James Poole recommendations

2023: Top ten albums

Well, that was an emotional ride. I didn’t make it to Glastonbury – boo! I did see loads of live music – yay! And, I wasn’t prepared for the impact of ‘Now and Then’, the final song by The Beatles. It knocked me for six. Sleaford Mods released a version of ‘West End Girls’ which shone a light on the darkness of the lyrics. The sneer accompanying ‘there’s a gun in yer ‘and and it’s pointing to yer ‘ed’ will forever cast a long shadow over the original. Blur returned with a tune for the ages in ‘The Narcissist’. Talking Heads celebrated 40 years of ‘Stop Making Sense’ (and all of my hopes now rest on a reformed band hitting the road). English Teacher continued their steady march to world domination. Maybe. And I still miss Prince. Talking of which, my top album of the year owes more than a small nod in the direction of His Purple Highness…

Willie J Healey – ‘Bunny’

It’s the follow up to ‘Sea Change’ by Beck. It’s the return of Roxy Music. It’s vintage era-Prince. And it’s none of the above. ‘Bunny’ is an absolute delight of an album. Opener ‘Woke Up Smiling’ is the sound of freewheeling joy. ‘Dreams’ is a tune so infused with a Sly Stone vibe that you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an out-take from ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’. ‘Late Night Driving’ could be straight from Prince’s vault, filed under ‘Camille’. ‘Little Sister’ turns the fuzz up and shimmers through a world where Steely Dan were still cool. ‘Bunny’ is the soundtrack to a Route 1 drive – the Pacific Coast Road was constructed just to accompany a convertible full of twenty-somethings off to embark on the journey of their life. It’s just a towering pile of sunshine. I love it to my core.

And the rest, in no particular order…

PJ Harvey – ‘I Inside The Old Year Dying’

It took a live performance of ‘I Inside The Old Year Dying’ for me to truly get it. Captivating, haunting, beautiful. Her best since ‘Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea’? I don’t think her voice has ever sounded better…

Peter Gabriel – ‘i/o’

Look, it took him nearly 30 years to get this album finished. And, while it came out late in the year as a complete piece (or, pieces, if you count both mixes), the steady moon-phase-related tease through the year meant that by the time it landed as a whole, there was a familiarity. That many of the songs were debuted live also adds to the charm. As a finished product, ‘i/o’ is unmistakably Peter Gabriel – layered, accessible and loaded with a fundamental point about man’s connection with nature and technology. It may be the least cool album for me to include here, but I really don’t care. It’s tremendous.

Shame – ‘Food For Worms’

Or, the opposite of Peter Gabriel. An album that balances the shouty, sweaty onslaught of a live Shame performance with vulnerability. It’s got heart. They remain one of the most exciting bands around.

A Certain Ratio – ‘1982’

With a creative re-awakening that shows no signs of stopping, ACR keep on coming. ‘SAMO’ was ACR in BBC 6 Music friendly mode, and didn’t give even a hint of this being a band 45 years into their run. The vibrancy brought by Ellen Beth Abdi to ACR live shows transferred perfectly to ‘1982’… and the title track was an updating of ‘Knife Slits Water’, a highlight from the ACR catalogue. They’re not slowing down…

Billy Nomates – ‘Cacti’

Worth the price of admission for ‘Balance is Gone’ and ‘Blue Bones (Deathwish)’ alone. There are no more exciting acts out there. This is proper, grown-up pop music hand-crafted by a massive talent. In a parallel universe, Billy Nomates is a household name.

BC Camplight – ‘The Last Rotation of Earth’

The album doesn’t so much open with the title track as it unfurls. It opens out right in front of you, layers emerging around the central piano motif. It’s the most Badly Drawn Boy sounding thing since, well, Badly Drawn Boy. It’s a dryly dark album of melancholy and lost hope. And it’s wonderful for it.

Matt Deighton – ‘Today Becomes Forever’

Or, where The Greatest Living British Songwriter plugs in, and goes again. Future generations will look back in awe of Matt Deighton, and will question the relative obscurity of his output within his lifetime. They will wonder what more the general public could possibly want. They will write off entire periods of history due to generations of people not being able to hear the absolute sincerity in his words, or the musical high wire act he pulls by just getting his guitar out. Help me right this wrong and give this a listen. It’s magical.

CVC – ‘Get Real’

Just tons of fun. Welsh MOR never sounded so good.

The Chemical Brothers – ‘For That Beautiful Feeling’

OK, I’ll admit it – I didn’t exactly count the days for the release of album number ten. But when it landed, it felt like the entire year in music had a shot in the arm. It felt alive. It’s vintage Chemical Brothers…