Weezer - Van Weezer

2021 has been a year of transition in my family’s life. My daughter has gone to Uni, my lad is starting to grow up and Mrs M and I are in that odd space between excitedly planning all the different world cities we can visit when travel fully opens up, and realising that our relevance as parents is diminishing hourly. It’s a confusing time to be a bald, short-sighted man in his early 50’s.

My musical antidote to these uncertain times is to do what I’ve always done. Go full speed into regression. Thankfully, Weezer felt exactly the same as I did.

Their latest album is a totally undisguised tribute to what we now know as ‘hair metal’. Van Halen, Motley Crue, Ratt, Poison….and it’s ended up being exactly what I needed.

Weezer are also in their early 50’s and should probably know a lot better than this, but they don’t care. Yes to pyrotechnic guitars, yes to stadium stompers, yes to ludicrously overlayered harmony vocals. I’ve not been able to listen to it once all the way through without clenching my fist and throwing a few air-guitar shapes. Clearly this sort of shit only happens when everyone is out the house.

When this album was about to be released, Weezer’s head honcho, Rivers Cuomo, was very keen to point out that this album was going to rock hard. In truth, it’s not going to be offering Avenged Sevenfold out for a punch up any time soon, but that’s not the point.

This is a record about fun. Weezer are clearly having a great time, and it’s an album that wants the listener to be in on the whole scene as much as they are. Even if you’re not on board with a whole ton of goofy guitars and battering ram drums, there are melodies on this record to melt the hardest of hearts.

As we delve into shorter days and longer nights, I hope ‘Van Weezer’ can provide a little sunshine and warmth. It totally worked for me. Any album that contains the line ‘even if we blow up, we’re never gonna grow up’ deserves to be successful.

In an increasingly complicated world, it turns out that going back to the simple things works out just fine.

Greta Van Fleet - The Battle at Garden's Gate

I'm a dinosaur. I don't mind admitting that. And, much like the pterodactyls and diplodocuses of this world, I'm probably due for extinction. Where am I going with this I hear you ask? The world of rock music has, perhaps more than any other genre, aged terribly over the past decade and beyond. Where the charts were once dominated by guitar bands, big hair dos and songs about debauchery, drinking, drug-taking, casual Satanism and general misbehaviour - they've been replaced with some of the blandest material going. I don't mind that. Progress is what drives us forward. It's why we're not all huddled around a fire, living in caves and dying before we hit the ripe old age of 20.

It was with great pleasure then that I thoroughly enjoyed Greta van Fleet's newest album way back at the start of 2021. The group themselves feel borderline parody, with their tight-fitting trousers and Zeppelin-esque bravado (not to mention sound). But that's okay. We're all allowed a little vice now and then.

From the powerful pipes on full display on Heat Above and My Way, Soon, the album is a balls to the wall, stick-on rock classic. Lavish production, ethereal ambiance and a damn cool title on top, it's my album of the year for 2021 - and nothing has come close.

Ed Cosens – Fortunes Favour

In 2021, I set myself the challenge of listening to 365 different albums. The idea behind doing this was to listen to some old favourites that don’t get played as much anymore, discover some of the albums that passed me by over the years, and listen to some recommendations from people. I assumed that I’d listen to one per day and finish on New Year’s Eve. I actually completed all 365 by earlier October.

One of the albums I discovered that had passed me by at the time of release was Mirrors by Reverend and the Makers, from 2015. I’d zoned out of the band after the first couple of records but went back two-footed this year and listened to their whole back catalogue. Mirrors blew me away and led me to my favourite album released in 2021.

Fortunes Favour is the first solo album by Reverend and the Makers guitarist, Ed Cosens. It’s grander than the stuff he puts out with the band, with moments that sound like Richard Hawley, some that remind me of Alex Turner’s Submarine soundtrack album. That’s not to suggest the songs here are copies of other people, but the influences on the record are ones I fully endorse.

