Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013: Year in Review

While not as massive as last year, 2013 has turned out to be a pretty good year in the world of classic rock and heavy metal. It’s true: we did lose some good people but we also received some good albums and reissues. As I always do, I will split these all into separate categories. I’ll also throw in movies as there’s been a number of them this year (I didn’t include them last year but earlier this year I did see Searching for Sugar Man- great documentary).

New albums
  David Bowie - The Next Day
David Bowie
The Next Day
Rating: ****


            Well this is a first: the first album I get this year turns out to be my favorite of the entire year. I’m not picking this as my favorite just because this is Bowie’s first studio album in ten years. I truly believe this is a great album. Sure, I was bummed to hear “Where Are We Now?” as the first single but overtime, I’ve come to like that song along with many others. Bowie is indeed back, with an album he apparently had been working on since 2010 (which is a surprise given these “TMZ days”). Bowie is in fine form with songs such as the catchy “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, the surprisingly glam “Valentine’s Day”, the Krautrock sounds of “How Does the Grass Grow”, the rocking “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” and the dark “Heat”. While the album cover might not the best cover ever (borrowing from 1977’s Heroes), there really is a great variety of songs. With long time producer Tony Visconti at the helm, The Next Day is a real treat for Bowie fans.

  The Stooges - Ready to Die
The Stooges
Ready to Die
Rating: *** 1/2 or ****

            After their disappointing reunion album The Weirdness in 2007, people didn’t know what to expect from Iggy and the Stooges. Sadly, we did lose Ron Asheton in 2009 and Iggy decided to make one or two French albums. Now with James Williamson taking Asheton’s place, the Stooges have released a new album. The result: a surprisingly solid rocking album. “Burn” is a great rocker while the somewhat comedic “Job” just shows that Iggy’s still got it in him. All of the songs are great and to think this is what the Stooges come out with four decades (!) after the release of the legendary Raw Power is amazing.

 Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose 
Black Star Riders
All Hell Breaks Loose
Rating: ****

            Before recording a new studio album, the reunited Thin Lizzy did the right thing and changed their name. Although guitarist Scott Gorham is the only member of this new band to be in the Phil Lynott-led Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders are a band very much dedicated to the music and spirit of Thin Lizzy. All Hell Breaks Loose is an album that celebrates this. “Bound For Glory” could easily have been a song made by Thin Lizzy back in the day while “Kingdom of the Lost” harkens back to the Irish roots of the band. While sounding like a Thin Lizzy album, Black Star Riders have managed to become their own band. Something tells me that Phil would’ve been proud.

 Black Sabbath - 13 
Black Sabbath
Rating: ****

            It’s hard to believe: Black Sabbath are back. Well to be fair, three of the four original members (Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler) are back together for a new album and tour to support it. Even without original drummer Bill Ward, 13 still manages to deliver the goods. It’s also the first Sabbath album to feature Osbourne on lead vocals since 1978’s Never Say Die. While the songs might not be up there with their influential classics, this doesn’t mean the album is bad. “God Is Dead?” is a wonderful song while songs such as “Loner” and “Dear Father” just go to show that the band can indeed still write good material. While it is weak in the production side from Rick Rubin, 13 is still worth a listen.

  Queensr├┐che - Queensr├┐che
Rating: ****

            After last year’s nasty public feud with original lead singer Geoff Tate, Queensryche have decided to continue on with their new front man Todd LaTorre. The new album, simply titled Queensryche, sees the band going back to their progressive metal sound. While I have not bothered listening to the post Chris DeGarmo albums, this new album sounds something leaning more towards Rage for Order or Operation: Mindcrime. La Torre’s vocals are frightening similar to Tate’s old voice (sorry, Geoff. You’re voice just ain’t the same). “Redemption” is a brilliant lead single while the other songs show the band back in form.

  Anvil - Hope in Hell
Hope In Hell
Rating: *** ½

            Canadian metal band Anvil are back with a new studio album. Hope In Hell, their first since 2011’s Juggernaut of Justice, is another solid album from the band.  The self titled track and several others are all good but unfortunately, the album has its weak spots. The band, who was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary, are still going strong. I guess you have to give these guys some credit.  

  Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Take Me to the Land of Hell
Yoko Ono
Take Me To The Land of Hell
Rating: ****

            Go ahead and laugh all you want: at 80 years old, Yoko Ono’s still got it. While others have made her out to be this villain, I am among a minority who thinks Yoko’s music is relevant. As the follow up to 2009’s Between My Head and the Sky, Take Me To the Land of Hell sees Yoko at it again with an album filled with eclectic tunes. “Chesire Cat” is good psychedelic fun while “Tabetai” sees Yoko dabbling in the music of today.  Even her collaboration with the Beastie Boys “Bad Dancer” is good!

  Paul McCartney - New
Paul McCartney
Rating: ****

            Just one year after the release of Kisses on the Bottom, Paul McCartney has released a brand new studio album. The album, simply titled New, might be McCartney’s first solid release since 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. For this album, McCartney did something different with having four different producers on the album. The title track is a brilliant pop tune and the same can be said for the bouncy “Queenie Eye”. Personal favorites include the fuzz rocker “Save Us”, the whimsical “Alligator” and the ridiculously catchy “I Can Bet”.

