AN unlikely choice perhaps but Four was a superbly realised exploration of the sort of commercial hard rock that made Coney Hatch’s name a generation ago. It’s the Canadian four-piece’s first studio album since 1985 and boasts a great lead-off track in the story-based “Blown Away”. “Boys Club” and “Do It Again” are instantly memorable and the cover of The Angels’ “Marseille” ain’t half bad either. There was no ambition to set the world on fire here, and that certainly hasn’t happened. But entertainment is still the name of the game.
ANYONE can put together a record of bar-room rockers but the Swiss veterans do it better than most. A couple of decades back this offering would have been accused of pandering to radio too blatantly but while those radio playlists are long gone, songs like “Better Than Sex” and “Dog Song” keep delivering. This was no.1 in their homeland and if it’s notable for nothing else, then credit to the punchy anthem “Live Ma Life”, one of our songs of the year. There’s a decent cover of the Beatles’ “Help!” thrown in for good measure. And it still sounds like Bon Scott is singing.
MONROE was a popular winner of Classic Rock magazine’s album of the year in 2011 and most pundits hoped (rather than expected) the follow-up to Sensory Overdrive would be as good. In short, it is. “Ballad Of The Lower East Side” and “Stained Glass Heart”, in particular, are little pieces of rock perfection, polished just enough but not too much. While Ginger Wildheart’s fingerprints were all over its predecessor, Horns & Halos sounds more like a band effort and is all the better for it. Monroe may have exported the glam image to California with Hanoi Rocks in the early eighties but his sound owes more to the east coast and punk rock.
LET’S face it: Queens Of The Stone Age is the only band actually doing something innovative with hard rock today. The albums we rank above Like Clockwork in this poll are there because they are more fun, but it’s Josh Homme who stands between rock music and its own death as an evolving art form. The biggest compliment one can give this album is that all it’s songs sound like they were meant to be written and were just waiting for someone to come along and do it. Elton John, Trent Reznor and Dave Grohl all guest in a swirling, heaving, pumping kaleidoscope of textures and moods, usually heading in the directions you least expect them to.
FORGET the name change due to the absence of Phil Lynott and the slightly cliched title – this is a new Thin Lizzy album and a bloody great one. Far from being constrained by the Lizzy canon, the most recent version of the band revel in doing justice to the legacy of the Irish-American greats with an offering that is diverse enough to be interesting without ever straying too far from what enshrined Lizzy in rock history. In another era, “Kingdom Of The Lost” would have as much impact on Irish mainstream culture as any U2 song while “Before The War” and “Hey Judus” hark back to the folk rock of the 1970s, untainted by the myriad genres and sub-genres that have emerged since. Like Sabbath’s 13, an album that could have been released 30 or more years ago – and that’s a good thing.
THE numbers may pale into insignificance in comparison to those of the past but we should all celebrate a heavy metal album going to number one in 2013. Black Sabbath’s 13 is similar in spirit to Van Halen’s A Different Kind Of Truth in that it sounds like grunge, Nu Metal and modern rock just didn’t happened, recapturing the spirit of two decades ago. “God Is Dead”, “Age Of Reason” and the rest are almost symphonic in scope and perfectly complete Sabbath’s legacy if this is is their last studio offering. Driven by Tony Iommi’s new sense of mortality due to a lymphoma diagnosis, 13 has a focus and a soul – best summed up by “End Of The Beginning” and “Live Forever”. An essential 2013 purchase.
CINDERELLA have displayed an unbreakable determination to remain a heritage act, eschewing even tracks from their 1994 album Still Climbing in their live show. For whatever reason, frontman Tom Keifer saw fit to step away from the band environment to unleash new material and his first solo LP is a triumph. In “Solid Ground” and “Cold Day In Hell”, we have two of the rock songs of this or any other year. “Flower Song” is a delicate, folksy love song and the rest of the fare lies somewhere in between. It would be wrong to say all 14 tracks are gems but neither is there an out-and-out dud. Keifer’s growly vocal style is intact despite throat problems and this is a record that brought back many people who had given up buying new music.
THE appeal of Stryper can sometimes be difficult for non-Christian metal fans to explain to their peers. The chunky riffs and shredding guitar heard on No More Hell To Pay are usually accompanied, elsewhere in the metal oeuvre, by lyrics dealing with sex and drugs or goblins and dragons. But tracks like “Sympathy” and “No More Hell To Pay” evoke the same gut-level emotional responses in the listener as, say, Maiden’s “Fear Of The Dark” or Queensryche’s “Eyes Of A Stranger”, even though the subject matter is completely different. If the secular fan learns anything from this terrific record, it’s that perhaps we overstate the importance of lyrics in our enjoyment of music. Or maybe it’s that we should give the man upstairs another chance….
IT MAY appear biased that ‘Australia’s Loudest Magazine’ has chosen two antipodean artists to top our chart – but this just happens to be the sort of music we value highly. Airbourne’s third offering includes little-to-no padding, opening with a reworking of “Ready To Rock” off their extremely rare debut EP. This is Ackadacka-style riffage delivered more compellingly than even the great ones themselves do these days, with soaring singalong choruses to ditties such as “Live It Up” and “Back In The Game”. The quality doesn’t even dip perceptively when the three bonus tracks come around. Airbourne fill theatres in many northern hemisphere markets but are yet to even nudge their potential at home. More fool us.
BLASTING back after a two-decade absence, Clifford Hoad’s Kings Of The Sun encapsulate in 11 rollicking tracks what is great about unpretentious Australian hard rock. The themes are almost cinematic – life, death, love lost, love gained, Vikings and Indians – and the delivery is honest and incisive. Without brother Jeff, drummer Cliff takes over the vocal duties and handles them with aplomb, assembling an accomplished group of players to surround him. There are echoes of AC/DC, Rose Tattoo and southern rock – but not of anything more than the great KOTS albums of the past. The debut show for the new line-up on February 22 will be a true piece of Oz Rock history.