The other reason the album hit me so hard was, although 2020 was a tough year for the world, 2021 has kicked me in the bollocks on a personal level quiet a few times. I think that’s why, when the opening track, Running on Empty, came on and Cosens sang: ‘This old heart of mine / Has taken a few…’ that my ears pricked up and I sharpened my focus. By the time he delivered the words: ‘I’m running on empty / I’m running on fumes…’ I felt like this music was speaking directly to me.

I’m not going to go track by track as this piece isn’t a review in the traditional sense. I will just say, that in a year when I’ve listened to nearly 400 different albums, Fortunes Favour stood out to me and pulled me back in over and over. Cosens has created something wonderful here and there were times when listening to it helped me escape some of the crap that 2021 was offering up.

The Rah’s - When Does it Become Real?

I’ve been pretty stuck on 90s music for a few years (well, probably since the 90s if I’m honest) and I realised that if there’s ever a good time to change that the time is now! So, I decided to get my head firmly back out of my mid-life crisis and start listening to new music.

I follow the brilliant Shiner Sam on Twitter who’s such a sweet talker so when she said she was managing this great band, The Rah’s, I decided to give them a go. After all, if you never try, you’ll never know, right? And she’s not one to get it wrong when it comes to great music.

I always felt it was a big commitment getting to know new music when you could easily play an old favourite, like slipping on a comfy pair of trainers you don’t need to wear in. You crave the comfort of your favourite band’s biggest tunes. It’s part of our make-up, our design. But my thoughts were quickly changed when I heard When Does it Become Real? – the debut album from The Rah’s. Every single track instantly sounded like a huge hit - like I’d been listening to them for years. Plus, you literally take it all in – there isn’t a single weak track on that album! You’ll be singing along to them all I promise!

To add fuel to the fire of my new big love for this brilliant Scottish band, they recently toured and I was lucky enough to bag tickets for them in Newcastle – where they proved they’re an absolutely class live act too!

So, I’d say to anyone who’s into seriously catchy indie rock anthems, keep an eye on them, watch the world of The Rah’s unfold – because soon they’re going to be very, VERY big. The land of the dreamers is in sight!

Taylor Swift - Red

This is technically an album from 2012 but it’s been re-recorded and re-released with nine bonus tracks on it which is like a whole new album. And those bonus tracks are better than most artist’s ‘Greatest Hits’ albums. So there.

This has been re-recorded by Miss Swift as part of her ongoing campaign to stop her nemesis Scooter Braun, who owns the original masters of her first six albums, from making any money from them. As such she’s redoing them in her own studio, banging on a load of unreleased extras and putting them out as ‘Taylor’s Version’. Which would you buy? Laters, Scoots.

Like many other people, my first real exposure to the musical stylings of ‘Tay Tay’ was via Mr Dwayne Johnson lip syncing to Shake It Off. And then there was that awful song ME! that ruined the summer of 2019 and made me grind my teeth so hard every time I heard it, I had to have dentures fitted by September.

But then along came Covid and lockdowns and previously unheard-of levels of anxiety, which coincided with the release of Folklore and suddenly that album became my musical security blanket. And then from there, I devoured her whole back catalogue (except ME!) to the extent that last year Spotify told me I was in the top 0.25% of Swifty listeners IN THE WORLD - that’s me, her mum and dad and probably Harold Styles trying to work out which songs are about him (Out of The Woods, Harry lad). 1993 Justin is appalled at my current tastes but he was kinda pretentious and made really poor life choices, so fuck him.

When it first came out, this album was the bridge between Country Taylor (not to be confused with Courtney Taylor-Taylor) and Pop Taylor so there’s a mixture of line dance stompers you can enjoy down at your local hootenanny (State of Grace, Holy Ground), glittery pop nonsense (We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, 22) and heartfelt twangy ballads (Sad Beautiful Tragic, All Too Well). This version also contains the bonus track Ronan, which is THE saddest song in the history of sad, sad songs (an honour previously held by Terry Jacks, Seasons in the Sun).

All Too Well actually appears on here twice - the original radio friendly version and an extended ten-minute bonus version that turns it into one of the most brutal break up records of all time (and gives you value for money if you put it on the jukebox… or this playlist).

