Needle In The Groove’s Top 10 Albums of 2021

My top 10 albums of 2021.

Well grapple fans (an up to date reference for the kids!), here we are at the dying embers of 2021 and thinking at the same time last year we were all predicting we would all be back to normal, everyone fully vaccinated and living like to the full. Well thanks to Covid-19 mutating like, well Covid-19, here we are a year down the line, all pretty much locked up as we were last Christmas. Gigs opened up for a couple of months and I snuck in 3 before the UK government made it pretty much impossible to go see a gig from Boxing Day onwards.


Thankfully bands didn’t let this affect them and it was a very strong year for releases. Most of the bands on this list were albums purchased in 2021, so there will not be a review on the site for further details. Where there is a review I will attach a link. It’s far from me to criticise, so if you have brought an album out in 2021, well done to you all.


It was also good to hear only yesterday that vinyl sales were up in the UK, with them making up 23% of all sales, which is 14 years of continuous growth, and CDs seeing the lowest number of sales since 1984, just one year after they were introduced to the UK. This increase is probably down to two factors – Adele and Abba. I don’t think my haul of over 200 albums bought in 2021 made a dent in the numbers.


I’m sure vinyl sales would be a lot higher were it not for manufacturing issues, PVC shortages and the fact that demand is outstripping supply by 2:1. If you have a spare couple of million lying down the back of the sofa, build a vinyl pressing plant. You can’t fail. For some reason, probably because they were part of a ‘bundle’, over 190,000 tapes were sold in 2021, their biggest selling year since 2003. When compared to the streaming monsters however, its bugger all as the likes of Spotify, Amazon, Deezer etc etc had an 81% share of the market.

Anyway onto my top 10 albums of 2021……

10. Lifesigns – Altitude

I was new to the Lifesigns party in 2021 but even from the first listen I was hooked. Its a really great album, and John Young is now a firmly established name in the Chesworth household.

9. The Dead Daisies – Holy Ground

The Dead Daisies were good, then they became excellent. Why? Well Glenn bloody Hughes only went and joined them. The ‘voice of rock’ added his Glenn Hughes-ness to TDD and the result is the fab. The man is the Tinkerbell of rock, adding a drop of fairydust to take TDD up a notch above anything they had done before this point

8. Thunder – All the Right Noises

Considering I was at their last ever gig a few years back, Thunder’s return and resurgence has been a great one, with ATRN sitting nicely near the summit of Thunders best works. It’s that good.

7. Dirty Honey – ST

Dirty Honey hit the ground running with their cracking EP. Their debut album picks up where the EP left off. Self produced and financed, they want to take care of their own destiny. In Mark LaBelle they have a singer who can challenge some of the greats. 70s rock is alive and well. (Fun fact – their single from the EP ‘When. I’m Gone’ was the first ever single from an unsigned band to top the Billboard Rock Chart). My only gripe is the album is too short! I’ve had longer shits.

6. The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic II

If your idea of melodic rock heaven is parpy keyboards and songs that sound like they were written and performed in the 1980s, then look no further. TNFO make every song sound like it was written for the Rocky film franchise and 80s B movies when the likes of Paul Sabu, Lion and Stan Bush were regular contributors.

5. Myles Kennedy – The Ides Of March

This is the album I waited 11 years for. Myles’s debut was good and all, but with TIOM he came out of the blocks like a stabbed rat. More power and welly, and in the title track, he has a song that is a close second to ABs Blackbird. ‘The Ides Of March’ track is completely all over the place. No wonder he hardly plays it live, but when he does…..its a thing to behold.

4. Leprous – Aphelion

Leprous is another bands that I came to the party late with. Having heard ‘Pitfalls’ first, I was smitten. With ‘Aphelion’, the feeling was identical. I can see why fans are not too hot when comparing the 5 albums before ‘Pitfalls’ to the latter two new ones, but for me ‘Aphelion’ is a brilliant album. OK its all about Einar Solberg and he clearly holds the keys to the castle, but the performances of all the guys is something to behold. They are brilliant, and they bloody well know it.

3. Plush – ST

I’ve been a fan of Moriah Formica’s ever since she appeared on a Michael Sweet album back in 2016. She is a very talented singer/songwriter and when someone of her age can tackle Ann Wilson songs with ease, you know they are special. She is surrounded with some amazing talent in Plush – Brook Colucci, Ashley Suppa, and Bella Perron. Considering they were all under 21 when the album dropped in October, the results are stunning. A band so young shouldn’t be this good with their first album.

2. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

OK its another dinosaur of a band up at the sharp end of the poll for the second year running. After a 6 year gap Iron Maiden didn’t need to ever make an album again. But they did, and its a belter. OK, its no ‘Powerslave’ or ‘Piece Of Mind’. Its about as diverse as Steve Harris and Iron Maiden get, and that is a good thing indeed

  1. Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

This album simply ticked all the boxes for me – great gongs, great vocals, set in the 80s and some of the best videos this side of Van Halen and David Lee Roth. A lot of bands try to recreate the 80s heydays but few succeed. Lets face it, some of the lyrics are corny, but they are delivered in a style and knowing nod to the past that you are just swept along for the ride. The sign of a good album is one you can’t stop playing, and with KIAGT its hardly been off rotation. They even roped in Sam Fox for the best ballad I’ve heard in a number of years, ’Tomorrow’. I can’t wait for album No.2

Plush – ‘Plush’ Album Review

Stunning debut album from Plush. I thought it was going to be good, but I didn’t know how f*cking good!!

Review by Paul Chesworth

Buy here – https://amzn.to/3AWIEJP

Released 29th October 2021

I first came across Moriah Formica (not that way you perv), a couple of few years back when she duetted on a Michael Sweet solo album, ‘One Sided War’. Back in 2016 I predicted great things for her even back then. I’ve kept a distant eye on her career and have been hotly anticipating this debut Plush album after seeing some of the covers they have been releasing. My appetite was completely whetted when they posted their ‘shit-hot’ version of Alter Bridge’s ‘Isolation’.

‘Plush’ is composed of four talented women, under 21, whose accomplishments and talent eclipse their age. This female rock force is fronted by singer, songwriter and guitarist Moriah Formica. Drummer Brooke Colucci, guitarist Bella Perron and bassist Ashley Suppa round out the lineup.

When I said hotly anticipating, I thought it would be a good debut, but I wasn’t expecting it to be THIS. FUCKING. GOOD. If anyone was thinking fluffy girly metal, then you couldn’t be more wrong. After stating recently that Nestor’s debut was one of the best I’ve heard in a long time, along comes Plush with an equally superb debut album.

‘Opening with “Athena” Plush ready do set their stall out early. It has a really heavy, dirty riff from Bella Perron that Mark Tremonti would be proud of punches you like Bruce Lee only wearing an iron glove. Harmonies are a-plenty, and the rhythm of Brooke Colucci and the pulsating bass of Ashley Suppa drive this on to stand head and shoulders in the pack. Throw in Moriah Formica’s stunning vocal range and it make for one sumptuous recipe. Think Ann Wilson or Kelly Clarkson singing for Alter Bridge and you will get where I’m coming from. “Champion” “Found A Way” and “Hate” are more melodic, but still pack a hefty punch. Perron has a great guitar tone and Formica’s vocals are crystal clear.

“Sober” is a powerful anthem, moving from acoustic to electric and is an emotional ride digging into the lyrical content. “Better Off Alone” is a song where Formica is wearing her emotions on her sleeve, and if auto-biographic, has drawn on some life affirming decisions. Bella Perron earns her weight in salt with her guitar playing. “Sorry” is nicely paced, branding from stripped down to a strong phrasing of ‘Sorry’ for each line of its chorus. “Why Do I Even Try” uses Formica’s instrument (her voice) and interplays with Bella Perron guitar licks. The Princess of Pound (Colucci) and Suppa are up front and centre on the dynamic “Bring Me Down”. “Don’t Say That” is the true ballad on the album, and shows that Plush have a lot of strings to their bow. If this was the late 80s, Plush would be sitting on a Top 10 Billboard song, and playing arenas within weeks of its release.

“Will To Win” matches ‘Athena’ for its heavy riff and these songs sit really well in Plush’s wheelhouse. All 4 are on top form here, and Formica’s vocals shine. This is a nice composition and Perron lays down some understated riffs. I just with she was given more slack to let rip with her talent. It’s only on closing track “Walk Away” where she has anywhere near an extended solo. Moriah wails ’I’m gonna walk away, walk away from all the pain’ and you know she means it. At 13 songs and 50 minutes it flew by. There’s not a duff song on here and that is something else.

