TheBigBlack’s 2009 Non-Metal Top 10

Non-Metal Top 10

10. The Mars Volta – Octahedron

The Mars Volta don’t usually disappoint me, in fact I see them as one of the last great ‘rock’ bands left. They are edgy, they push the boundaries, they reject radio play, and they take lots of heroin – the last of the real rock stars. This album though, well – it left me cold. This actually started life on my dis-honourables short list, before it finally found the energy to grab my giblets and give them a little shake. It is an altogether different album for them – similar, but much laid back – almost too laid back. The intention was a pace change, and they achieved what they wanted, but by making the songs slower and simpler it somehow made them less accessible. If you unzip your fly and guide its hand toward you, it’s an album that will give you much pleasure, but if you wait for it to make its move on its own, you are going to be having a cold shower.

9. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures

Josh Homme and Dave Grohl teaming up sounded unreal – but with John Paul Jones on bass? Oh boy! Unfortunately all I really heard was a stack of Queens Of The Stone Age songs with Foo Fighters choruses. I have to admit, I expected a lot more from this, but the more  I listened, the more I liked it. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is quite nice to kick back to with a glass of lemonade with a little slice of lemon in it. That Lipton’s Iced Tea is quite nice on a warm day too. Having said that I tend to go inside if it gets too warm. Looks like we are in for a hot summer this year. I hate hot summers.

8. Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream

This is not what I expected from Springsteen at this point in his career. After his trip into folk on his Pete Seeger tribute he returned with ‘Magic’, an album that I though lacked any identity. It looked like a woman with lots of expensive jewellery going through a metal detector, and when it doesn’t beep everyone laughing when they work out it is all plastic. Now with ‘Working On A Dream’ he seems to have found where Springsteen 2009 fits, and has woven an incredible fabric of new and old sounding material. There are stadium sing-alongs, and intimate tales of life for the little man. Possibly my favourite Springsteen album in a decade or so.

7. Bob Dylan – Together Through Life

Ah Dylan – Unless he sings Christmas carols (see below), he never fails to disappoint us fanbois. If he were to fart into a paper bag, I’d buy it, as long as it came with a certificate of fart authenticity., and lid so it didn’t escape. At 70 years old, he still makes us music. I will admit one thing though, provided you promise not to tell mk – I don’t think Dylan has much left in the tank these days. As much as I liked this album, I didn’t love it – It had its moments, and those moments are great, like the blues opener Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, but that song title alone is like the call of what to look forward to in the future. This is not as engaging as Modern Times was, and Modern Times wasn’t as good as “Love And Theft” and “Love And Theft” wasn’t as fantastic as Time Out Of Mind… You see the pattern. This album won’t win any new fans, and for us that are fans already it is a welcome addition, but not a masterwork.

6. Grinspoon – Six To Midnight

Getting Grinspoon back in the 10 is something I never thought I’d be capable of. They had followed that familiar Powderfinger template of starting out all alternative with the music as their guide, then turning to the almighty dollar for motivations, leaving the music behind. It seems that Phil Jameson must have gotten drunk and vomited on some hotel carpet somewhere, and in his haste to clean it up before getting billed used the a page from his contacts book to clean it up. That page just happened to be labelled “Producers That Can Turn Rock Music Into Pop Shite”. With that page lost, the grinners have given us an album that sounds like they produced it themselves – and fuck it is good. It is dirty, and apart from a moment or two where the demon wasn’t completely exorcised,

5. Porcupine Tree – The Incident

This is possibly the most inaccessible of all Porcupine Tree albums, and given the band’s history – I think that is quite the statement. I think the issue is that they have entered this 1 hour ‘movement’ hot on the tail of 3 or 4 quite commercial albums, so it is what the doctor ordered. Once I got to know the album, it did grow on me, but although the tracks are broken into digestible chunks, this really is a ‘all-in-one-sitting’ type album – It’s designed to be listened to in one long session. When it is applied to the skin appropriately, you are given that summertime glow that a good PT album is renowned for providing. The music is sparse, and repetitious threads are heard through most songs. Be warned though, if this is your first time with the Porc (or the Tree, if you don’t like words that sound dirty), you are better off starting elsewhere.

4. Bloodhorse – Horizoner

Brilliant! This is how stoner rock is supposed to sound. Laid back, but still angry. Refined, but still dirty. Surely these guys are sitting around in a dutched up garage writing these tracks – therefore the tension and production have to have that same feel. Stoned. Too many albums in this genre today over produce their sound. These guys have got just the right amount of grit in their amps and in their teeth to make this rock. A BIG thumbs up for me.

