And the next one please.  Steve Jenner is Managing Director and weekday drivetime presenter on Ashbourne Radio in Derbyshire (one of a handful of genuinely independent commercial stations left in the UK).  Steve has been a broadcaster for over 20 years and a DJ for much (much) longer and he knows a good tune when he hears one.  He’s also a bloody good bloke who doesn’t mind getting his round in.  As a man who knows about Phonographic Performance Licensing, he’s helpfully added the label information for each of the albums; and he’s ranked them 1 to 5 which none of the rest of us dared to do.

The Beach Boys – “That’s Why God Made the Radio” (Capitol)Product Details

This is either one of two things. A cynical last go at topping up the retirement fund by a bunch of coffin dodgers who ought to know better, or a hauntingly nostalgic and melancholy – soaked slice of harmony magic. Ok I’ve put it as my number 1 of the year so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but if the title track doesn’t have you referencing back to summers long past and cars long gone to the breaker’s yard, you have no right to have been given ears. From the achingly beautiful opening sequence to the final track’s ode to transience, it is enchanting.

Paul Carrack – “Good Feeling” (Carrack UK)Product Details

This is either one of two things. A perfunctory and never less than professional run through of a handful of songs of varying quality, or a varied, extremely well performed set of well written and well chosen songs performed with love for the material, respect for the intended audience and a sure – footedness and confidence which only comes from year upon year of recording and touring with the very best. Ok I’ve put it as my number 2 album so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but from the second the searingly optimistic title track folds into the live tour de force “Marmalade Moon” to the point when it finally puts you down, you’re travelling alongside one of the best popular musicians this country has produced. And that’s ever. It’s an album that smiles at you – and means it.

Sandi Thom – “Flesh and Blood” (Guardian Angels)Product Details

This is either one of two things. An Americanised watering -- down of a once feisty and original Scottish songwriter and performer and her work, or a compelling and never less than sumptuous piece of work which has moments of incredible tenderness and beauty. Ok, I’ve put it as my number 3 album so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but if you come across a more moving and despairing rendition of a song than the towering “Big Ones Get Away” (Featuring Buffy Saint – Marie on spooky vocal enhancement) or the swaggering Rickenbacker of “Sun Comes Crashing Down”, buy me a copy of whatever it is and I’ll call you a Big Fat Fibber. Gorgeous.

Deacon Blue – “The Hipsters”Product Details

This is either one of two things. A gauche attempt by a bunch of 90’s burnt – outs to recapture the glory days and trying hard but not quite making which is worse than not bothering at all or an out – of – nowhere, died – in – the – wool, very pleasant surprise. Ok, I’ve put it as my number 4 album so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but if there was a better summer FM choon than the title track this year outside of the Beach Boys album I’m afraid it passed me right on by. “The Outsiders” is pretty damn tidy too. As is the first track….oh, just stick the whole thing on. It’s real Deacon Blue. Says so on the tin.

Seal – “Soul 2”Product Details

This is either one of two things. Yet another of those awful rob – a -- genre albums artists who are struggling a bit due to reasons personal or professional insist on releasing (or their record company shamefully leans on them to do so) when they run out of ideas or it is a masterclass in how it should be done by an expert practitioner at the top of his game. Ok, I’ve put it as my number 5 album so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but if you hear a better version of “Wishing On A Star” – and I include Rose Royce in this – or the criminally underplayed  Smokey and the Miracles “Ooh Baby Baby”, (which isn’t quite as good as the original but hey, we’re tickling the toes of the angels here) I’ll refuse to buy you a copy of the new Rod Stewart Christmas Album. You have to be an exceptional talent to carry this sort of thing off. Well done, Mr Seal.

Many thanks to Steve for that great selection.  There’s another selection coming tomorrow; I wonder who that could be?

We’ve heard and read a lot this year about the death of the album as a format.  Well, we’re having none of that at Riot Towers; as far as we’re concerned the album is still alive and kicking (and none of your download nonsense either).  The site contributors have all put together their favourite fives of the year and we’re sharing our choices with you as a little festive thank you.  As the most senior (oldest) contributor, I get to open the batting for the Riot Squad 2012 favourites.  I can’t even attempt to rank these so here we go, in alphabetical order by title.  You can find reviews of all of these albums on the site.

