivals. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting him twice in one night. He’s truly mesmerising live, and his piano skills are better than most in pop music these days.

Me on the left with Duke Special in the centre (and my friend Zoe on the right)

Me on the left with Duke Special in the centre (and my friend Zoe on the right)

The reason for his gig at the Glee club was the release of a new album, Look Out Machines!. As expected, the evening contained many new songs as well as old ones and covers. Duke is an artist who covers a lot of songs, whilst always putting his own spin on them. My favourite is his version of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, although he didn’t play it! There were 8 new songs played, 5 covers and 4 old ones from what I (and setlist.fm) remember, although there might have been more. I was going to review it, like I’ve been doing with all of our other gigs but I wanted to wait to hear the new songs properly and be able to talk about them with confidence before doing it. Following the release of the album on the 6th April, I just never got around to it.

So here goes: Duke was enthralling that night. From the moment he walked on and started playing a new song, Elephant Graveyard, you could tell the audience were going to love the night. He explained the motives behind each of his new songs in detail, wanting us to get a feel for why he wrote the song and not just hear the music. At one stage he asked the audience to request songs from his back catalogue, which led to welcome renditions of Portrait, Brixton Leaves and Wanda. All of his old songs were taken from his first album (except Wanda, from Hector Mann) and all his new ones were played on the piano with no accompanying instruments, except Elephant and Son of the Left Hand, leading me to believe that his new album would be similar to his first, undoubtedly his best. It was impossible not to walk away satisfied that night. We had seen a truly talented musician, playing music he believed in and covered songs he loved. There was no pretence, no falseness – he was glad to be able to play to an audience where most knew and loved him without assuming it was always going to happen. Unknown artists are always the best to see live because it’s when music is at it’s purest. Music wouldn’t evolve without artists like Duke Special.

Duke is incredible live, go see him!

Duke is incredible live, go see him!

I was wrong in my initial assumption regarding the album. Rather than an album based mainly around Duke and the piano, which was what I had expected following the gig, a lot of the songs have his band playing with him. That aspect is similar to his second and third studio albums, however works much better than either of them did. He hasn’t written a bad album, it’s just this one is much better than anything since Songs From The Deep Forest, his debut attempt. Why is it more advanced? For me, it’s as simple as saying the songs are better and he’s clearly experimented in adding some different styles into his songs. For example, the rise in mood of Wingman following the second chorus was never something I expected to hear on a Duke Special record. One thing that remains constant throughout is his voice, at it’s best haunting and always beautiful, the strong Northern Irish tones add so much. Even in his voice, his staple, he finds room to experiment with his vocal range – something that, having seen the songs live, definitely works.

I’ve seen Duke Special headline Greenbelt festival; a collection of Christian artists and it’s no secret that Duke is a religious man. This isn’t really a surprise, given his Belfast upbringing however as he mentioned at the Glee Club, there is a level of indifference growing highlight in In a Dive’s “Jesus and his blood don’t mean so much anymore … don’t get me wrong it isn’t that I don’t believe”. In a Dive is written about how he’s being turned away by Belfast’s reputation as the Bible Belt of Europe but also how he finds beautiful and profound qualities in the most unlikely of places. Step To The Magical, the song before, draws on that latter theme and is written about a woman walking through busy streets, helping strangers and leaving the world a better place. Duke joined forces with former Snow Patrol guitarist, Iain Archer to write Elephant Graveyard, about the myth that elephants know where to go when they are going to die, how they all flock to a holy or mystical place to die. As usual, religion plays a huge part. Rounding off this section would be Son of the Left Hand, written about how being left-handed was seen as being a curse for many years.

That isn’t to say the whole album is based around religious themes, and they aren’t so obvious as to suffocate you. There is no preaching to Jesus here, as usual Duke deals with his religion in a non-pushy and approachable way. In many ways, he’s what all religious people should be – inspired by it but not forcing it down others throats. There are songs about how certain people can always get through to you, even if you don’t want to hear it, songs about never being alone and Statues is a love song, simple as. He meant every song to be positive and full-of-hope, well for me he succeeded. You can feel the hope, the optimism and the belief of future success in every song, which means the album becomes very listenable and easy to get lost in.

