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Wednesday 23 April 2014

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

1 Bob Dylan Tempest

"Reputation is what men and women think of us," wrote Thomas Paine, "Character is what God and angels know of us." Robert Zimmerman's character is all his timeless songs for over five decades now. Nobody sings about bad love, struggle, pain, fear, death being down in the hole, salvation and redemption better. Mr Dylan has endured because his songs have a universality and a humanity that continually touch our lives. His best songs have a hymn-like truth to them. Others merely have a blazing intensity.

Tempest is his 35th album and one of his finest (and his darkest). Typical Biblical Bob to be leaving the finest wine for last. Tempest conflates mortality, romance, tragedy and black comedy to a soundtrack of old blues, doo wop, rock 'n' roll, Irish waltzes and New Orleans soul- stew.

Among the 45 verses and 15 minutes of haunting marrow-shaking melancholia, the album's title track has Bob wheezing about that dreadful night in 1912 the Titanic went to the bottom of frigid Atlantic: "Mothers and their daughters." There is talk of death and murder – invariably that of a rival love – too when he sings on Soon After Midnight: "I'll drag his corpse through the mud."

"One time, for one brief day, I was the man for you," he sings on Long and Wasted Years, yet another tale of love gone bad from the godfather of existential gloom. I wonder sometimes is Bob Dylan, for all his talk and songs about God over the years, in his old age finally a nihilist? "It's hard for me to relate to people enjoying that type of pain," Dylan said after his break-up album Blood On The Tracks came out in 1975. Yet 37 years later, Tempest is certainly heavy with pain and regret, and most of all, a helpless resignation about the world.

2 Leonard Cohen Old Ideas

The septuagenarian with the crooked smile has never run out of ideas, and even his old ideas, as he puts it, are infinitely more than most artists so-called new ideas. The late Romanian-Canadian poet Irving Layton was right when he said: "Leonard's mind has not been contaminated by a single idea."

Despite the worn-out cliche about his music being depressing, Leonard Cohen's songs have nearly always been uplifting and joyful in their own way. His first studio album of new material in eight years features 10 new songs which recall some of Cohen's most iconic creations – Suzanne and Bird on a Wire. "He wants to write a love song/An anthem of forgiving/A manual for living with defeat/A cry above the suffering/A sacrifice recovering/But that isn't what I need him to complete," groans Leonard in Going Home.

Like Dylan, Cohen has ways of finding a phrase that will stick in your mind. On Banjo, he is watching "a broken banjo bobbing on the dark, infested sea." He adds: "Don't know how it got there Maybe taken by the wave ... Or out of someone's grave." The gifted Jew who disappeared up a mountaintop to ponder Zen Buddhist rarely, if ever, lets us down.

3 jack white Blunderbuss

Seeing Mr White in his Mexican charro suit and matinee idol moustache, Noel Gallagher cattily remarked that the former White Stripes singer looked like "Zorro on doughnuts". His debut solo album sounds like Robert Plant's band The Honeydrippers on southern grits. Or Jimmy Page in Nashville after too many nights in a honky tonk. Blunderbuss could be Jack's Blood On The Tracks in parts, not least on he sings on Missing Pieces: "When they tell you they just can't live without you/They ain't lying, they'll take pieces of you/And they'll stand above you/And walk away". Is he singing about Meg White in The White Stripes or his ex wife Karen Elson, whom he was divorced from last year, or both or neither? We'll probably never know and it probably doesn't matter anyway.

4 GLEN HANSARD Rhythm and Repose

It seems redundant to apply more superlatives to Glen Hansard. He is clearly the best singer/lyricist to come out of Ireland in some time. I won't embarrass him by comparing his soul-baring in his songs to Bono and Van Morrison, but there's something in his music that moves towards the spiritual without becoming naff. The music frames anguish in some of Hansard's most confessional songs on Rhythm And Repose. "Though in time we've walked apart/You were always in my heart/Maybe we should say goodbye/But maybe not tonight..." he sings, beautifully, painfully, on Maybe Not Tonight.

5Fiona Apple The Idle Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And The Whipping Cords Will Serve More Rope Than You Will Ever Do.

Want to know what goes on inside alt-princess Fiona's head? It's all on this magnificent record.

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