Friday, 10 March 2017

Recommendations: My 5 Perfect Albums

Though I pride myself on appreciating a wide range of music, it is rock that has influenced me the most. Indeed, it is in rock that the album comes to the fore, enjoying a rare superiority over the single, even more precious in the age of downloads. Below is a list of five albums which I view as perfect, or nearly perfect: albums with not a single bad track. Though I tend to use absolutes in my prose, remember that this is just my own opinion, but I highly recommend you try out all of these albums. They are, in my opinion, not only good but important to the world of music. With that in mind, here's the list.

  • Vices and Virtues by Panic! At the Disco (2011)
An album so perfect, even its four bonus tracks can do no wrong. Reduced to only two members, Panic! could easily have thrown the towel in, or hired an orchestra to record with (I'll get to that later). But no, Brendon Urie would not be deterred. He released a rip-roaring anthem called 'The Ballad of Mona Lisa,' opening an album full of intelligent melodies, thoughtful lyrics and a ruthless energy that keeps me coming back for more. With very few session musicians credited, it is incredible that a record of such impetus could be produced by two people, but perhaps this streamlined the writing and recording process. From the pop-punk hit 'Ready to Go' to the electronic-inspired demo 'Oh Glory,' this masterpiece of 21st Century rock does not disappoint.

Hard-won favourites: 'Memories', 'Sarah Smiles', 'I Wanna Be Free' (Bonus Track)

  • A Night at the Opera by Queen (1975)
Okay, so for classic rock fans this is an obvious pick, but that doesn't stop this album being an absolute powerhouse of musical genius. Its opener, 'Death on Two Legs", is, if anything, underrated - if I were to make a James Bond parody film, this would be my theme. Check it out, you'll see what I mean. From there we travel through classics like 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'You're My Best Friend,' as well as more experimental tracks like 'The Prophet's Song.' Every member of the band contributes to the writing of the record, creating a whirlpool of humour, melancholy and about 25 different instruments. This album is famous for its innovation in the use of vocal layers, but it is the natural music that shines through for me, right up to Brian May's guitar-heavy arrangement of 'God Save the Queen' at the end. A timeless triumph of British music, and wholly worth owning a physical copy.

Hard-won favourites: 'Good Company', 'Seaside Rendezvous', 'Love of my Life'

  • Magnification by Yes (2001)
Speaking of classic rock, another of my all-time favourite albums is Yes' final record before their hiatus at the start of this Century. Reduced to a mere four members (their number was usually closer to seven), they decided to hire the San Diego Symphony Orchestra to bulk out their sound. The result is an album filled with modern symphonies. Though not a popular choice even among Yes fans, this record impresses from start to finish; with its mystical lyrics about magic, ancestors and the afterlife, as well as expert musicianship from all involved. The orchestral arrangements are simple but original, and lend a grand quality that Yes usually achieve through the virtuoso keyboard work of Rick Wakeman, who was missing from this record. This is perhaps the hardest album of the five to describe, so I recommend you go and listen!

Hard-won favourites: 'We Agree', 'Can You Imagine', 'Dreamtime'

  • Night Visions by Imagine Dragons (2012)
Few bands have been as ambitious with a first album as Imagine Dragons, and it truly paid off. As soon as 'Radioactive' hit the airwaves, the world was hooked, and the album shows how much they deserve their hype. Every time I listen to this album, I choose a new favourite, as it really does keep on giving. 'Hear Me' offers driving, radio-friendly rock, while 'Tiptoe' and 'Underdog' offer an indie flair that is now beginning to permeate the music scene. My only criticism is that 'On Top of the World' jars against the melancholy atmosphere of the album, but it is nevertheless a good song, leaving this album without a single bad track. A very strong debut from a brilliant band, and though I am not as enamoured with their sophomore effort Smoke and Mirrors (2015), I hope they continue their ambitious output.

Hard-won favourites: 'Demons', 'Bleeding Out', 'Every Night'

  • Abbey Road  by The Beatles (1969)
If you don't count 1970's Let It Be (and few true Beatles fans do), this is the Fab Four's final studio album - and they know it. The final track is called 'The End', and they do their best to go out with a bang. This album features some of George Harrison's best writing and guitar work, and big hitters like 'Because' and 'I Want You' from John Lennon. McCartney remains playful with tracks like 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer', and this album features the only Ringo-penned track, 'Octopus' Garden.' The whole of side 2 comprises one long medley of short, collaboratively-written tracks, showcasing the many styles of the Beatles' career; highlights include 'Golden Slumbers' and 'Mean Mr Mustard'. And finally, the last lyrics: "In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." A fitting finale for one of the most influential musical groups in history.

Hard-won favourites: 'Something', 'Here Comes the Sun', 'Carry that Weight'

And that's the list. So many albums nearly made it: Keane's Strangeland is incredible, but misses out due to an incongruous track (I may talk about 'Black Rain' in a later post). Other contenders were Priorities by Don Broco, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here and The 2nd Law by Muse. Do you have any perfect albums? Why do you like them? Feel free to start a discussion below. Chances are I'll reply! See you next time.