IMG_0493

I’m finding it very difficult to criticise it. There isn’t a weak song; there isn’t a duff note. Son of the Left Hand was my favourite song immediately upon hearing it, and that hasn’t changed. Step to the Magical has been stuck in my head many times in the two months I’ve owned the album while Wingman might just be the best song he’s written in years. Nail on the Head, In a Dive and Statues all show Duke doing what he does best. The first half of the album is the best of all his previous efforts. The only reason I still rate Songs From higher is because the second half doesn’t contain Salvation Tambourine and Last Night I Nearly Died. Look Out Machines, Stepping Stones and Domino are good songs in their own right, not quite matching the heights of those previous but still demanding listens.

The more I listen to Look Out Machines!, the more I fall in love with it. To describe it as a grower would be unfair though, as it immediately grabbed my attention. It’s an album that has come at the right time. The messages of hope resound within me, the easy music makes it difficult to listen to something else and Duke’s voice keeps you captivated. It contains enough of his quirks (unfortunately no gramophone that I noticed), highlighted on Tweed Coats as the background sounds are simply him walking around Eastbourne. It contains incredibly catchy elements (pre-chorus for Nail “I rattled the walls as I ran through the halls, screamed every word that I knew”) and moments where you can feel how much emotion he’s put into this album. But none of that is what makes it so special. It could be a dreadful album and still be special for it was completely fan funded. Gigging is how Duke makes his living and it’d be easy to look at the established artists and say musicians have it easy but for people like him, albums can only be produced through the generosity of fans, essentially strangers. Obviously they chose that career path, however like I’ve said music won’t evolve without artists like Duke Special and it’s up to us make sure they don’t die out. Buy Look Out Machines!, I assure you that you won’t regret it.

IMG_0492

Rating:

  1. Wingman – 9/10
  2. Elephant Graveyard – 7/10
  3. Step to the Magical – 8/10
  4. In a Dive – 8/10
  5. Statues – 7/10
  6. Son of the Left Hand – 10/10
  7. Look Out Machines – 6/10
  8. Nail on the Head – 8/10
  9. Tweed Coats – 6/10
  10. Stepping Stones – 6/10
  11. Domino – 6/10

Album rating: 7.5/10 (Excellent)

Note: I took most of the information about the writing of the album from here, it’s a review worth reading as it’s from the Horses’ mouse, the Duke himself. 

Drones: The natural progression in Muse’s remarkable career

MuseDronesCover

Drones is Muse’s 7th album, which is an impressive return for a trio of men from Teignmouth, Devon. Over 20 years and 6 albums they’ve conquered rock music, headlining stadiums on a remarkably regular basis. It’s credit to their success that an album containing the destruction of the world, the crumbling of civilisation, a JFK speech and a capella singing isn’t considered too over the top. Drones takes everything which Muse do best, draws on influences from their favourite bands (Queen, RATM etc) as well as from their own previous efforts and combines it all to produce a monster of a rock album.

How do I begin to explain the madness that is Drones? Well, it’s a fully blown concept album, which brings tons of challenges. Concept albums, albums based around one single story or/and character, have been dying since the hay-day of Prog Rock. Nowadays, very few bands attempt it and if they do they fail to develop the concept, base it more around similar ideas rather than a traditional story. Muse are brave to attempt it, although it feels like the natural next step in their career given that they’ve played around with prog-rock before (Knights of Cydonia) and albums based around the same idea (all except Showbiz and arguably Origin of Symmetry).

The idea for Drones is fairly simple if not traditional, a man loses love, gets turned into a killer by the army before rebelling and revolting. The story throughout the album is pretty clear (to me anyway, I’ve seen people who say it isn’t), until we reach The Globalist. Apparently, this is where the second story comes in – involving our protagonist and another character, the shady controller of the drones, who ends up destroying the world. Of course, this is Muse – it’s completely overblown and apocalyptic. It just wouldn’t be right otherwise!

