Well, I purposely decided that this year’s feverishly anticipated 2015 Top 20 albums overview would be fashionably late, and it is. There’s still nothing from Mario Lanza in the chart, but, despite massive technological advances, this is largely due to his being dead for 55 years. Anyway, hold on to your hats and swing your groovy pants, here are numbers 20-11:
20: CATHAL SMYTH – A Comfortable Man (Phoenix Rising)
The man formerly known as Chas Smash of Madness has released an album as far from the Nutty Boys jaunty pop as is possible to get. In places, this album is so heartbreakingly sad (You’re Not Alone/ Love Song No.7) that it really is a difficult listen. This is a set of songs that reflect a deeply personal, probably cathartic, casting out of his demons – don’t give it a play if you’re feeling emotionally fragile!
19: LEON BRIDGES – Coming Home (Columbia)
The debut album from this talented 25-year-old Texan is a paean to a bygone era when soul music relied on the singer’s voice and proper instrumentation to convey emotion, not a bank of gadgets and pro tools. Fans of Sam, Otis and Marvin will find much to love here. An extremely accomplished set which hopefully will see him go from strength to strength.
18: PAUL WELLER – Saturns Pattern (Parlophone)
Yes, I’m a big Weller fan, no, this isn’t his best solo album, but at 56 he’s still pushing his own musical boundaries and has delivered an enjoyable and eclectic album of psychedelic noise, sunshine pop, soulful Style Council-esque grooves and melodic, well-crafted pop-rock which still trumps most of his contemporaries hands down. There sure is plenty of life in the old mod yet.
17: JOHN GRANT – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (Bella Union)
John Grant was cruelly and largely ignored when recording as the Czars, but on this, his 3rd solo album, he is continuing to carve a niche as an exceptional and unique songwriter. Songs on “Grey Tickles” whilst not as immediate as his previous work are still full of wit, pathos and oblique and acerbic references to his troubled past. Now go and check out his older material – you’ll be glad you did.
16: MATTHEW E WHITE – Fresh Blood (Domino)
Matthew E White is a living oxymoron. He looks like he should have been a murderous roadie for the Grateful Dead but sounds like the angelic voiced progeny of a Stax/ Motown/ Randy Newman union. Lead single rock & Roll Is Cold is not only one of the best tracks of the year but one of the most uptempo songs on this, his soulful second album. His idol, Stevie Wonder, would surely approve!
15: JACCO GARDNER – Hypnophobia (Polyvinyl)
You may not read the words “Dutch 60’s Psychedelic Folk Wizard” in one sentence again today but apart from the obvious Syd Barrett/ Nick Drake comparisons that are inevitable, that description is pretty accurate. This could easily be the dreamy, lushly orchestrated soundtrack to a movie about fevered sleep and nocturnal parasomnias – the 8 minute track “Before The Dawn” is especially gorgeous.
14: TAME IMPALA – Currents (Fiction)
Kevin Parker is sad and lonely. He’s also written an album about the breakdown of a relationship, but unlike Cathal Smyth’s offering (at no.20), this is a shimmering, summery, melodic psych-synth album that owes much to our French friends, Air and, in during the more upbeat moments, their dancier fellow countrymen, Daft Punk. It’s a change of direction from their previous two albums, but what an inspired one.
13: BLUR – The Magic Whip (Parlophone)
One of the year’s big comeback albums – and a great one it is too. In some respects, after 12 years away, this is their most Blur-like album ever – a composite of the best bits of all their previous releases assembled in one place. Albarn’s songwriting has matured and Coxon’s guitar playing is as good as ever, and although there isn’t a duff track on the album, Ong Ong is the standout.
12: LIANNE LA HAVAS – Blood (Warner Bros)
The follow-up album to her critically acclaimed debut “Is Your Love Big Enough” sees Ms La Havas release a more polished overall set but this certainly does not mean that her superb voice is in any way diminished. “Never Get Enough” is an experimental departure, with distorted rocky vocals maybe pointing to future directions and the single “Unstoppable” is, for me, her best track to date.
11: THE CHARLATANS – Modern Nature (BMG)
The death of the band’s drummer Jon Brookes 18 months previously galvanised the band into releasing this, one of their best albums, but the melancholy of his passing is noticeable throughout, even on the cover photo. “Talking In Tones”, the atmospheric first single and album opener is superb and although nothing else quite matches it, this is a classy return to form for one of our most enduring bands.