Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Top 5 Albums of All Time

I was spurred into action on thing about my top 5 albums of all time following a discussion on Twitter.  For someone who's taste is pretty diverse this is a real challenge and one I have struggled with! I decided that instead of listing albums that I would to have on a desert island or some similar place, I decided to list albums that changed my outlook on music, that enriched and challenged my preconceived ideas and that I continue to return to.

It would be all too easy to list albums that are getting pretty heavy rotation at the moment - these might include music by Days Between Stations, Sanguine Hum, Steven Wilson (although in time some of his music may well nudge out Porcupine Tree.)

The first three artists, if not albums, were easy to identify (in no particular order):

Rush - Hold Your Fire/Power Windows.

I encountered Rush in the early 80s, when I was in my early teens, and their music has been a constant throughout the rest of my adult life.  It is nigh on impossible for me to decide between these 2 albums.  'Hold Your Fire', was the album and subsequent tour where their music really began to get engrained into me but Power Windows possible sums up the band at their very very best.  The mix of a magical awareness of melody, well thought out lyrics, tight arrangements and interesting time signatures where not a drum beat or note is wasted are all hallmarks of a band still at the top of their game on in to the 2000s.

Some fans will tell you that Signals, Moving Pictures or even Permanent Waves were the band's halcyon days, but I beg to differ.

Marillion - Seasons End

I was introduced to the joys of Marillion around the same time as Rush. My love of the band has grown and grown as I have grown older and I have appreciated their music more and more.  What I love about the band's music is something intangible but it's a combination of soaring guitar work that's always emotional but never over blown, sweeping keyboards that add colour and depth to the musical portrait, and a rhythm section that adds musicality and drama. All in all, Marillion are probably my favourite band of all time.

Again, it was very hard to pick one album - other fans might have picked Marbles, Brave, or Misplaced Childhood.  For me, it has to be Seasons End as it marked the transition from the Fish era sound with a hint of other musical avenues that the band would later explore with Steve Hogarth at the vocal helm.

King's X - Gretchen Goes to Nebraska

I remember hearing this band on Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show late one evening.  TV was playing part of a live show by this band, I forget from where. I remember being utterly spellbound by Beatlesesque harmonies, old fashioned Soul sensibilities and a bluesy rock and roll. When I discovered that this was three piece, I was even more stunned. I was finally utterly blown away when I discovered, certainly in earlier albums' lyrics, a Christian faith and later an earthy more general and open spirituality, which continues to satisfy.

Sadly, King's X are not as well known as they should be. I have only managed to catch them live the once (they don't get to the UK much).  They've had their ups and downs but 15 studio albums in, and they are still making music that moves my soul.

Then it became much harder to decide what came next. As I said above, the drawback with an eclectic taste is it becomes harder and harder to pin down the very best 5, especially with only 2 further slots to fill.  When your taste takes in jazz, some classical, some pop there are going to be some great artists and genres that get left to one side.

The Bad Plus - Prog

I wanted to include some jazz in this list. I have been surrounded by jazz all my life. I have my Dad to thank for that and I have heard, and had the pleasure of seeing live, some of the very very best in trad, big band, and modern jazz.

For me, jazz always works best live and one band that had to feature here was The Bad Plus.  They third 3 piece (King's X and Rush being the other 2) in this list.  Their music is certainly not lounge, easy-listening jazz. It's angular and tricky, but like all good music, it's rewarding if worked at.

I had to include their album 'Prog' on this list because of the name and because it does what they do best - wonderful reworkings of others' music (Tom Sawyer by Rush for example) and their own prog-like jazz.  Find me another band that covers both Blondie and the Aphex Twin for example...

Physical Cities just about sums their own material up.

Massive Attack - Protection

I was a student in Bristol in the early 90s. I found life and faith tricky.  I retreated from traditional church and joined an Alt. Worship community formerly known then as Third Sunday Service. I began exploring other music - the Bristol 'sound' was coming more and more to the fore with artists like Tricky and later Portishead playing in cars, cd players and the New Trinity Centre in the city.

It was a simultaneously wonderful, disabling, and formative time for me.  One band that blew me away was Massive Attack.

The music is dramatically atmospheric with fluid dynamics and lush orchestral arrangements, and the bass high in the mix.  'Protection' still has to be topped by the band yet in my opinion.

This was a very difficult post to write because it was nigh on impossible to whittle the list down!  Other contenders could have included any of the following:

Kiss - Alive II - introduced me to rock aged 9 or 10

AC/DC - Back in Black - introduced me to rock aged 9 or 10

Pearl Jam - 10 - reminded me that there was far more to grunge than Nirvana

Catherine Wheel - Chrome - epic, angry, edgy, heavy shoegaze

REM - Green - speaks for itself

Radiohead - In Rainbows - I think this post sums this album and subsequent live show up

Black Crowes - Amorica - wonderful bluesy and emotional stuff from the Crowes at their very best, even if the CD did have the worst album cover of all time!

Arvo Part - Misere - I rember borrowing this CD, putting it on, and heading off to make a cup of tea. As I returned, the music peaked and all the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Astonishing contemporary classical

Def Leppard - Hysteria - what a comeback both musically and physically after the tragedy following the release of Pyromania.

Queensryche - Operation Mindcrime/Empire - back when Queensryche were worth hearing - emotional, powerful, heavy, and political early 90s power/prog metal.

Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream - the beginning of a renewed love affair with British prog

Megadeth - Rust in Peace - restored my faith in thrash

Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium - redefined my thrash world and introduced me to the avant grarde in metal.

Anthrax - Among the Living - classic 80s thrash

Simple Minds - Sparkle in the Rain - widescreen 80s pop.

ABC - The Lexicon of Love - soulful, melodic, orchestral 80s pop at it's best

I look forward to heading your lists!

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