Told you part 2 would be up before too long. Here’s part 1 if you fancy catching up.
#5. The Treatment – Running with the Dogs
I already reviewed this album when it came out, so there’s not much to add here. Running with the Dogs is a tougher, heavier album than This Might Hurt with strong hints of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to its sound, something I only actually noticed as I was coming up with this list. Like Toseland you could argue that it’s the same ride you’ve had a thousand times before, but what a ride, right?
#4. Blues Pills – Blues Pills
Another great Nuclear Blast signing (that lot are on a roll right now, aren’t they?), Blues Pills’ sound is, like a lot of the stuff I’ve been listening to recently, very much entrenched in the middle of the last century. The Sixties influence is undeniable and, I would say, so is the songwriting craft on here: these are some marvellous blues-rock songs, matched to some stunning vocals from singer Elin Larsson. If anything, I’d argue this is an even better experience than listening to something taken directly from the Sixties: a blasphemous statement, perhaps, but the production is clean, the performances are punchy and the whole record has a warmth to it that a lot of the albums that likely influenced it couldn’t match (due to technological insufficiency and all the white rabbits the engineers were seeing, I imagine). The guitars are fuzzy, the melodies are cracking, the grooves are lean but punchy… ah, gee, it’s all just so good, y’know? As for favourites I’d probably go with “Black Smoke”, “High Class Woman”, “Jupiter” and their smashing cover of Chubby Checker’s “Gypsy”. Another great debut this year, not to mention a wonderful introduction for anyone to the mid-European/Scandinavian retro-rock scene, which is really on fire at the moment.
#3. Rival Sons – Great Western Valkyrie
I still can’t decide if this is slightly better than, or a little under par from their last album, 2012’s Head Down, but it’s still a great record. They’ve mellowed a bit on this one, putting aside the mystic swagger of that record for a bluesier, more vintage feel, though they’ve kept the groove, the swing and the fuzz guitars around. “Good Luck”, “Secret” and “Open My Eyes” are as good as anything they’ve ever written, but the real sensations of the album are its slow-burners: “Good Things,” an understated but wonderful bit of soul rock; and “Destination on Course,” a ballad that starts off muted and builds into an absolute monster. Cracking stuff. I should also point out “Belle Starr” which is probably the most complex song they’ve ever written, even if I can’t decide whether I actually like it or not. Despite that, though, it’s a highly accomplished record with a plethora of future classics and a stylish progression of their sound that maintains the key blues and rock elements which define it. Now it’ll be interesting to see how they carry this sound forward again.
#2. California Breed – California Breed
I’d been anticipating Hughes’ new band since they recorded their debut album in Nashville last Christmas and, fortunately, the results didn’t disappoint. There’s an acid-laced, psychedelic feel to much of the music here, particularly the buzzing guitars of “Invisible” and “Days They Come”; if Hughes’ previous band, Black Country Communion, took direct influence from Seventies rock music, California Breed goes back a little further to the early Seventies and mid to late Sixties: the glam trot of “Sweet Tea”, the Stones gospel kick of “Midnight Oil”, the Sabbath crawl of “Chemical Rain” and the New York strut of “Spit You Out” all sound as if they’ve been plucked straight from that era. Should it apologise for not being particularly original? No, because at the end of it all these are just some stonking good rock songs, retro or otherwise. Hughes is on ridiculously fine form – that voice! – Bonham’s drumming is as terrific as ever (which makes it such a shame that he’s since left the group to join Sammy Hagar’s band) and newcomer Watt plays his axe like a veteran in the making. It’s tight, it’s loose, it’s fresh, it’s raw and it’s colourful.
If you’re looking to get this for yourself, I highly recommend you shell out for the deluxe edition for another great track, “Solo”. As for Watt, if you’ve got time and a bit of spare cash, check out his 2011 solo EP, The Mulberry Tree. Not quite the same sound as the Breed, but great stuff all the same.
#1. Sixx: A.M. – Modern Vintage
Yep, you’re reading this right: Nikki Sixx’s side-project came up with my favourite album of 2014. I just utterly loved this record from the first listen. For Sixx: A.M., Modern Vintage is a complete musical 180 away from the overwrought, highly-emotional gloom rock of their first two albums as they dive into a landscape of upbeat melodies, infectious hooks and sheer wonderful bombast. The album is like a mirror reflecting all my not-all-that-guilty pleasures: there’s stomping glam-flecked rock (“Gotta Get It Right”, “Let’s Go”), funk (“Miracle”), disco (“Let It Haunt You”), dramatic Goth-rock (“Relief”), some sort of old West-y shuffle (“Get Ya Some”, “Before It’s Over”) and I love it all.
What’s interesting, though, is that it doesn’t completely sacrifice their original sound – the emotive vocals and heavy guitar of This is Gonna Hurt are still here – but the dark skies have cleared and, for once, Sixx: A.M. actually sound like they enjoy being in a band. And there’s another thing: they actually sound like a band instead of a side-project, possibly because this is the first record of theirs to not be a companion piece to one of the bassist’s books, but also possibly because they’ve opened up the writing process to include new sounds and ideas. Sure, they might be pop songs when you dig deep enough, but they’re ruddy brilliant pop songs. Why can’t any of the Top 40 cretins write stuff as bracing and joyous as this?
A couple of other things: I know there have been grumbles about their covering The Cars’ “Drive” but, if I’m honest, I don’t particularly care for the original anyway, so the fact the band have got me to enjoy it through their version says something in my books. Also, Sixx has made it fairly clear that once Mötley Crüe’s final tour is over, his main concern will be Sixx: A.M. That’s how much of an effect this record has had on me: it’s actively made me look forward to the demise of a band I love, just so I can get another Sixx: A.M. record like this.
I should probably bring up some honourable mentions because, at least for me, 2014 was a pretty decent year for new music:
- Vandenberg’s MoonKings – MoonKings: Adrian Vandenberg returned to the music scene this February with a great blues-rock album, very reminiscent of early Eighties Whitesnake (which is interesting, considering that Vandenberg joined the band in the late Eighties when they were at their absolute poodle-permiest).
- Various Artists – Ronnie James Dio – This is Your Life: what’s more surprising than the fact that this tribute album finally dropped this year is just how solid it is. A fitting tribute with some very worthy names.
- Black Stone Cherry – Magic Mountain: a much better album than their last, punching up the riffs and cutting down on the ballads with just a slight polish to keep things modern. Probably my favourite album of theirs since the debut.
- John Garcia – John Garcia: after two decades of band-hopping Garcia finally releases a solo record. Solid, catchy desert rock with elements of all his previous efforts: the stoner sprawl of Kyuss and Slo Burn, the riffy stomp of Unida and Hermano and the dusty crunch of Vista Chino. Good stuff.
- Black State Highway – Black State Highway: the debut album from a new band with a crisp, groovy hard rock sound, some tasty riffs and an excellent vocalist – and at just over half an hour long, a short and thoroughly satisfying listen. Well worth your support.
- Orange Goblin – Back from the Abyss: following on from the success of 2012’s A Eulogy for the Damned comes another great album of pure, red-hot heavy metal, keeping the grooves nice and steady with a faint touch of space rock, hearkening back to 2000’s classic The Big Black.