Plush have clearly done their homework. In Formica they have a singer songwriter that is a shining light in modern metal now, and hopefully for years to come. It easy to over sing when you have an instrument like Formica’s voice. She knows when to be subtle, when to let loose and when to emote. Add the undoubted quality to Colucci, Suppa and Perron, and its delicious. The four women complement each other perfectly to become Plush. They have avoided the pitfalls to be a ‘saccharine-coated-look-great-but-no-substance’ band and come out all guns blazing. If they are doing this now, then I cannot wait for what’s to come in the future.

To write and perform an album that is so contemporary, mature, and with a wink to the past, with all band members at a (relatively) young age is remarkable. Ok maybe not remarkable as I’ve seen their videos leading up to this release so it shouldn’t be a total surprise. They have lived up to my expectations, and gone way beyond it. ‘Plush’ is a simply marvellous album. Look out boys, the girls are here to kick your asses!

I haven’t been this excited about a band since I found Rival Sons, Alter Bridge and Coheed And Cambria. Plush sit in great company

For fans of Alter Bridge, Shinedown, Red Sun Rising

Score – 9/10

Plush are –
Moriah Formica – Vocals & Guitar
Bella Perron – Guitar
Brooke Colucci – Drums
Ashley Suppa – Bass

Tracklisting –
Athena
Champion
Hate
Found A Way
I Don’t Care
Sober
Better Off Alone
Sorry
Why Do I Even Try
Bring Me Down
Don’t Say That
Will Not Win
Walk Away

Wicked Smile – ‘Wait For The Night’ Review

Wicked Smile hit the ground running with their powerful debut. Fans of 80s stalwarts such as Dio, Skid Row, Maiden and Sabbath can find something to enjoy here

By Paul Chesworth

Australian heavy rockers Wicked Smile will release their debut full length album titled ‘Wait for the Night’ on September 24th. Oct 15th in the UK.

Wicked Smile are all about bringing back fist pumping heavy rock to the forefront with a collection of ten ‘killer songs’. The forthcoming album is produced by Paul Laine (The Defiants) and mastered by Bruno Ravel (The Defiants/Danger Danger).


Guitarist Stevie Janevski goes on to say, “last year was all about giving the world a ‘taste’ of what we’re about. We’re a five-piece kick ass heavy rock band and I think we made our presence known with the release of our Delirium sampler EP”.

Wicked Smile is fronted by charismatic powerhouse lead vocalist Danny Cecati (ex Pegazus & Eyefear) with Stevie Janevski (The Radio Sun, ex Black Majesty & Cyclone Tracy) and Dave Graham (ex In Malice’s Wake) on guitars, Glen Cav (ex Virtue) on bass and Jason Tyro on drums.

I won’t dwell on the EP songs from last year as all are included here. (see link to my EP review at the bottom of this paragraph) What WS have done is capitalise on the success of the EP and gone full steam ahead and put the album out a year after the EP. WS set their stall out early with the powerful ‘Date With The Devil’. Its full on 80s metal, very guitar heavy and Cecati sounding great. ‘Daze Of Delirium has a cracking chorus and is as soft as WS get to Steves other outfit The Radio Sun. ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ shows that balladic side to WS and Cecati and sounds a different vocalist completely.It has its obligatory searing guitar solo to appease the faithful. ‘Sign Of Times’ is a more doom laden vibe, which is quite Tony Martin era-Sabbath, which for me is praise in itself. ‘Last Goodbye’ has an opening riff that transports me to Bark At The Moon era Ozzy. The title track ‘Wait For The Night’ is the strongest on the album by a mile, it will certainly please fans of bands like Maiden and Halloween and Cecati’s vocals soar throughout the song. The twin guitars of Janevski and Graham definitely need a mention here as they shred the arse off each other.

EP Reviewhttps://needle-in-the-groove.com/2020/06/07/wicked-smile-delerium-ep-review/

It’s on songs like ‘Killer At Large’ ‘Date With The Devil’, and ‘Wait For The Night’ where they really hit the mark. Theres a variety of styles and influences coming into play as they show on the melodic ‘Daze….’ I understand this melodic rock style based on previous bands. But its the heavier, metal songs that stand out for me, and with that in mind I’m already looking forward to that difficult No2 album!