3. Chevelle – Sci-Fi Crimes

First prize for grower of the year. These guys are fantastic, and I have found every album gets better on repeat listens. Although technically not metal (but they do sit on that borderline…), they do rock pretty hard. I hate to use the comparison, and I am sure they are sick of hearing it, but they are filling the void Tool left when they decided to head away from heavy music into the space rock shit they play today. The riffs are catchier than 2007’s ‘Vena Sera’, and vocally his range seems to have improved.

2. Pearl Jam – Backspacer

Well. New Wave Pearl Jam. Where to start? This one is definitely a grower, and maybe it’s only because I love the band so much that a dedicated A LOT of time to let it grow. This is the same Pearl Jam that wrote Even Flow and Rearviewmirror, but somehow it is not. There are no big rock stadium anthems on here such as Betterman to allow the crowd to sing and surf to, but what there is  are a bunch of punchy 3 minute ‘pop’ songs, that are just as good to sing to – but maybe not with a pumping fist. I use the term ‘pop’ loosely, as it’s not like they have sold out to the dark side – but these songs are simple in structure and execution like a Duran Duran classic, but are still rockin’ in style. Lead single ‘The Fixer’ is so infectious it makes you want to cut yourself in an attempt to stop singing it. I did, and then continued to sing in the ambulance. So where’s the reason it’s hard work? The songs like ‘The Fixer’, the ones that makes you smile – are fantastic. The others, well, to be completely honest (and go against every grain in my body in admitting so) are just plain boring. PJ have always been capable of coughing up a fur ball on occasion – but about half of this album feels like it has potential, but none of it is realised – and worst of all, it feels like it has been designed that way…

1.  Alice In Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue

As you are all aware, I had high hopes for this one. On the first couple of listens, I thought it was all wrong, but once I got to know the tracks I realised this is a brilliant album.  Apart from the obvious single ‘Check My Brain’, most tracks are slow – not so much at a snail’s pace – but trotting rather than a gallop. New vocalist Duvall fills Layne’s shoes very nicely, by keeping that familiar AIC sound, while still not mimicking, and when given the chance to fly solo uses his own distinct style. Cantrell, as always, is magic on the guitar. After a 14 year wait, you sometimes wonder if it’s worth the effort at all (ARE YOU READING THIS AXL ROSE?), but this picks up brilliantly where AIC ended – in fact I’d go so far as to say it is better than their last album with Layne…

Honourable Mentions

Nirvana – Live At Reading

It has been nearly 20 years, but we finally get to hear (and see if you bought the DVD) Nirvana’s 1992 Reading Festival performance in its entirety.  They rip through all the classics, and play a few unexpected highlights. Sloppy as hell, but brilliant in his execution anyway is the magical Cobain. Had this been seen in 92 t certainly wouldn’t have had the same impact as when it is seen now.

Pearl Jam – Ten ‘Redux’ / Drop In The Park / MTV Unplugged DVD / Mamasan Demo Tape

A big 5 thumbs up (that’s 3 people’s thumbs to get that many – or 5 people if they only have one hand each – or 1 person if they are horribly deformed at birth due to Thalidomide usage) to Pearl Jam for giving Ten a right royal rogering and reissuing it in this beautiful set. We get the original ‘Ten’ remastered, we get the album remixed in 2009 style. We get unreleased bonus tracks from the ‘Ten’ sessions, we FINALLY get a DVD of the greatest MTV Unplugged show ever recorded, we get the complete audio of the historic 1992 Drop In The Park concert, and we get a cassette (yes, cassette kiddies – you made have seen a player attached to a car battery in your daddies garage) reproduction of the original Mamasan demo tape that got Eddie the gig in the band. Merely seeing the press release from this caused me to claim I would never require sex again, and the first listen caused me to physically pass over to the spirit world 3 times. Luckily I still have that defibrillator handy that I picked up at the hospital surplus store to jump start the car, or I may not be typing this today.