Drones draws on a number of different influences without sounding recycled. What’s more, these come from various parts of musical history and different genres. The final two tracks cover both Elgar and Palestrina while Reapers borrows from Rage Against The Machine, Defector from Queen and a few of them sound a little like U2 sounded like back when they were good. Every band take influences from other bands to mould their own sound, Muse respect the history of music and use it to their advantage. Very few bands are willing to add lyrics to early 20th century classical music or change the lyrics to Renaissance pieces, it’s not stupid either – it gives classical music a footing in the modern scene.

I’ve come up with a timeline to explain how I see the Muse albums fitting into a vague story: Showbiz was the start of their journey, both literally and in my timeline, with usual modern day frustrations and a much bigger focus on love rather than globalisation. Origin of Symmetry doesn’t really fit, however its themes are more expansive than Showbiz and start to look towards some form of apocalypse. The 2nd Law saw the world collapse under weight of corruption and pollution, and Muse seemingly ended it with a few people rebelling against the powers that be (see the videos for Isolated System and Unsustainable used in their stadium gigs), which leads us nicely onto The Resistance. Drones fits in next, with the government fighting back and turning people against each other. Drones ends with the world being destroyed, which is exactly where Absolution starts and Black Holes (especially Starlight) deals with the remainder of humanity leaving Earth behind and searching out new lives in the stars. Drones fits in perfectly with the overall Muse plot arch.

All the songs got their own artwork

All the songs got their own artwork

No album is perfect and Drones is no exception. The main gripe I have with Drones lies in the lyrics. Matt Bellamy has never been fantastic at writing lyrics, being at a particular low point with Muse’s 7th album. I get that it’s hard to fit lyrics around a theme however they should be better than what they are. They get close to ruining certain parts of the album (your belly is all yellow, your ass belongs to me etc) and indeed make sure that Drones won’t be remembered as Muse’s best piece of work. Oh, and that bloody Drill Sergeant, that’s just embarrassing.

Then again, the quality of music is much better than anything since BHAR. They’ve reintegrated guitar riffs and the album flows more consistently from one song to the next. It’s an album which is made to listen song after song, but that doesn’t mean that listening to one song at a time isn’t enjoyable. It’s a concept album but each song stands on it’s own and begs for listening time. The concept is dealt with well (besides the lyrics) and at the end of the day, I can forgive them for the lyrics because at least they aren’t singing about sex or drugs like everyone else seems to be at the moment. Matt’s vocals are also better on this record than any of the previous 6; he’s hauntingly chilling at times.

Maybe the best way to do this review would be to consider each song individually and provide a ranking out of 10:

Dead Inside:
Story: Protagonist falls out of love and loses hope

There’s no better word to describe Dead Inside than “grower”. The first time I heard it I knew it was good, yet I was a tad underwhelmed given what Muse had promised us. The next day I couldn’t stop listening to it. The first half is ok, but the second half might well be the best 2 minutes in Muse’s catalogue. The first example of Matt’s mesmerising voice, it won’t be the last. A good choice for a first single and sets the story up nicely.

Ranking: 8/10

[Drill Sergeant] and Psycho:
Story: Protagonist becomes controlled by the “Army”, becomes the drone

On the 10th November 1999, Muse, to the best of our knowledge, introduced the world to Psycho. Following Agitated, they played a riff, which would take 16 years to be turned into a song. The riff has been played at many gigs in the time between then and now, and for Muse fans the use of it on the album was a real homage back to their early days. I love the riff, I don’t love Psycho. Lyrically, and musically, for me this is the album’s low point. If it were a minute shorter without the drill sergeant and with a better chorus then it would be an incredible song. Shame really, but it fits in with the story and the use of the riff is brilliant plus apparently it’s incredible live.

Rating: 5/10 (would be 6 without DS)

Mercy:
Story: Fighting against the control being placed on them

I really quite enjoy listening to Mercy. It has a chorus you can belt out and is a nice hark back to Black Holes and Revelations / Absolution. The verse is similar to Starlight, the chorus to Stockholm Syndrome and the melody is more positive than the first two songs. A good choice for second single, it’s probably the closest to a mainstream pop-rock song and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Rating: 7/10

Reapers:
Story: He’s now killing people in a war-like scenario

The best song Muse have written since Map of the Problematique. Complete with some insane guitar work is a wonderful chorus and lyrics that fit with the song. The solo is unusually improvised for Muse and the ending riff is based on Freedom by RATM, a perfect fit for the song. It just immediately sounds like a Muse song and has been stuck in my head ever since I heard it. Sums Muse up for despite how heavy it is, Matt’s voice can still sound beautiful.