Rankings (and please keep in mind- I liked all of the new albums I got this year)
1.      David Bowie- The Next Day
2.      Paul McCartney- New
3.      Black Star Riders- All Hell Breaks Loose
4.      Black Sabbath- 13
5.      The Stooges- Ready to Die
6.      Queensryche- Queensryche
7.      Yoko Ono- Take Me to the Land of Hell
8.      Anvil- Hope in Hell

Reissues/Archival Releases

 Wings - Rockshow
Paul McCartney & Wings
Wings Over America and Rockshow (DVD)

Rating (for both): ****

            In 1976, Paul McCartney were at the peak of their career. They decided to tour the US that year and as a result, a triple live album came out of it. Several years later in 1981, a concert film of that tour was released. Before this reissue, Wings Over America was barely in print while Rockshow had been bootlegged for years on VHS and DVD as it was only released on Betamax and LaserDisc back in the day. Luckily, both are now easy to get as they have now been reissued.

            Wings Over America is an outstanding live album. Sure, the recording and/or mixing isn’t the best but it is indeed an enjoyable album to listen to. Macca really knew how to put on a show back then. As for Rockshow, the remastered picture looks fabulous…for at least the first few numbers. I have to be honest here but from what my eyes can see, the film starts to show some wear a few songs in. Still, you got to give MPL the credit they deserve: the film wasn’t well protected to begin with so this is the best we’re going to get.

  Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
Trout Mask Replica
Rating: **** ½

            Yes you read this right: Trout Mask Replica was reissued on CD this year. Much like last year’s release of the original Bat Chain Puller, this new remaster of Trout was sold only through the Frank Zappa webshop, Barfko Swill. According to Zappa’s people at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen found that the master tape used for the now out-of-print 1990 CD issue had seen some damage. In other words, the original CD version of Trout was not properly remastered. While I can admit the CD sounds fine, I was all for getting this new remaster. The verdict: it’s worth it. Doing side-by-side comparisons to the original, Bob Ludwig’s new remaster of Trout Mask Replica sounds much richer and cleaner than the 1990 CD. The 1990 CD isn’t terrible. If you still have your CD copy and think $27 is too much, I wouldn’t worry too much. If you’re a big Beefheart fan like I am, you’ll want to get this soon.

  Fleetwood Mac - Then Play On
Fleetwood Mac
Then Play On
Rating: ****

            After years and years of waiting, Reprise have finally issued a proper version of Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 lost gem Then Play On. This is an album that has been messed around with for several years, including different tracking lists and editing segues into other songs. The 1990 CD issue is an absolute disaster for diehards of Peter Green’s version of the Mac: the analog to digital transfer had a little too much reverb and did not have the original UK tracking list, which meant the other songs were scattered on other compilations. This is the first time the UK version has seen a CD release. While it may not sound remastered to some people, I can safely say that this is the best version of the album I’ve heard. There are also bonus tracks, including both parts of “Oh, Well”, “The Green Manalishi” and “World in Harmony”.


A Band Called Death
Rating: ****

            The rock documentary renaissance of underground heroes continues with this film about a band that never made until decades after their formation. This proto-punk trio of black brothers were determined that they would make it but they didn’t- reasons varying from their race and to their name. The film gives audiences a biography on the band as well as showing how the band resurfaced in the 2000’s.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
Rating: ****

            This fan-funded documentary gives audiences a great overview of the on the Nashville power pop band Big Star. The movie feels complete, giving us insight and information on all four of the original members of Big Star. It’s impressive as to how much interview footage they had of Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel, given they both passed in 2010. The only negative to this movie is that is feels it runs longer than it should. Still, this is a minor flaw that shouldn’t keep anyone from watching it.

Metallica: Through the Never
Rating: ****

            Were you unhappy with Metallica’s collaboration with the late Lou Reed? This concert movie should make up for it. Filmed during one of Metallica’s reasonably recent concerts, Through The Never not only gives us a brilliant performance from the thrash metal band but also impressive visuals. The film is present in a way similar to Led Zeppelin’s cult classic concert movie, The Song Remains the Same- a movie that combines concert footage with fantasy sequences. While Metallica perform a show, audiences will also follow the surreal journey of Metallica roadie Trip (played by Dane DeHann). The movie is also presented in 3D, which is actually quite impressive. In general, I really don’t care for movies being converted to 3D in recent years. Through the Never is an exception- this is brilliant. I don’t know if home video viewers will be able to get the same experience (though there is a Blu-ray 3D version slated for release- I’m not sure if it will be like seeing it in theaters).

Other (things I heard or have seen this year- but not released this year)

Searching for Sugar Man
Rating: ****

            This documentary won the Oscar for Best Documentary of last year and for good reasons: it’s just really good. Searching For Sugar Man is a documentary that might be harder for people to watch blindly given all the publicity its subject, Sixto Rodriguez, has been getting recently. The documentary tells the story of cult hero Rodriguez, a man who released just two albums before disappearing completely. While his albums did not sell in the US, they had a major impact on the citizens of South Africa. It came to the point where several devoted fans decided to try and find him. While there are some facts missing, Searching for Sugar Man is a movie well worth checking out.

Julian Lennon
Everything Changes
Rating: *** ½

            For years, Julian Lennon has tried to explore other ventures to express himself other than making music. It hasn’t been easy for Lennon: with being the son of John Lennon, the critics were expecting a little too much from him. His latest album, Everything Changes, was actually released in late 2011 but only in the UK. This year, the album was finally released though with an altered tracking list- including two new songs. I listened to the album with the original tracking list. Everything Changes is just a good album from Jules. I only have his debut Valotte on CD (along with a cassette copy of The Secret Value of Daydreaming), which I think is a great album. Everything Changes isn’t too memorable but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable listen.

In Memoriam
Alvin Lee- guitarist and singer of Ten Years After
Peter Banks- guitarist for Yes
Clive Burr- drummer for Iron Maiden
Ray Manzarek – keyboards for the Doors
Trevor Bolder- bassist for Uriah Heep
George Duke- keyboardist for Frank Zappa
Lou Reed- singer/songwriter, member of the Velvet Underground