Bob Dylan and The Band – Hollow Horn’s ‘Encore Series’ – Mixin’ Up The Medicine – The Safety Tape, June-October 1967 [Unauthorised]

This by far is one of my favourite non-metal albums of the year, but misses out on the Top 10 as 1. It’s technically a compilation of previous material, and 2. It’s technically an unauthorised album. I started a lengthy explanation of this album, and realised the Heathens that may bother to read will never appreciate Dylan anyway, so I’ll stick to the short version –

  • Mid 1966 – Dylan burns out on Rock & Roll excess on world tour. On a visit home he is involved in a mysterious motorcycle crash, and breaks his neck.
  • Early 1967 – Relieved of rock star duties while he recovers, he retreats to the basement of The Big Pink with his touring band The Hawks (later to be known as The Band) and jams on old favourites.
  • Mid 1967 – Presumably pressured by his  publishers for new material, Dylan starts using these informal jams to record oodles of new music, in a style never before heard – a mix of Americana, folk, and rock.
  • 1975 – A handful of these legendary recordings are finally released (touched up / butchered), but there at least 100 more still in the vaults.
  • 2001 – In 1976 a ‘safety tape’ of some of the best recordings considered useful is made and stored in Neil Young’s personal vault for safe keeping, and is now discovered when he goes through his archives to prepare his history spanning box set.
  • 2009 – Some cunning individual has procured said Safety Tape, and shared it for us all.

What this means is when get a perfect copy of the tracks straight from the master tapes – Not the 3rd or 4th generation we have all listened to for years, and not the terribly over-produced and over-dubbed versions from the official release.

43 years later the songs still sound otherworldly.

Dishonourable Mentions

Bon Jovi – The Circle

If Bon Jovi were also airline pilots (similar to that jolly Englishman Bruce Dickinson and that douche John Travolta) their plane would go down. Why? Because you should never fly the whole trip on auto-pilot. Considering this is one of the world’s (apparent) most popular rock acts, this whole album, every song on it, all sounds like it has come out of a computer programmed to write songs based on the exacting Bon Jovi formula. You will predict every chorus, you know when the solo is coming, you’ll even know when to prepare your voice for backing-vocal reply to Jon’s main vocal line. It is so tried and tested and tried and tested again, I guarantee you will even feel like you know the songs on first listen, because you have heard it all before.

Chris Cornell – Scream

Produced by Timbaland and duets with Justin Timberlake. Chris Cornell get’s this year’s ‘Fuck Off And Die’ award. I’ll waste no more time on this.

U2 – No Line On The Horizon

“Mummy? Why does Bono make the children cry?” I have never actually heard that said, but I am sure I will one day, in a shopping centre, as this is piped through the speaker system as ‘elevator music’. I know U2 are getting on in years, but I hadn’t actually realised they are dead. No living musician could enjoy playing music this dull, just as no music fan could enjoy listening to it. Listening to this alongside War or The Joshua Tree is akin to hearing John and Yoko’s Double Fantasy – You think it is a amazing, and then you get a Yoko song. I think it is a joke that Bono thinks he is an activist, but is still doing a better job of that than making rock music these days. AND TAKE THOSE STUPID GLASSES OFF!

Bob Dylan – Christmas In The Heart

What a year! Bob Dylan – the greatest songwriter in history – making all three categories. Top 10, Honourable Mention, and now a Dis-Honourable. Seriously Bob, a Christmas album is the peak of trashy, even at the top of one’s game – but these days, with your voice nothing more than the grating sound of a croaking toad hoping to mate tonight, this was a REALLY bad idea. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, because you ruined mine with your misguided Holiday spirit.

AC/DC – Backtracks [Compilation Box Set]

Buying AC/DC products these days is akin to legalising rape as far as I am concerned. This is a ‘rarities’ set that is overpriced and actually contains nothing rare (or if it is – it isn’t anything worth caring about). Exhibit A – The studio rarities. 18 tracks (if you are rich enough to buy the $250 ‘special edition’ – otherwise you only get 12), 10 of which have always been available on Australian AC/DC albums, 6 that have been on various bonus discs and other compilations – and 2 actual b-side rarities. Exhibit B – Discs 2 & 3 – The Live Rarities. 29 tracks (again – only 15 unless you are rich), every one of them from single b-sides, mostly from the mid 90s onwards. WHERE’S THE RARE BON SCOTT? WHERE IS THE FIRST SINGLE WITH DAVE EVANS ON VOCALS? This all seems like such a wasted opportunity really. Very disappointing. I must say though, the working amplifier box is nice, but that shouldn’t be the only way to get all the tracks. Between Bourbons, Bon Scott would be turning in his grave, I’m sure. Whole Lotta Rosie? Whole Lotta Ripoff.

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