Rating: 10/10

The Handler:
Story: Starting to rebel against the forces that control him

The first of three songs that took me completely by surprise when I first heard them for I never anticipated Muse to be this dark. As the title suggests, it revolves around the protagonist’s handler and the hero realising that he no longer wants to be controlled. Let me go, let me be. I’m escaping from your grip; you will never own me again. The album has started to turn.

Rating: 9/10

[JFK] and Defector:
Story: Isn’t this obvious? He’s defecting 

The JFK introduction works really well here, and is a clip of a speech he made in April 1961. It’s about conspiracy and intimidation and so the message is exactly what Muse are trying to convey in Drones. Musically, Defector is a good song although slightly let down by the verses. The Queen like chorus (free, yeah I’m free from society) is catchy however the lyrics in the verses leave a lot to be desired which I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced by. Ending the song with JFK saying “with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent” gets a big thumbs up from me.

Rating: 8/10

Revolt:
Story: It appears there is now a revolution against the handlers

The second song that surprised me, for this is strangely poppy for Muse. It’s already getting a bad rep from Muse fans however I don’t buy any of it. A positive message is being reinforced by some of the better lyrics (you can make this world what you want) and the melody is insanely catchy. Not genius, but a good attempt at doing something a little different.

Rating: 6/10

Aftermath:
Story: He’s re-finding love; finally clean of all he’s done

I think Muse are at their best when performing ballads, as it provides an opportunity for them to show true emotion. Of course, fans who just want head banging music won’t understand the finer intricacies in songs such as Explorers and Ruled By Secrecy however they are beautiful and Aftermath slots alongside them quite nicely. I was pleasantly surprised to hear this on Drones, as I expected them to leave the rock ballads alone this album. We’ve gone against the tide, all we have is each other now, I’m coming home now, I need your comfort. It seems as though this will have the happy ending we all want.

Rating: 9/10

The Globalist:
Story: The second part, as the dictator destroys the world

It was never going to be that simple! Muse have their roots firmly set in prog-rock and this 10 minute piece showcases how prog rock can survive in the modern era. Split into three parts, it starts with guitar and whistling similar to a western film before “going nuclear” with a heavy instrumental middle section. It ends with Matt covering Elgar on the piano. They’ve described it as Citizen Erased part II, it’s more similar to Exogenesis but stands on it’s own two feet and doesn’t deserve comparisons to other songs. Yet again, the lyrics leave a lot to be desired at times.

Rating: 8/10

Drones:
Story: Everyone appears to be dead, so this is merely an ode to the dead

Ah, the a capella Renaissance piece, a re-working of Palestrina’s scores. It’s a very bold ending to an album, one that a lot of people won’t understand however it’s the one time where you have to consider the overall picture. This album was meant to be a concept and that needs an ending, it’s very likely that with nuclear destruction any remaining humans or fragments of humanity would look to religion as a way to understand suffering. As a result, the singing works. Not usually my type of music however I adore what they’ve done with it and respect the audacity to branch away from the norm.

Rating: 6/10

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 (Excellent)

Drones is a very good attempt at a concept album and, if they get their way, will probably be turned into a musical one day. That would be nothing less than it deserves. Harking back to Muse’s rock roots, it’s an album that doesn’t abandon the experimentation on the last couple of outings, just merely shrinks it and increases the core instruments. As with all their good stuff, at times you can’t help but be amazed at how only three people are making such a sound. All are unbelievably talented at all they do and for me, this is the first album since Origin to really highlight that. I was dead excited for this album and it hasn’t let me down.