Being Swifty’s ex is a terrible thing to be because her lyrics are *ahem* ‘Taylor made’ to catalogue her heartache with crippling, raw detail. I imagine realising that one of those tracks is about you must be pretty hard to take and, if that’s the case, this track in particular must have Jake Gyllenhaal’s guilt waking him up in the middle of the night screaming ‘I’m sorry, I was a shit!’ (Presuming, of course, that he still has a soul).

The Black Keys - Delta Kream

For all the fantastic albums released during a year of real creative ingenuity, there has only been one that has grabbed me instantly from the outset, and that was the tenth studio album from The Black Keys, titled, Delta Kream. It’s a collection of covers from artists that founding members, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, were inspired by when they joined forces twenty years ago and set about building a dynasty that shows no sign of waning.

Taking old Mississippi Country Blues classics and reinventing them in their own unique bluesy dynamic way makes this album an irresistible force. Primarily made up of Junior Kimbrough records, as well as re-imaginings of tracks by John Lee Hooker, Bernard Besman, Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside, Ranie Burnette and Joseph Lee Williams, the twelve-track record is a step down in tempo from the customary raucousness that befits the two-piece’s usual offerings. They rarely get out of second gear, but they don’t have to as the reworkings maintain a purposeful stroll and guile that’s still in the mould of the band’s enigmatic aura.

The beauty of the chosen covers is that they aren’t easily recognisable. Only the most hardened blues fans who’ve delved into the Mississippi Swamp themselves would recognise all the tracks. For those like myself, who are fans of the blues from this era without venturing too far into its murky depths, the album sounds like a fresh and original concoction.

From the very first strum of opening track, Crawling King Snake, the devil inside awakes, tingling the spine and creating an uncontrollable bout of measured head bobs complete with puckered lips, which continues throughout the listening experience. It’s an album best appreciated with the finest bourbon at the ready, suiting whatever setting or mood you find yourself in. Every song strikes a chord and it’s one of those albums that just needs devouring all at once in one hefty mouthful.

Weezer - Van Weezer

I’m getting too old to keep track of what is cool or not anymore, so maybe I could have gone for something more edgy and experimental, but I haven’t! Weezer are one of my favourite bands, but I admit I kind of drifted away from them for a few years and wasn’t completely up to date with all of their releases post the Red Album.

Over the last couple of years though, I have had a chance to catch up and have found their most recent releases to be great fun, including this. It is an intentional homage to the 1980s with cheesy rock riffs, squealy guitar noodling and stadium vibes. A lot of the reviews pointed out that it doesn’t really rock as hard as those ‘80s hair bands it is inspired by, but I don’t think it is supposed to. As with anything Weezer, there’s always a mischievous sense of fun and whimsy. Even when the guitars rock hard, you know that the band are not trying to be KISS, they’re just showing us that they can emulate the sounds of the kitsch that they like (same as on the Teal album).

Weezer haven’t grown up that much and neither have I- we’re a match made in heaven!

Palace - Life After

This album wasn’t released in 2021, but it’s an album I first listened to this year. Palace are a band who were brought to my attention back in 2015. Back then they were playing the small venues dotted around Manchester. For some reason, they had been lost in my ever expanding record collection. Earlier this year, a good friend of mine, and Eight Albums contributor Nigel Cartner asked if I’d listened to their latest album. From that point on, it’s been on constant repeat throughout the year. Not one person who I’ve introduced to this album has disliked it. Even Rachel (my wife) has given them “the” treatment (The Palace, for anyone who doesn’t know). A standout track for me, and judging by the number of plays on Spotify their most popular, has to be Heaven Up There. In the four years between 2015 and releasing Life After in 2019, they clearly spent a lot of time refining their sound. Look out for new album ‘Shoals’ out early next year, which will coincide with a European tour.

An honorary mention must go to Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend, an album which has been on close repeat after Palace.

Previous Eight Albums entries can be found on the Archive page.