Power Up

Best of 2020 Part 5: Nigel Tufnel Top Ten Albums and More of 2020

2020 may have sucked, but the music didn’t.  This year I bought and reviewed more new releases than ever before, which I narrowed down to the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten studio albums of 2020 listed below.

I would like to dedicate this list to my good pal Uncle Meat who originated the concept of a “Nigen Tufnel Top Ten” earlier this year.  It has become our thing.

BEST ALBUMS OF 2020

11. Now or Never – III

10. Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo

9. Sven Gali – 3 (EP)

8. Kim Mitchel – The Big Fantasize

7. Corey Taylor – CMFT

6. Stryper – Even the Devil Believes

5. Harem Scarem – Change the World

4. Dennis DeYoung – 26 East Vol 1

3. AC/DC – Power Up

2. Deep Purple – Whoosh!

1. Storm Force – Age of Fear

 

Storm Force’s debut album goes straight to #1 on their very first appearance!  No surprise here.  I’ve been raving about this disc since February and I owe it to Superdekes for putting these guys on my radar in the first place.  This is a well-deserved #1.  Age of Fear is an uplifting album with depth.  It’s a thoughtful, heart-pounding blast of classic hard rock.

Deep Purple’s Whoosh! and AC/DC’s PWRUP prove two things:  old dogs that both learn and don’t learn new tricks can all be champions.  (I call this theory “Schrödinger’s Dog”.) Deep Purple’s growth continues while AC/DC managed to tap into the vein of success that always worked for them.  Both records deserve their spots in the Top 3.

It was a thrill for me to learn that Dennis DeYoung both read and enjoyed my review of his newest album 26 East Vol 1.  It’s a terrific, Styx-like conceptual work that will please the old fans.  As will the new albums by Harem Scarem and Stryper, who didn’t stray far from their successful classic hard rock formulas.  Kim Mitchell and Sven Gali on the other hand dared to be different.  Kim went laid back and acoustic, while Sven Gali went with their heaviest uninhibited inclinations.  As for Mr. Bungle, it has been 21 years since their last album California.  All four Bungle studio albums are completely different from one another — four different genres.  For The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, they teamed up with Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo to re-record their first thrash metal demo tape.  And it could be their best album since the self-titled debut in 1991.  Not bad for a bunch of songs they wrote in highschool.

Corey “Mother Fuckin'” Taylor makes his debut on any list of mine with his solo album CMFT.  It’s a surprising collection of commercial hard rockin’ tunes.  Also appearing for the first time is Now Or Never (NoN) with their third album called III, featuring singer Steph Honde.  It’s an excellent, dramatic metal album with light and shade.


BONUS LISTS

Most disappointing:  Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man

Song of the year:  LeBrain Train by T-Bone Erickson

Single of the Year:  Mammoth WVH – “Distance”

Ultimately whether or not you liked the new Ozzy, its success or failure falls at the feet of producer/guitarist Andrew Watt.  He is already working on the next Ozzy album, so….

Huge thanks to T-Bone Erickson for the “LeBrain Train” theme song, which amazingly and unexpectedly became the song of the year in 2020!  Weird how that happened.  No bias here I assure you.

Finally, Wolfgang Van Halen finally released his first solo music under the name Mammoth WVH.  The non-album single “Distance” is dedicated to his late father Eddie.  Though musically it’s a modern power ballad, the lyrics and especially the music video evoke serious emotion.  Well done Wolfgang.  Can’t wait to check out his album in 2021.


TOP FIVE LIVE OR COMPILATION ALBUMS IN 2020

5. Metallica – S&M2

4. Thin Lizzy – Rock Legends

3. Sloan – B Sides Win Vol. 1 1992-1997

2. Def Leppard – The Early Years 78-81

1. Iron Maiden – Nights of the Dead – Legacy of the Beast

There were a lot of cool rock releases in 2020, so we need more lists!  Of course the brilliant new live Maiden deserved some loving attention.  Meanwhile, Sloan, Def Leppard and Thin Lizzy have continued to put out quality collections of rarities & unreleased material, well worth the time and money you’ll spend on them.  The Sloan collection is a vinyl exclusive and the first in a series of LPs re-releasing some of their B-sides and non-album and bonus tracks.  Finally, Metallica delivered the goods even without Michael Kamen on S&M2, a very different live set than the first S&M.  That’s the way to do it!


BEST LOCKDOWN SINGLE

5. Queen + Adam Lambert – “You Are the Champions”

4. Scorpions – “Sign of Hope”

3. Marillion – “Made Again 2020”

2. Marillion – “Easter 2020”

1. Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up”


 

A LOOK AHEAD AT 2021

It’s naive to assume that major touring and concerts will return in 2021.  This appears highly optimistic at present, with Covid still ravaging the landscape and vaccinations only just beginning.  Instead of looking ahead at things like the resuming Kiss tour, or the Motley Crue reunion, we should continue to put our faith in new music.

Accept have a new album due January 15 intriguingly titled Too Mean to Die.  It is their first without bassist Peter Baltes.  Steven Wilson has a new record out at the end of that month.  In February we get new Foo Fighters, The Pretty Reckless, Willie Nelson and Alice Cooper.  Greta Van Fleet, Weezer, Rob Zombie, Ringo Starr, and Thunder will be back soon too.  Many other bands are writing and recording without an announced due date.  Ghost, Marillion, Scorpions, Megadeth and even Ratt are hard at work to make next year suck a little less.  Support the bands by buying the music.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Light Box edition)

AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Sony “Light Box”)

FAQ:

  1. No, Malcolm Young doesn’t play on it.
  2. No, Axl Rose is also not on the album.
  3. Yes, it is as good as you’ve heard.