The deluxe version was very well presented with the CD, DVD of live songs, Vinyl and two art prints

The deluxe version was very well presented with the CD, DVD of live songs, Vinyl and two art prints

If you haven’t heard a Muse album before (then where have you been since 2005?!) I wouldn’t recommend starting with Drones. You’d probably be confused as to why it was so overblown and seemingly illogical. Muse have always been like that, Muse will always be like that but on Drones the absurdness is turned up to max. Quite frankly, I like the fact they make such huge music. If they did things softly or subtlety it wouldn’t be anywhere near as enjoyable to listen to. Even their ballads such as Explorers and Aftermath mention leaving the world behind or crumbling states. It’s understandable why they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but for me there is no band or artist in music I feel anywhere near as much connection with or love for. Drones doesn’t hinder that, it increases it.

Hold My Home isn’t a modern masterpiece but is a very enjoyable listen

AlbumCover_1500_RGB

Hold My Home, the 5th album by Cold War Kids

 

In 2006, Cold War Kids burst onto the scene with their debut album Robbers & Cowards receiving worldwide praise for the blend of indie and blues-rock seamlessly knitted together. Since then, they’ve been on a musical journey through many different styles without achieving much mainstream success. They’ve certainly now gone down a more pop-driven route, and a few people have said they’ve sold their soul to the masses or become another generated band. I disagree with all that for I find that their music has soul, passion and heart in every song, which I find incredibly easy to listen to. As a result, they’ve become one of my favourite bands. I’ve been criticised for being too positive in this blog in the past, I apologise for that’s going to happen again. Cold War Kids have just released their 5th album and I am very fond of it.

This album seems to have taken ages to arrive. Following Dear Miss Lonelyhearts in 2013, the band returned to the studio and recorded songs for a new record. These songs started to appear in July 2014, with the release of first single All This Could Be Yours. A release date for the album was pencilled in, October 21st 2014. Due to my love for the band, I pre-ordered the signed version almost immediately and received downloads of All This as well as another new song, First. For some reason, the album was delayed in Europe and didn’t end up being released until March 8th 2015. The release date went ahead as planned in America and Australia, so the only possible reason I can think of for the delay in Europe was a record label problem. By the time the album arrived, I had received a download of a third song, Hot Coals. Despite the problems with the release of the album, the songs were of an incredibly high standard.

This album sums up everything that has made Cold War Kids great and so listenable. It takes some of the blues influences, fuses it with the catchy pop appeal they’ve developed and combines perfectly with Nathan Willett’s marvellous soul voice. That isn’t to say that Willett holds the band together though, as some people would have you believe. It’s my belief that Dann Gallucci has now put his stamp on the band, improving the guitar sections and gaining the right chemistry with Matt Maust, their talented bassist. The two new musicians, drummer Joe Plummer and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Schwartz have allowed the band to add more layers and styles to their back catalogue. The result is quite spectacular.

However, it isn’t perfect. Hotel Anywhere, the fifth song on the record, is a song that doesn’t really go, excuse the pun, anywhere at all. Even Willett’s voice seems to fade a little bit, it’s possible they were trying to focus on the instruments but for me, it just doesn’t work. In Nights & Weekends, he croons about Black Friday, which doesn’t seem to be a proper CWK subject matter to sing about. It’s too obvious what the song is about, and then the chorus seems to leave the subject matter far behind, which improves it but not enough. Neither are bad songs, they just aren’t up to the usual CWK high standard. As a final negative, the album’s title track, Hold My Home, doesn’t remain in my head for as long as the others and some of the lyrics seem to be forced rather than inspired.

1966150_10152540244478962_7246345922421756710_o

It would be harsh of me to allow you to judge the album based on those songs. I find the other 8 to be wonderful in various ways. All This Could Be Yours is catchy and remained in my head for days after first hearing it, whilst Hot Coals provides the improvement in guitar pieces I’ve mentioned before. First has a chorus worth belting out, as Go Quietly (which btw would fit perfectly on Mine Is Yours – no bad thing!) provides the best of Willett’s vocal talents. For me, the two highlights are two almost quintessential Cold War Kids songs, despite only appearing on this album. Drive Desperate, with a guitar solo and a catchy bridge at the end becomes almost impossible to stop listening to. Flower Drum Song, appearing towards the end of the record, is about CWK as a song can get, featuring a sing-along chorus and a giant burst of energy. Throughout the album, Maust/Schwartz, especially on Drive Desperate where, for a refreshing change, the most memorable vocals are provided by the backing singers, suitably support the outstanding vocal range of Willett. Another improvement on past albums is the ending. DMLH ended with the title song and Bitter Poem, both good but improved upon by HMH’s ending of Harold Bloom and Hear My Baby Call, which I would describe as the growers of the album. Not spectacular at first, but I’ve found myself listening to them more and more as time passes.

