Vintage year for rockers to linger on, like their melodies
Don't be too quick to write off the old boys of rock. Most of the best music of 2014 was made by vintage stars, says Barry Egan
1 Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything.
Elbow front man Guy Garvey's bitter-sweet musings are full of existential ennui and wit, and are beautiful for it. The ruminative Alan Bennett of pop implores someone on Fly Boy Blue/Lunette to "bring your faces home to my sweet trampoline and acres of crash site love."
Equal parts Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters and Northern English vaudeville, Mr Garvey - who once described Top Gear as "Tory f***ing public school w*"kers getting high on four-star petrol" and therefore "heinous" - was a breath of fresh air in 2014.
His songs were often breathtakingly raw and, to use that awful word, real. Singing on Honey Sun about the break-up with his long-term girlfriend, novelist and former journalist, Emma Jane Unsworth, Guy muses thus:
"She and I would death defy and promenade/She and I were profligate a de rigueur/She and I were for a Burton Taylor made/She and I won't find another me and her."
As Mick Middle of Quietus put it in his review of The Take Off and Landing of Everything "while the template here remains wistful and Pennine-longing, the dark greens and browns of Bury life are shot through with shards of New York City" - where Mr Garvey relocated to when his relationship ended during the making of this desperately wonderful record.
On This Blue World, Guy is waxing sweet melancholic again, when he sings:
"When all the world is sucking on its sleeve/You'll hear an urgent morse in the gentle rain/And if you plot your course on the window pane/You'll see the coldest star in the arms of the oldest tree/And you'll know to come to me."
"It looks into the future as well," Guy told the Daily Telegraph of the same song, "and I've been writing that song for a long time, without knowing what I was writing about, because the split broadsided both of us - we both realised at the same time that we didn't want to be together anymore."
Taken as a whole, The Take Off and Landing of Everything is one of the most powerfully emotive albums you'll hear in a long time; My Sad Captains was one of the songs of the year for me.
The line "Another sunrise with my sad captains, with you I choose to lose my mind" is inspired perhaps from a line in The Bard's Antony and Cleopatra: "Come, let's have one other gaudy night; call to me all my sad captains; fill our bowls; once more, let's mock the midnight bell."
While on Fly Boy Blue/Lunette (which has to be one of the year's funniest tracks), the 40-year -old Guy sings:
"I'm reaching the age where decisions are made on the life and the liver, and I'm sure the last ditch/ But mother forgive me/I still want a bottle of good Irish whiskey /and a bundler of smokes in my grave."
Don't we all, Guy?
2 U2 - Songs of Innocence
Some philosopher or other once categorised fear as the inner static that prevents us from hearing ourselves properly.
Like a heyday Lou Reed, Bono has always blocked out that inner static to give us some of the most profoundly private lyrics.
On Songs of Innocence it is like he has thrown open the pages of his diary to the world. It is literally his life on record.
"I've seen for myself/there's no end to grief" he sings on California (There is No End to Love) and then of his mother, Iris, who died in 1974: "I've got your light inside of me."
On Cedarwood Road - the street where he grew up with his mates Gavin Friday and Guggi: the latter the song comes dedicated to - Bono sings: "You can't return to where you never left. I'm still standing on that street."
In 2015, Bono and U2 can't afford to stand still. It is the band's most important year ever. Their detractors would say that U2's continued survival, even relevance, as a band depends on two things: first, the follow-up to Songs of Innocence (the new album is believed to be called Songs of Experience and scheduled, loosely, for release sometime next year) being brilliant; and second, how good U2 are on the world tour.
Without being too melodramatic, the world tour next year has to see U2 return to the type of performance that they'd built so much of their reputation on. Anything less and in less than a decade, U2 will be viewed as just a karaoke live band - like the Rolling Stones.
So, hopefully we won't be getting perfunctory performances of songs from No Line on the Horizon - songs that sounded perfunctory even in their original forms. In fact, that 2009 album was the closest to the bottom of the barrel that U2 have scraped.
Five long years after that low point, Songs of Innocence is now proving divisive.
Fans of the band - such as me - see it as a return to form of sorts, one of their best albums since 1991's meisterwerk Achtung Baby. But U2 critics, perhaps smelling blood, see Songs of Innocence as yet more hard evidence of Bono looking like an old bloke trying too hard to stay hip, to stay relevant. It's like your uncle dancing to Happy by Pharrell Williams at a wedding. Embarrassing but difficult to get him to stop. (Especially when he's Bono.)
Most of this anti-Bono rage is, of course, merely because (a) Bono is a 54-year-old multimillionaire with houses all over the world; (b) a canny tech investor whose band got $100m from a computer giant to put their new album on iTunes for free; (c) a musical legend who's mates with Beyonce and Jay Z and Barrack; (d) a smooth operator on the world stage who schmoozed with George W Bush and Tony Blair; (e) and the frontman of an operation with tax-efficient planning outside of these recession-battered shores.
But to banish Bono and U2 into the wilderness of creative no-man's-land is too hard on a band that has given us some of the great musical moments of our lives - and who for a time defined the zeitgeist. And who knows, next year they might define the zeitgeist once more...
3 Lana Del Ray - Ultraviolence
Someone wise once described this obsessive masterpiece as "a glistening requiem of scorn reclaimed." And scorn is right.
On Sad Girl, the singer with a tattoo on her right arm that reads Whitman Nabokov (a reference to her two favourite authors) describes a relationship as being like:
"Being a mistress on the side/ It might not appeal to fools like you/Creeping around on the side/You haven't seen my man/ You haven't seen my man/He's got the fire and he walks with it."
The self-proclaimed "gangsta Nancy Sinatra" described the sound of this album (produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys) as moving with a "narco-swing". There's definitely a dark swing to the compelling the alt-femme fatale on songs like Cruel World when she sings: "Shared my body and my mind with you/That's all over now."
It's hard to imagine just where she fits in. But that's precisely the point of Del Rey, isn't it. As she said herself:
"Where am I going to get my inspiration? I couldn't think of a thing today that I would really genuinely want to be a part of."
4 Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
This is the 46-year-old with all his masks removed. He is free of the constraints of Blur and side projects like Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad And The Queen; free of composing operas based vaguely loosely around the Chinese pentatonic scale (Journey to the West), and records (Dr Dee) about the life of 16th-century English mystic John Dee.
Everyday Robots is a nakedly brilliant creation, and a nakedly autobiographical one too, from our Damo.
5 Hozier - Hozier
Listening to this, you can see why Bono said of the young Bray man with the Pre-Raphaelite looks:
"That song Take Me to Church put the fear in me. Such a great lyric and a great melody and a great voice. That's a reason for me to get out of bed. Most things don't have that effect."