“Devil in Me” – Natalie DuncanProduct Details

This is one of two debut albums in my Top Five for 2012.  Natalie’s a superb singer and a great piano player but the songs are something else.  Some are observational such as the superb “Old Rock” while others appear to be very personal (“Uncomfortable Silence”); what they have in common is that they are all superbly-crafted songs which work equally well when orchestrated on the album or played live with a smaller drums/bass/guitar/piano set-up.  You should really make the effort to see Natalie Duncan live in 2013.

“Good Feeling” – Paul CarrackProduct Details

Paul Carrack has been one of my favourite singers for longer than I care to admit so I approached this with a bit of caution; there’s always a chance that an album like this can disappoint.  I didn’t need to worry because this blend of originals, songwriting collaborations and covers is absolutely superb.  His voice is as stunning as it was 40 years ago and he’s great keyboard player and good guitar player; it’s sickening really.  It’s worth buying for the voice alone, but there’s so much more to admire here, particularly the Nick Lowe song “From Now On” and Springsteen’s “If I Fall Behind”.

“Lilygun” – LilygunProduct Details

Another debut album, this time from a band that defies classification.  I still don’t know whether this is indie, goth, rock, emo or any combination of the above.  What I do know is that it’s melodic, inventive, dynamic and original and the band is great live as well.  My first contact with Lilygun was a review of the single “Moonlight” and I’ve seen quite a lot of the band since.  This is an album where you don’t shuffle the tracks; it’s programmed to tell a story from the first to the final track and that’s how you need to listen to it.  Also featured on the album is the live favourite “Scum”.

“The Hipsters” – Deacon BlueProduct Details

This seemed to come out of nowhere in the autumn of this year.  All of the band members have been doing their own thing for years and the only motivation for this project was love of the music.  Ricky Ross provided the strongest set of songs he’s written in years and they were recorded live in the studio; the result was an album which was fresh, immediate and memorable.  I know you can’t rewrite history, but I wish this had been the second Deacon Blue album rather than the slightly bombastic “When the World Knows your Name” (and I’m not saying that’s a bad album).  The songs here are much more personal; “Is There No Way Back to You?” and “Laura From Memory” are written in the first person and the ironically- titled “The Hipsters” (the best summer song of 2012) is neatly counterbalanced with the more accurate description of “The Outsiders”.  However you look at it, it’s a great album.

“Words and Music” – Saint EtienneProduct Details

This was the soundtrack to my summer this year.  I’ve always loved Saint Etienne but I hadn’t really expected to hear any significant new material from them; This was quite a surprise.  It’s the perfect package; great songs which are nostalgic but never mawkish with enough references to satisfy any pop trainspotter and the best artwork of the year.  From the scene-setting opener “Over the Border”, the album explores the soul of the music obsessive through the great settings of Wiggs and Stanley and Sarah Cracknell’s perfect voice.  As with every other album on this list, there isn’t any filler here but, if I have to pick a few standout tracks then “Tonight”, “Answer Song” and “Popular” should do nicely.

Ok I said Top 5, but I also need to give a mention to Dean Owens who released 2 great albums this year (“New York Hummingbird” and Cash Back”) which were both reviewed as 4-star albums.  Nobody else managed that particular feat.  So, does anyone still want to tell me that the album’s a dead format?

We’ve got some exciting things going on in the near future with some exclusive reviews and releases from some of our favourite artists. Here’s the Riot Towers guide to what’s happening over the next few weeks.

September 10 – Lilygun album release date.  Review here.

September 10 – Amanda Palmer “Theatre is Evil” release date. Review here.

September 10 – David Byrne & St Vincent “Love This Giant”.  Review here.

September 17 – Nelly Furtado “Spirit Indestructible”.  Review coming soon.

September 24 – Dragonette “Body Parts”.  Review coming soon.

September 24 – No Doubt “Push and Shove”.  Review coming soon.

September 24 – Deacon Blue “The Hipsters” album release date.  Review here.

September 24 – Paul Carrack “Good Feeling” album release date.  Review here.

September 30 – Lilygun live upstairs at The Garage.  Review coming soon.

October 8 – Ellie Goulding “Halcyon”.  Review coming soon.

November 2 – Billy Walton Band UK tour starts.

And more pix soon as well.