Cold War Kids will never be a chart band and neither will they ever be hugely popular in this country. In fact, Hold My Home hasn’t even charted here. Is that a bad thing? No, it isn’t. I don’t buy the argument that they are stagnating; in fact I believe they are improving. They aren’t a perfect band, too many of their songs are middle of the road to be considered that, however they produce many great moments in songs that inspire and excite in equal measure. The albums are good but they are at their best when playing live gigs, as they can implement all their energy and desire to produce music into an hour and a half of unforgettable fun. This collection of songs will only bring better shows and a stronger set list. It’s been a month since this album was released in the UK and there hasn’t been a day I haven’t listened to it, hardly forgettable, as some would have you believe. It has individuality that separates it from their other outings whilst being certainly theirs.

The music industry is flooded with bands and artists who do the same thing every time, copy other artists and refuse to evolve yet when a band comes along who breaks that trend they are criticised for it. Cold War Kids aren’t in music for money, they are in it for enjoyment and as a result their albums are immensely easy to listen to and love. As the title suggests, all this had led me to believe that this album is not a modern masterpiece but one that I will listen to over and over again, for it is enjoyable and catchy.

Rating:

  • All This Could Be Yours – 7/10
  • First – 7/10
  • Hot Coals – 8/10
  • Drive Desperate – 10/10
  • Hotel Anywhere – 3/10
  • Go Quietly – 8/10
  • Nights & Weekends – 4/10
  • Hold My Home – 4/10
  • Flower Drum Song – 9/10
  • Harold Bloom – 6/10
  • Hear My Baby Call – 6/10

Album Rating: 6.5/10 (Very Good)

 

2015-04-14 16.13.05

What makes an album great?

The greatest thing about music is how every single person’s taste differs. People reading this will love bands I hate and vice versa, and there is no question that that is how it should be. If everyone liked the same music, all the artists would sound the same and it would lose the heart and soul that makes it special. In these blogs I will never question an individual’s music taste – I despise people who do. So, with that being said, it makes the answer to the title very difficult indeed as it all comes down to personal choice. My favourite albums include Californication and Origin of Symmetry, which were both very successful but weren’t met with universal praise nor did either reach #1 in their native charts. There’s no individual recipe for success however I believe there are certain aspects that, if followed, can make an album particularly special.

Maybe the first point to consider when looking at this is that albums are becoming less and less important. In 2014 so far, the #1 singles are being dominated by pop acts such as Pharrell while the #1 albums are a more mixed bunch with the usual pop acts being joined by Bombay Bicycle Club, Kaiser Chiefs and Elbow. I can think of two reasons for this, with the first being that the more successful artists in the download (shudders) era are the ones who sell the most singles rather than albums. Therefore, musicians such as Katy Perry, Rihanna and Rita Ora aim to get multiple number one singles and maybe a week at number one in the album charts as a result of the sheer load of singles. For example, Rita Ora’s first album was top of the charts for a week yet had 2 number one singles while Kaiser Chief’s Education, Education, Education & War spent 2 weeks at number 1 without spawning a top ten single.

The other aspect of this chart disparity will be because artists are in the music industry either to sell singles or sell gig tickets. Bands such as Muse and Bombay are never going to have multiple #1 singles but are known for being good live and, as a result, make good albums so they have a lot of songs to play. As there are two different types of acts, there are two different types of albums. Those that with one listen the listener can pick the good songs from the bad ones and those that all songs seem to be at a similar level of quality, good or bad. Both kinds can produce great albums, although you are more likely to enjoy the latter.