8/10

Date With The Devil
Wait For The Night
We Fall
Sign Of Times
Daze Of Delirium
Killer At Large
Last Goodbye
Loves Got A Hold On You
Don’t wait For Me
Stronger

Sunbomb – ‘Evil And Divine’ Review

Sunbomb – Evil and Divine

Sunbomb is a new Frontiers alliance between L.A.Guns Tracii Guns, and Stryper’s Michael Sweet. The project was leaked March 19 by Guns and described the project as “the metal record I would have made when I was 17 years old.” Also when appearing on Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk that ‘the Sunbomb record is really kind of like (L.A. Guns 2019 album) ‘The Devil You Know’ times three”

I follow Mr Sweet on Twitter and he’s a ‘non’ friend on FB. he is always engaging and honest about his work and considered the recent Stryper albums as some of their best work if not the best, and I am somewhat in agreement. Although I think some Stryper fans could lose their shit over a title like ‘Evil and Devine’, when some fans have criticised the recent Stryper album ‘God Damn Evil’. Some people are idiots, but that’s religion (and idiots) in a microcosm. I think that this Sunbomb album is somewhere near to what I think the next Stryper album will be like as Sweet has stated he loves the heavier side of their output

Anyway titles aside, I think Sweet is a perfect foil for Guns. His vocals still kick ass and proves to be a belting choice for ‘EaD’. By ‘eck, it is an inspired choice. Sunbomb have Bill and Tedited it back to the roots of metal and NWOBHM and raided the likes of Iommi’s discarded riff drawer, and Rob Halfords tightest pants as Sweet sings higher on this one album than he has done over his last half a dozen albums

‘Evil and Divine’, is trying to be classic metal, and that in itself is great. Its ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’, homage to 70s and 80s metal from the birth of Metal in the Sabbath doom sounding ‘Take Me Away’, and all the way to 80s Priest/Maiden with the galloping ‘No Tomorrows’. ‘Life’ sets out their stall in the first 30 seconds and the threat level remains at ‘heavy’ for most of the album. There’s some Divine songs on offer here with the likes of the title track, ‘They Fought’ and ‘Better End’, and an Evil one in ‘Been Said And Done’ as it is a bit of a downer compared to the higher energy of the rest. All in all its a decent album, that will be picked up by fans of the two guys, but I doubt it will pick up a bunch of new fans.

Personally I like Sweets heavier vocals, but whoever produced and mixed the album needs a swift kick in the nuts. I’m going with the drummer as the drum mix is quite prominent to the point where I can hear Sweet, but cannot always work out his phrasing and is somewhat subdued when you consider the effort the guy is putting in, the vocals should be crystal clear and are far from it. On a scale of Frontiers speed dial projects, from Resurrection Kings to Revolution Saints, it sits somewhere in the middle. It could have been so much better

At least it gives me some hope for the next Stryper album being a metal nugget

6/10

Tracii Guns – Guitars
Michael Sweet – Vocals
Adam Hamilton – Drums
Mitch Davis – Bass
Johnny Martin – Bass on ‘We Fought’

Tracklisting-
Life
Take Me Away
Better End
No Tomorrows
Born To Win
Evil And Devine
Been Said And DoneStronger Than Before
Story Of The Blind
World Gone Wrong
They Fought

Stryper – ‘Even The Devil Believes’ Album Review

Buy Here – Stryper ‘Even The Devil Believes’

Back in the mid 80s a good friend of mine used to go to a good friend of his (who back then had a stellar record collection, and still does) to make me some mix tapes. It was his attempt to get me into what was basically hair metal. Ratt, Tesla, Loudness, TT Quick, Fifth Angel, Cinderella, Joshua, etc., etc., Its a long list of bands! It took me years to track down the albums of these bands for myself. I loved all the bands, and I particularly liked Stryper. The cassette tape introduced me to ‘Make Me Wanna Sing’, ‘Battle Hymn Of The Republic’, and ‘Loud And Clear’. I have been a fan ever since. Few bands to this day from that 80s period are making new music, even less are turning out good stuff. In fact I think Stryper are on a (rock that makes me) roll as their last 3 albums have been some of their heaviest, most consistent and dare I say it, some of their best. They would even make the hardiest of fans give up lent in favour of these three (now make the four!)

Its always been a hard sell to your peers that you like Stryper. I don’t know why. I’m not religious, though I would like to have faith. Is it because of the religion? The wardrobe? Or some of the ballads that graced MTV back in the day? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I’ve never been one to be taken in my a lyric. I do have a few, but this is where I probably sell myself short as I go for melody, riffs and how a song makes me feel rather than delving into the meaning. Whilst I don’t go for the faith aspect, I have however absorbed their music almost religiously. I’ve bought every album, I read Michael’s book (we both have a best way of having toilet roll presented), and that was a honest and open story. I saw them in Italy, something I never thought I would ever do, and sang the first three songs in a harmony with Rob Evans and Sweets wife (!) and have interviewed Michael and his dog a few years back.

