Sunday 2nd January: I started 2010 with the idea that I might reach a total of six hundred CDs and during the first few months seemed to be well on target, thanks in large part to cheap on-line offers and much-anticipated releases from some favourite artists. However, as the year went on, financial constraints and a lack of interesting releases (together with a smaller than normal number of CDs as birthday and Christmas presents) meant that I eventually fell a few short. I can confidently predict that I will reach the milestone this year – it’s now that close.
Overall, I added sixty-four CDs to my collection, including one single and one EP. Of those, just thirty-three were released during 2010. Stripping that down even further, the single was released this year and a further ten were compilation albums given away free with magazines (nine from Classic Rock Presents Prog and one from the inaugural issue of Classic Rock Presents A.O.R.). So, that just leaves twenty-two from which to pick my top five of 2010.
Of the non-2010 albums I bought, favourites would have to be Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood with which, along with three other of their albums, I finally exorcised my dismissal of them as Genesis wannabes. Before this year, I had heard of The Reasoning, but not heard them. Now I have all four of their albums and it is the first, Dark Angel, which I think is the best – unfortunately their two releases this year weren’t, in my opinion, as good as the previous two, although the stripped down Acoustically Speaking did give us some interesting interpretations of some of their songs. Another couple of favourites were Uriah Heap’s Demons and Wizards and Mandalaband’s B.C. Ancestors – the latter being the band’s third release in the short span of nearly thirty-five years, albeit with their third line-up. If I had bought this last year rather than this, there’s a good chance it would have made my top five of 2009.
The previous two Mandalaband albums were reissued in one package this year, sadly without a reproduction of the illustrated insert from the original vinyl release of The Eye Of Wendor, and it is this package which I would choose as my reissue of the year.
For me, the biggest disappointment of the year was Meatloaf’s latest, Hang Cool Teddy Bear. It’s almost a given that Meatloaf is at his best when teamed with the writing of Jim Steinman but this album, although not completely bad, didn’t do as much for me as any of his previous releases and there’s just no need for Beastie Boy style (c)rap on a Meatloaf album.
There are a few albums from the past year which are just bubbling under my top five and honourable mentions go to the self-titled debut from the superb Lost From Atlas, Hope & Social’s April (which isn’t quite as good as the previous album) and No Imagination from York’s own Sam Forrest.
And so to the top five….
In fifth place comes Omega, the second release from the reformed original line-up of Asia. The previous release (Phoenix, 2008) may have been a bit of a disappointment to some, but Omega is, perhaps, the best release since Alpha back in 1982. Perhaps a bit too “pop” to be classed exclusively as prog but nonetheless a great album which includes some really good songs, including the brilliant Holy War – how many other songs have you heard which include the word “trebuchet” and which rhyme “Agincourt” With “Conquistador”?
Fourth place goes to Mostly Autumn’s Go Well Diamond Heart. Not only have the band survived the resignation of Heather Findlay as female lead, promoting Livvy Sparnenn from backing to lead vocals, but they have also produced their best album for some time. While I may have been dubious about Livvy’s live performance, the album really shows how good her vocals can be. Being a big fan of the band, I bought the two-CD special edition of the album and, being honest, I’m not sure the later-released single CD version would have made the top five as the extra disc includes some of the best songs, including the superb Ice, which was a contender for my song of the year. (More on that later…)
In third place comes the first non-prog album. The Union’s self-titled first release is a blues-soaked rock album which drew me in from the first listen (probably helped by the fact that I’d just seen them perform most of it live). The album contains a lovely mix of songs – the sublime ballad Lillies and the niceness of This Time Next Year are counterpointed by Saviour and the Deep South tinged Holy Roller, while Easy Street could be the anthem for the current state of our country. A really good debut album from some very experienced musicians.
I head back to prog-land for my second favourite. Karnataka’s The Gathering Light is one of the most joyous progressive rock albums I have ever heard, with some great vocals from Lisa Fury and fantastic musical passages. For a while it was heading to be my favourite release of 2010. Sadly the band seemed to implode shortly after the album was released, with only two of the line-up remaining and, I believe, auditions continuing to replace those that left. This doesn’t (and shouldn’t) detract from the release itself, but does make me wonder how many times Ian Jones can reform the band.
So, what finally knocked Kanataka off the top spot? A little album called The Ship That Sailed by York collective Boss Caine. With songs written by G.T. Turbo/Dan Lucas, over a period of years, this is an intensely personal album which contains more talent than an entire season of reality T.V. shows. There really isn’t a duff song on this (although, as I said in my original review, one does outstay its welcome just a little bit) despite it not including most of my live favourites. The lyrics are thoughtful and thought-provoking – for example, the brilliant Leaving Victoria is probably not about what you imagine it to be – and the music is excellent. To quote my own review, this is a “beautifully crafted album… Powerful, raw, emotional, simple (and, paradoxically, complex) superb and highly recommended.”
Boss Caine also released my song of the year. Towards the end of the year, they (he?) released a split album with Mark Wynn. The final song on the Boss Caine “side” is The Life In Your Years. It is, in keeping with other songs written by Lucas, based on experience and heartfelt. In this case, it’s a celebration of friends and of the life Lucas was living at the time he wrote it while, at the same time, an explanation to his family of why he lived life the way he did. In no way apologetic for the things his mother worried about, it is the very epitome of bitter-sweet. A wonderful song from a truly exceptional song-writer.