 

Product DetailsDid you hear the one about the radio presenter, the TV presenter, the actress and the music performance teacher? Or, alternatively, Ricky Ross, Dougie Vipond, Lorraine McIntosh and Jim Prime?  The members of Deacon Blue have taken time out from the day jobs to release a new album, 25 years after their first, “Raintown”, in 1987.  I first heard the band in that year; “When Will You (Make my Telephone Ring)?” was released as a single and I was hooked from the first listen.

The current band are two-thirds of the original line-up; bass player Ewen Vernal is now with Capercaillie (and guested with Love and Money” on their shows last year) and, sadly, guitarist Graeme Kelling died in 2004.  So, apart from the obvious 25th anniversary, why release an album in 2012?  Because they have a bunch of great new songs and they still love playing together, and that’s good enough for me.

If you bought “Raintown” in 1987 and managed to avoid listening to anything by Deacon Blue since then, “The Hipsters” would sound like the logical next step.  The songs are just as strong, probably even stronger, than those on the ground-breaking first album but the overall sound is more immediate and engaging than the very 80s production of “Raintown”.  There’s a reason for that, and I’ll come back to it later.

The album opens with “Here I Am in London Town” which harks back to “Raintown” in that the lead-off song on both albums has a stripped-back production, but there’s more to it than that.  The opening song on “The Hipsters” looks back to the period just before the release of the debut album when all of the members of the band were “waiting for the world to begin again”.  The title track, “The Hipsters” is one of the best singles I’ve heard this year and a great summer song; it’s just a shame that we didn’t have a summer to do it justice.  It’s also ironic because Deacon Blue were never hipsters and no amount of sales would make them hip; but that’s probably why we loved them so much.  Just in case we missed that particular bit of irony, the balance is redressed with “The Outsiders” which is the position they were most always most comfortable with: “this world seemed so much lighter, when we were the outsiders”.

It’s difficult to pick standout tracks from the album because the songs are all superbly crafted and the arrangements work perfectly to bring the songs to life, so all I can do is point you in the direction of some of my personal favourites.  “The Rest” is a feelgood barnstormer which sounds like the E Street Band at full throttle with great piano lines and sus4 guitar chords driving the chorus along, while “It’ll End in Tears” has a really bouncy feel but an ultimately downbeat message.  The final song “Is There No Back to You?” is a gorgeous lovelorn ballad which brings the album to a melancholy but fitting close.

The songs in this collection are the work of a mature and confident songwriter with nothing left to prove and a lifetime’s experience to draw on.  The material on “Raintown” was good by any standards but the relationship songs, apart from “When Will You (Make my Telephone Ring?)”, were always at a slight distance from the subject matter or in the third person.  It felt like you were hearing a snatch of a conversation from the flat next door or catching a glimpse of a scene through a restaurant window.  On “The Hipsters”, the narrative of the relationship songs is in the first person and we’re drawn into the heart of the situations, which gives the songs much more power.

The arrangements all work perfectly to enhance the songs and range from the sheer power of “The Rest” through the ‘60s pop feel of “That’s What We Can Do” to the minimal feel of “Here I Am in London Town” and “Is There No Way Back to You?”.  And it’s just possible that I’m over-interpreting, but is Ricky Ross paying tribute to some of his songwriting heroes here?  The production and/or vocals on three of the songs have a familiar feel; “Here I Am in London Town” is very Neil Young, “The Rest” is pure Springsteen (with a hint towards the end of Big Country) and “Is There No Way Back to You?” has a feel of “Jealous Guy” era John Lennon.  Despite the usual stories of star-crossed lovers (“Turn”, “She’ll Understand”, “Laura from Memory”, It’ll End in Tears” and “Is there No Way Back to You?”) the overall feel of the album is still uplifting because of the relationships in “Stars” and “The Rest” which, against all the odds, end happily, and the sheer exuberance of “The Hipsters” and “The Outsiders”.   This is a great collection of songs, great arrangements, great performances and a great production.

Going back to the immediate and engaging sound of the album; there’s a very good reason for it.  The songs were thoroughly rehearsed before the band went into the studio and recorded them live; that’s quite a brave and unusual move these days and it’s paid off because they’re good enough and confident enough to perform to that level.  Before The Beatles, that’s how everyone recorded and maybe there’s still a place for that immediacy now; it was good enough for Joe Meek.

This album is the best, most moving collection of songs I’ve heard this year and I’ll be listening to it for years to come.  What more can I say?

The single is released on September 23rd, followed by the album on the 24th.