Anyway, I am in the camp of Stryper maintaining the heaviness of the past few albums. I’m not against the ballads, but they were always on the sugar sweet side for me, too sugary. The recent 3  albums have kicked some serious balls, so I’m hoping for the trend to continue here with ‘Even The Devil Believes’. What can I say? Well, my hope and wish is well and truly granted. Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse Stryper come galloping over the horizon ready to conquer with a gut wrenching riff and banshee wail courtesy of Michael Sweet. As you would expect, harmonies are a thankful given, and there’s added welly from the prince of pound and the new bass groove in Perry Richardson. Its a sterling opening track and is 80s metal personified. ‘Make Love Great Again’ should be subliminally played across the US to combat the hate and division that seems rife, without getting too political. We all need some love in our lives, right? Sweet (M) has his feet firmly planted in the 80s as the guitar work is worthy of this period when bands like Stryper ruled the waves – both FM and UHF!

‘Let Him In’ is short and snappy and gets to the point, sharply with its simple but effective chorus. ‘Do Unto Others’ is the lightest song so far in, but even this rocks, and I particularly like the guitar solo. If you’re going to go big, then it should be on the track that the album bares its name, and ‘Even The Devil Believes’ almost gets there. The guitar tone ifrom Sweet and Fox s great and has some fab harmonies as you would expect, but I just wanted more, going for the jugular in length and scale. It’s still a good song, but I want them to deliver a ‘Heaven And Hell’ moment for me. ‘How To Fly’ dips its toes into the 70s for a section that is very ELO/The Beatles inspired and delivers in both its modern and past sound. ‘Divider’ is a cool song, and brings all the best parts of Stryper into one song. I know that’s every song, numbnuts, but very much so here. ‘This I Pray’ goes very Bon Jovi/Poison, with the stirring cowboy ballad. As Stryper ballads go, this one goes to eleven. Give me a song like this over the syrupy ones every day of the week. In fact, for ‘This I Pray’ Michael Sweet out-Jovi’s Bon Jovi!!

‘Invitation Only’ is bright, and ‘pop-py’ and its the chorus and harmonies that bring this up to what could have been a bit standard affair. ‘For God – Rock ’n’ Roll’ makes me want to dig out my spandex, foil covered cucumber, leg warmers and guy-liner as this would be welcome on any of their 80s output. It’s a little belter. In fact, I think it’s my favourite, and it should be an immediate addition to their live set. ‘Middle Finger Messiah’ is fast and frenetic and is I great title and a great song to finish off the album with. 

With ‘Even The Devil Believes’ if this were the last album, then it would be some way to finish off as I/we can’t really expect our 80s heroes to be producing music some 35-40 years later. The fact that Stryper are, and are doing so at such a level, and absolutely kicking arse is a (new) testament to their being. If they do continue then I look forward to being in the front seat and preaching from the hilltop as to how great they are.

Michael Sweet cant hit the high notes as regular as he did in the 80s and that suits me. The voice has mellowed, it’s still one of the best in metal and he can pick his battle (hymn of the republic) when he goes high. When he does, it still makes me go all goosebumpy. He still remains one of my favourites. I’m a firm believer that a lot of the output from 80s bands hasn’t been as good as it was back in the day (thats nostalgia for you), but even the blind, and deaf can see/hear that Stryper are in the best period of their career. 

After listening to this, I get it. Even The Devil Believes.

Review by Paul Chesworth.

SCORE8.5/10

 

Tracklisting

Blood From Above

Make Love Great Again

Let Him In

Do Unto Others

Even The Devil Believes

How To Fly 

Divider

This I Pray

Invitation Only

For God – Rock ’n’ Roll

Middle Finger Messiah

Stryper are – 

Michael Sweet – Lead Vocals / Lead & Rhythm Guitar

Robert Sweet – Drums / Vocals

Oz Fox – Lead and Rhythm Guitar / Vocals

Perry Richardson – Bass /  Vocals

Also

Paul MacNamara – Keys/Moog/Organ

Keith Pittman – Additional Background Vocals