Monday, December 12, 2011

My top albums of 2011

Ok, here we go. There's been plenty of good stuff out this year, so what makes it to my favourites list? In time honoured fashion, here's the top three in reverse order.

3. Megadeth "Thirte3n"

A magnificent return to form for Dave Mustaine's baby. The usual heavy riffing combined with pointed lyrics which have moved on from the days of death and destruction. Maybe Mustaine's (relatively) newly found Christianity gives him a wider outlook on life with social issues and comments on abuse of democracy now getting good prominance.

At a time when Metallica's standing in rock circles is falling, this stunning set of tracks should have got some tongues wagging when they reunited with their old band mate recently at their 30th Anniversary shows.

All we need now is a UK return for Megadeth. Hard Rock Hell 6?

2. Black Country Communion "2"

No surprise here. I could ditto everything I said about 2010's debut album and add some, as this is no doubt up at another level.

With every classic rock influence in the book (and, yes, cliche), this album can be played time and again. Four outstanding musicians gelling with a great producer, backed up with some high voltage live appearances all makes for a potent cocktail of energetic, classy and thoughtful hard rock.

1. Coldplay "Mylo Xyloto"

Yes, that's right, you haven't misread it - Coldplay get my vote for album of the year (and I get banned from The Steelhouse!

The band that nobody admits to liking superbly span the often wide gap between pop and rock. This is an absolute gem and the band's best work since 2004's "A Rush Of Blood To The Head", which quite frankly it needed to be after the disappointments of albums three and four.

Where to start? Well, in a music world where the indie art rock form longs for a Pink Floyd or a 1990s Radiohead, this more than nicely does the job.

What I like most is, well, everything, from the fact that it's forty minutes long like albums used to be, and so it's not padded out with filler, to the sheer quality of the tracks. "Paradise" plays as background to many a sports montage on TV at present, "Charlie Brown" is excellent and so is "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall".

Vocals, guitar, rhythm, in all elements, it is truly the outstanding record of the year.

Also on the shortlist:

Deep Purple with Orchestra "Live in Montreux 2011", old songs performed magnificently. Girlschool "Hit and Run - Revisited", a NWOBHM classic with modern production. Whitesnake "Forevermore", a real feel of old school buried beneath the surface. The Answer "Revival", a solid third output. Chickenfoot 3, it's their second album, but hey...Michael Schenker "Temple Of Rock", breaking free from the MSG shackle.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Whitesnake, Newport, 07/12/11

And so we come to the final part of a trilogy of Deep Purple family gigs taking place this autumn/winter in the UK with the fourth appearance at the Newport Centre of David Coverdale and his ever changing support cast of Whitesnake (I make it version 16 - keep up at the back). In fact, this was the penultimate show of the 90 date Forevermore 2011 World Tour.

Mr David Coverdale

A sizeable crowd (including many familiar faces) turned up on a cold South Wales night to pay homage to one of the great frontmen of rock over the last 38 years, right from those early days of being plucked from obscurity to front Purple mark 3 which was, back in 1973, the biggest selling (and loudest) band in the world.

Once the excellent Red, White and Blues has fulfilled the support slot, it was time to get down and sing along to some of the signature tunes of 1980s rock: Bad Boys, Give Me All Your Love (youtube), Love Ain't No Stranger, The Deeper The Love (youtube), Is This Love?, Fool For Your Loving (youtube), Here I Go Again, Still Of The Night and a collection of old Purple stuff in Burn/Stormbringer and Soldier Of Fortune.

Here's a song for ya

So what was it like?

First, the positives. Whitesnake have an impressive back catalogue with many tunes which will last for a very long time and, in David Coverdale, there is the very model of a heavy rock frontman: even at 60, in fine shape, eloquent and with hair the envy of men half his age.

His interaction with the crowd is well known, and this made for a real Christmas party atmosphere. His supporting musicians are well crafted, and shine most on the newer material like the new album's title track "Forevermore" and, from the last album, "Can You Hear The Wind Blow?"

So it cannot be said that it was not an enjoyable evening.But...

...even as an ardent Whitesnake fan...

...I have to point out that this incarnation of live Whitesnake is a mere shadow of days gone by.

It just has to be said that DC's voice is a long way from the force it was and, to be brutally honest, varies between a husky growl and screams, with little in between on the 'heavy metal' numbers. The backing group help out enormously on vocals with as many as four of them singing out at some stages. Coverdale ducks out of many sections, leading crowd sing alongs of both a collective and, increasingly, individual nature by passing the mike to audience members.

DC with Doug Aldrich...

My biggest criticism has to be reserved for what I consider to be the amount of time wasted. After an impressive start to the show for around half an hour, the momentum of the gig was completely ruined by an interminable instrumental section: around 10 minutes of twin guitar solos, followed by a mindnumbing drum solo (I lost count after 11 minutes - amazingly some people were still filming it) and an excruciating band introduction section complete with cringeworthy cover versions of Cream , Aerosmith etc.

...and with Reb Beach

Not complete with that we had the appearance of a gift bearing Father Christmas during the classic Fool For Your Loving which, coupled with Coverdale's increasingly scripted innuendos and gestures (he's more like Frankie Howerd every tour), did make me wonder if the long awaited sequel to Spinal Tap was being filmed.

Goodnight from mark 16 Whitesnake

So for all the goodies that a Whitesnake show can bring, this one brought it's fair share of car crash viewing. Far better for those instrumental sections to be removed (it's £40 a ticket y'know), get the bar stools out, and sing some blues / acapello. 1987 it isn't. And I speak for many I think when I say that I want to see a performance not a pantomime.

Will it happen? Dunno, but DC could take a leaf out his old bandmate Glenn Hughes's book and go back to basics, drop the heavy metal frontman image and act like the seasoned and talented pro he is.

If he doesn't, he runs the risk of ridicule and unravelling a great reputation.

Will I go again? Dunno, depends on ticket price, locality and whether the show changes.

We can all hear the sound of the windmill going round. Perhaps it's time the tune was changed before it stops turning altogether.

Whitesnake 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hard Rock Hell 5, Pontins Prestatyn, 01-03/12/11

Oh well, off we went to the 5th annual Hard Rock Hell and, to be honest, I thought it was the most disappointing to date.

With most of the budget blown on the no-show headliner Ace Frehley, who pulled out in the week leading up to the festival, the rest of the bill suffered and so it proved over the weekend with few memorable moments.

Highlights included discovering the excellent Gentlemen of Distorted Sound on Friday afternoon, a fine Wolfsbane set Friday evening, listening in to Dan Baird at midday on the Saturday, an entertaining Saturday afternoon set from Reckless Love (Poison/Motley Crue wannabees), and two fine performances from the Quireboys and Michael Monroe on the Saturday evening.

Let's hope for a better line up next year.