5. Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes
I started off on the wrong foot with this album. What to expect from a Craig Finn solo album? Would he follow his hero Springsteen and make that deep, searing Nebraska album? Or would he follow his hero Paul Westerberg and make a play at the pop charts? It’s none and it’s both. It’s Finn’s least serious, and most fun, album.
Which I guess I miss. I love the ‘important’ songs by the Hold Steady. Initially, it made this album feel slight. But maybe it’s not all about teenagers wallowing in their own doom. How can you not love the line “It’s hard to suck with Jesus in your band”?
And it’s the songs, man. The aforementioned ‘My New Friend Jesus’, the lonely ‘Rented Room’, the wonderful ‘Jackson’ and more. Finn is at his most tuneful – he’s almost singing! But it’s a fun, relaxed record – a talented writer enjoying not rocking out and making important statements. Rather he’s just singing a tune and telling a yarn.
4. fun. – Some Nights
Well, who would have thought it would all happen for Nate Ruess? Ten years, several label label deals and bands, he finally scored big with fun. It’s mainly off the back of one track, We Are Young, currently playing over your supermarket stereo. It’s a pretty good song, with a huge chorus. In fact, every song has a HUGE chorus. Once you get your head around it, it’s a lot of – well – fun.
There’s something really exciting about this album. It’s like Ruess had something to prove and he brought his A game. The second single ‘Some Nights’ is another killer. My favourite is ‘Why Am I The One?’. There’s shadows of Graceland going on here too. Big sing-alongs with world music rhythms.
Who knows where this will go. Could well be this year’s ‘Pretty. Odd’. A wonderful, one off aberration. Because after this, Ruess has nothing to prove.
We Are Young and Some Nights are probably overplayed, so here’s an acoustic version of Why Am I The One.
3. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Thank god for Jack White. When you look around at the music world, and you wonder what will last, you know you can count on Jack White. And having worn himself thin with all the collaborations, it’s great to hear his voice on it’s own.
He’s actually reined it in a bit. It’s not that far away from later White Stripes. It drifts from piano tinkering to full rock mode, but never once losing his sense of a tune and a great lyric. I mean, it’s Jack White, the guy can do it all.
It’s worth the wait for him to get it right. And he is someone else with nothing to prove. When Icky Thump was maybe trying to hard, Blunderbuss revels in it’s simplicity. It’s a directness that White hasn’t used in years, and it’s great to have it back.
2. The Shins – Port Of Morrow
He fired the whole band, and then started again. This album could have been anything. And guess what? It’s a friggin perfect album. Every track is a highlight.
It’s ever slightly more pop than ever before, but in some weird brittle 80s way. Songs like ‘No Way Down’ or ‘Fall Of ‘82’ are so pop. Then there’s the beautiful ballads – ‘It’s Only Life’ or ’40 Mark Strasse’. And some mid tempo rockers. It’s standard operating procedure for the Shins.
They haven’t reinvented the wheel but the wheel is so good, and I’m back on the ride.
1. Joel Plaskett Emergency – Scrappy Happiness
After a crazy, schizo triple album, it’s weird to get just ten songs for a Joel Plaskett album. But it’s so clear what he’s doing – making a fun guitar rock album. It’s been a long time since he’s been so fiery with his guitar. His lyrics and his voice are the best they’ve ever been. And the songs are stunning.
The album hangs off the rockiest rockers – all six-and-a-half minutes of Lightning Bolt, he’s best ever song and his masterpiece. You’re Mine, North Star and Tough Love are about as heavy and powerful as Plaskett’s ever gotten. It’s music that illicits a physical reacton – writing about it here feels odd.
There’s lovely slower songs that break it up. Each of them are lovely. But I can’t get over the rockers. And after all this time, I’m still enthralled by a fucking fun, sparkly, heavy rock record. Some things might never change.