So what makes a great album? For me it boils down to three things: the second single, album tracks and putting the songs in the right order. Obviously, the first single is important as it introduces people to the sound of the album, is most likely to generate chart interest and therefore entice new fans. The first single needs to appeal to old fans and to bring in new ones, which is no mean feat, but it is the second one that is more important for me. First of all, the lead single is chosen as the most industry-friendly song, while the second is usually the one which the artists prefer. The second single gives you an insight into two things. How the artists themselves view their record and how good an LP it is overall. I find that on a lot of occasions the second single is actually better than the first, such as Starlight, Biblical and Paradise.

I usually wait until the second single to buy an album, unless they are one of my favourite bands. Once I’ve listened to the songs I know, I don’t just ignore the album. Which brings me nicely onto album tracks. Those songs that artists don’t release, which casual fans ignore but hard cores adore. I’m a big fan of album tracks, they separate the talented musicians from the industry generated hit makers. The one band I have in my collection that walks the line between those two is Coldplay. There’s no question they have released great singles in the past, with usually one or two per album but then the albums themselves (with the exception of Viva La Vida) are incredibly poor. The best albums are the ones where all of the songs are of a similar good quality, where picking singles is a difficult task, such as American Idiot or So Long, See You Tomorrow. Even if the album has 5 or 6 standout tracks (such as Californication), it can be one of my favourites as long as the others aren’t poor.

Obviously you usually expect the singles to be better than the album tracks. However, there are some albums where the album tracks are so bad they are nothing more than fillers. For me, there is a stark contrast between simply not being the quality of singles and being a filler. By fillers, I mean songs of little quality used so the album isn’t simply a collection of singles and these are usually more apparent on pop artist’s albums, although not limited to. Most albums are a collection of singles, good album tracks and fillers (Employment by Kaiser Chiefs: I Predict A Riot, Saturday Night and Team Mate) although I think it can be agreed that the best album have fewer fillers than good album tracks. It goes without saying that the best albums are those with no tracks you class as a filler; with Absolution springing to my mind as an example. The beauty of combining a live band with good album tracks is that these, while present on the album tour, become rarities on later tours. Fillers are rarely played so the best albums can be judged by which album tracks get played 5 or 6 years after the release. For an act designed to release singles, the set will invariably just be a collection of hits so set lists are a good judge of which albums the artists prefer.

The third aspect I mentioned was the order of the songs. While not as important as the two above, it is advantageous to avoid the album sounding disjointed and carelessly put together. For an example, I’d describe Franz Ferdinand as well put together. Starting slowly, Jacqueline kicks in and the energy doesn’t stop. The songs flow and so if you listen to it in the order that it’s been made you don’t ever question the song choice. You can tell an album is organised well if you can’t stop listening to it in order, especially on a device which shuffles songs. One possible stumbling block is if an artist tries numerous different styles on the one album and interchanges them. On the rare occasion this could work, but usually it just sounds like they have drawn lots for songs. To combine styles and make it work, look at Repent Replenish Repeat by Dan le sac vs Scrioobius Pip. That record starts off with a dub step vibe, before transforming smoothly into a more mainstream, less heavy electronic sound.

With hindsight, perhaps an easier article to write would have been about what makes a bad album. At least we could all agree there that some mediocre singles, dreadful album tracks which are mainly fillers and a disjointed feel to the album would make the worst album ever. In truth, even if the first and second singles are good, the album tracks are decent and the order is fine the album might not get the recognition it deserves. There is no definitive guide to making a great album; I’ve just explored some ideas that popped into my head when thinking about my personal favourites. You, as a reader, will like different stuff to me. Maybe you prefer the Coldplay approach, with one or two incredible songs and 10 decent to boring ones or maybe you don’t buy albums at all.

If you don’t then may I be so bold as to suggest that you do? You learn a lot more from a physical album than you do from downloaded singles. You get to hold a piece of that artist in your hand and listen to it over and over again. Albums and music are timeless, a reflection of how the artist felt at the time of writing whether it be about love, politics or whatever. Cherish them, even the ones you don’t like, as time and effort were put into every single LP you buy. Never be ashamed to like a band or album based upon public perception and try new styles as not to limit yourself to the same genre. Once you have done that, you can decide for yourself what you like best from albums. Obviously I’d recommend you start with any album I’ve mentioned here but your taste may vary from that.