A little later than usual, but just squeezing in before the end of 2012, my albums of the year across three categories.
"Classic Rock" Album of the Year - The Who Live At Hull 1970
As part of a generation that's grown up with live albums recorded at the Budokan, Madison Square Gardens, or even Hammersmith Odeon, a live recording in Hull does still make me smile with irony. But be absolutely clear, this is as live and as down and dirty as it gets with The Who, and for that reason it's a musical gem.
Live At Leeds (recorded 14 February 1970) is well known and for many is seen as the first live heavy metal album (don't agree? Well, what do you call screeching vocals, played over intense riffs, powerhouse bassing and thunderous drums?) But gathering dust for years has been the live show recorded at the City Hall in Hull, February 15, 1970.
The story goes that some of Entwistle's bass lines were lost on the original recording and so could 'never' be used, but, now, with those missing lines dubbed in from Leeds, we have as fine an example of The Who in 1970 as you could find.
It's a very interesting time in the band's history and I think perfectly captures them at the transition between 60s modfathers and 70s stadium rockers. Still small enough to play these type of venues but moving into the kind of improvised powerhouse arena rock that defines their live show to this day.
The 2 CD set is clearly demarked. Disc 1 is the 60s set of pop rock: I Can't Explain, Substitute, Happy Jack, I'm A Boy and obligatory set closer My Generation (the prototype punk anthem way ahead of its time). Disc 2 is the live Tommy and shows the direction into which Townsend was leading the band until the drift into addiction took hold.
All the hallmarks of The Who are here: Townsend's riffs, Daltrey's all round magnificence as the singing frontman, Enwistle booming on bass, and of course the finest "lead drummer" that ever drew breath (albeit occasionally), Keith Moon, the greatest sticksman surely?
Summary - Spellbinding
"Mainstream Pop/ Rock" Album of the Year - Coldplay Live 2012
Ok, so this is the point at which all of Coldplay's detracters groan and switch off. Of course, no one admits to liking them or owning any of their CDs or ever going to see them live. That's a step too far for cool people...
There always seems to be a band like this in every decade. Genesis carried the can for a while as did Dire Straits (and personal 1980s favourites Marillion), and yet what they all have in common is that they shift records by the bucket full and fill football stadiums and festival venues around the world delighting a silent, yet very sizeable, minority.
Basically, this is greatest hits live. It's all on there: Hurts Like Heaven, In My Place, Yellow, just for starters. All tracks that fire live. And when you think there's no more you know, they keep coming: Violet Hill, God Put A Smile... and of course the splendid singalong Vida La Vida.
And then there's more: Charlie Brown, Paradise, Clocks before closing with Fix You and Every Teardrop...
This is an outstanding purchase of CD with accompanying DVD of a band at the very top of their game. It's difficult to see how it could get better for them.
Summary - The defining band of the early 2010s
"Metal" Album of the Year - Triaxis Rage and Retribution
There are albums that make you realise that a good band has finally come of age. We can all think of them: Ride The Lightning, The Number Of The Beast, (Rainbow) Rising.
For South Wales metal heads Triaxis, R&R is that album. Building upon a fine debut release (Key To The Kingdom), this 2nd release is up several notches. With Glyn's lead guitar joining established quartet Krissie (vocals), Giles (drums), CJ (rhythm guitar), and Owen (bass), the songwriting has developed further and when combined with such crisp, defined production, the outcome is a winner.
Album opener and anti war/propaganda anthem "Sand and Shiver" hits you hard, just like many an Iron Maiden record opener ever did (you won't get far into a Triaxis review without referencing their most overwhelming influence); [sample lyrics like this "These sheep you guide them further, your flock you will deceive, brainwash the callow and naiive"]
Next up is single Black Trinity, followed the dark "Infected" ["Putrid air floods my lungs and chokes my veins" - boy meets girl this isn't]. And so the album goes, "And Shadows Creep" is excellent, live favourite "Sker Point" (named after a headland between Porthcawl and Port Talbot) before the opus closes with the glorious 7 and a half minutes of "Some Things Are Worth Dying For".
The album has been magnificently received in the metal press and in the underground rock blogging scene. The live experience is equally impressive as are the wonderful people who comprise Triaxis. This band deserves a big 2013.
Summary - fresh, furious and fantastic.
Honourable mentions.... in 2012 go to Accept "Stalingrad", Black Country Communion "Afterglow" (dodgy opening two tracks), Megadeth "Countdown to Extinction" (20th anniversary release) and Europe's "Bag Of Bones".
"Gig" of the Year - Diamond Head, Hog and Hosper, Pontypool
What's this I thought? Diamond Head playing in a pub in Pontypool? Surely not? It can't be the Diamond Head; the Diamond Head as in "Am I Evil?".
It bloody well was, with the NWOBHM legends using the date as a warm up for their European Tour and what a night it was as around 200 punters packed into the tiny Hog and Hosper pub. Frankly, I could have stood any closer had they played in my frontroom.
As well as the aforementioned number popularised by Metallica, we had them all: The Prince, Dead Reckoning, Lightening To The Nations, It's Electric, Shoot Out The Lights etc.
Loud, proud and definitely still cutting it.
and so to 2013.
Appearing over the horizon are 2 masters of rock. Deep Purple release their first album since 2005 (and it'll probably be their last). Also, there's the much anticipated first Black Sabbath album with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978.
Can they still deliver? Don't bet against it.
Happy New Year all. Keep rocking hard.