41 minutes is all it takes to rock the world.  We needed AC/DC in 2020, and we got it.  This isn’t the first time AC/DC have put guitars on magnetic tape without Malcolm.  That era began with 2014’s Rock Or Bust, but this album is better.  The riffs are Malcolm’s, and nephew Stevie Young performs them admirably as he always has.  As for Brian Johnson, he sounds as if time stopped back in 1995.

“Realize” is catchier than the average AC/DC, with a few guitar overdubs to sweeten it up.  “Rejection” is similarly fun, despite its title.  Good tunes.  Not immortal classics in the making, just good album cuts as AC/DC have done for decades.  Even the first single “Shot in the Dark” doesn’t sound like the kind of AC/DC tune that radio will be pounding out in 10 years, even though they sure are playing the crap out of it today.  Good songs all, but comparison to the back catalogue is a doomed endeavour.

The one tune that does sound like a future staple is “Through the Mists of Time”, a title that seems more like Zep than Acca Dacca.  Focused on melody and spare guitar picking, it’s a bit softer than what most people expect.  The “Ahh-ah” backing vocals sell it.  This is probably the song you’ll remember years from now.

Moving on down the tracklist, we have a few songs with potential to grow.  “Kick You When You’re Down” has some cool pickin’ rhythm.  Also cool is “Witch’s Spell”, another title that doesn’t seem like AC/DC at first.  It’s among the most memorable tunes thanks to a stuttery guitars and a fun chorus.  The mood changes on “Demon Fire”, an excellent song similar in style to “Safe in New York City” from 20 years ago.  It’s got that fast 4/4 beat, coupled with a low Brian Johnson growl (at first).

After “Demon Fire”, we’re in for a series of workmanlike AC/DC tracks without a lot of distinction.  There’s “Bad Reputation” (mid-tempo), “No Man’s Land” (slow and menacing), “Systems Down” (mid-tempo), “Money Shot” (mid-tempo with bite), and “Code Red” (slinky).  Power Up, like any AC/DC album since about Flick of the Switch, gets the job done.  The only true classic is “Through the Mists of Time”, but there is plenty of strong material headlined by “Demon Fire”, “Shot in the Dark”, “Realize”, “Witch’s Spell” and “Money Shot”.  It’s still early of course, and in three months you might have some clear favourites.  This album has room to grow.

Now, the $60 “Light Box” is…disappointing.  It’s a box, made of cardboard, with a sound chip that plays exactly 17 seconds of “Shot in the Dark” through a little speaker in the top, while flashing.  (I call it a “Seizure Box”!)  It stays lit for a few more seconds, and then stops.  You can push the button as many times as you like, because it comes with a handy-dandy USB charging cable.  (I bet you needed another one of those!)  So that’s all it does.  Inside is the standard CD digipack wedged between two sturdy foam slats.  On the left hand side with the button and charging port, a cardboard strip is attached to prevent the button from being pushed in the stores.  Removing this piece, which you need to do to recharge the box, is difficult and I tore mine.  I glued it back, but you can still see it.  $60 box, ripped just like that.  Bummer.

AC/DC sound like AC/DC the most when Phil Rudd is in the band.  With Phil, Brian Johnson and Cliff Williams all back for one more round, authenticity is not an issue.  This is an album that deserves multiple listens.  You’ll have your own favourites too.

3.75/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: AC/DC – “Shot in the Dark” (2020)

AC/DC – “Shot in the Dark” (2020 Sony single)

Be honest with me.  Until recently, did you really expect a new AC/DC album in 2020?  The notoriously private band were spotted at a studio in Vancouver a while ago, but aside from that it’s been total radio silence.

Until now.  Power Up!

Brian “Beano” Johnson found himself the recipient of brand new, high-tech in-ear monitors enabling him to sing live once again.  Phil Rudd put his past behind him.  This was enough to get Cliff Williams back on board.  Angus Young had been sorting through dozens of riffs written by Malcolm.  With nephew Stevie Young still in the fold to play those riffs, AC/DC were a band once more.

2020’s Power Up (or PWRϟUP) will be the first AC/DC album since the death of both George and Malcolm Young.

“Shot in the Dark” is the first single, available now on iTunes when you pre-order the album.  “Shot in the dark, beats a walk in the park.”  I highly doubt that it was a walk in the park, but the thing about AC/DC is that they make everything better.  (This week’s episode of the LeBrain Train was supposed to be about AC/DC bringing us exactly what we needed in 2020.  It has obviously been postponed so we can talk about Eddie Van Halen instead.)  If Black Sabbath’s “Rock and Roll Doctor” was a real person, there is little question that they would have prescribed us some AC/DC in 2020.  We needed this.  Like an Aspirin when your head is achin’, we needed a “Shot” of AC/DC.  Something bright and shiny to look forward to.

What AC/DC do, only they can do right.  There’s nothing even remotely unique about “Shot in the Dark”.  It’s AC/DC.  It is what it is and does what it does, and it’s pretty simple.  All you need is a beat, a catchy guitar lick, and a belting singer.  “Shot in the Dark” has all that.  The things that do jump out this time are Angus’ solo — slidey goodness — and the sheer joie de vivre of it all.  Brian is sounding great.  Some have noted that AC/DC sounds more like the genuine article when Phil Rudd is on drums.  His thrift and pocket groove are peanut butter and jelly.

Rating a new AC/DC song is kind of pointless.  They always come out with something good, albeit familiar, for a first single.  1990’s “Thunderstruck” was an exception.   It’s been this way since 1995’s “Hard As a Rock”.  AC/DC drop a new single, and it’s always the same.  Good and familiar.  Same thing here.  Ratings are meaningless so we’ll call it a perfect score just because we should all be happy as fuck that AC/DC are back.

5/5 stars