This year’s Say It With Garage Flowers number one album can be easily filed alongside Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker as one of the greatest breakup records of all time.
Broken Heart Surgery by singer-songwriter Pete Fijalkowski (Adorable and Polak) and guitarist Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) is intimate and stripped-down, with nods to Johnny Cash, Spiritualized, John Barry and The Velvet Underground. A raw, deeply personal, melancholy album, it documents the breakup of a relationship and the aftermath, but is shot through with plenty of gallows humour and deadpan wit.
On the record, there are several lyrical references to material possessions – leaving them behind, or being saddled with someone’s else’s old stuff. There’s a lot of emotional baggage involved, but also a lot of physical baggage, too… There are some brilliant lyrics on the album – some of which made me laugh out loud when I first heard them. For example, “Hope – it’s more addictive than coke. Yeah – it’s cupid’s cruel joke…” (Betty Ford) and “[she] just left me with cutlery and a whole pile of her duff CDs…” (Queen of Stuff).
When I spoke to Pete earlier this year, he told me: “I wanted the album to reflect the various aspects of a breakup, so while some of the subject matters are taking place more in the head, there are others that have a very physical location and an obsession with small details – the division of objects between a couple (Breaking Up), the forgotten objects left behind in a now half-empty flat (Queen of Stuff) or the changing soundtrack to a couple’s life as their relationship deteriorates – from furtive whispers and kisses, to slamming doors and uneasy silences (Sound of Love).”
Asked what he wanted to achieve with the album, Pete said: “First and foremost, I wanted to make an album that I was proud of.”
Rest assured, he can hold his head up high – it’s a stone cold classic.
While we’re on the subject of masters in melancholy, Morrissey made a welcome return this year with World Peace Is None Of Your Business – his first album in five years. His best long-player since 1994’s Vauxhall & I, it was a glorious comeback record, with epic ballads (I’m Not A Man, Mountjoy), unabashed pop songs (Staircase At The University, Kiss Me A Lot, The Bullfighter Dies ) and lavish, exotic arrangements, including mariachi brass, strings and flamenco guitar.
Alas, due to a dispute with his record label, Harvest, the album is currently not available on Spotify or iTunes, so, instead, here’s a YouTube clip of the mighty Staircase At The University…
Other notable 2014 albums included Fair Warning by folk-rockers The Rails; Charade – the debut album from LA-based country singer Meg Olsen; A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye by San Fran garage-psychers Cool Ghouls ; Phantom Radio by the Mark Lanegan Band, which explored dark, electronic territory; The Breaks by former Boo Radley Martin Carr – gorgeous, lush guitar pop – and Alexandria by alt. country artist Chris Mills, which was his first album in five years and saw him team up with a new backing band – The Distant Stars.
Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt impressed with his solo album Hendra, which featured former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler on a poignant set of songs that, at times, recalled the legendary John Martyn, while Cherry Ghost’s latest record, Herd Runners, was a soundtrack for the lost and lonely, similar to Richard Hawley’s late night laments…
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention News From Nowhere – the ‘long-lost’ debut by ’90s Britpop band Speedy. Recorded in 1997, the album finally saw the light of day earlier this year and was well worth the wait. The band even reformed and played live for the occasion.
I played a small part in getting the album released – a 2009 blog I wrote about the record attracted some interest and one thing led to another…
Here’s a list of my favourite 30 albums of 2014 and a Spotify playlist to go with it.
1) Pete Fij & Terry Bickers – Broken Heart Surgery
2) Morrissey – World Peace Is None of Your Business
3) The Rails – Fair Warning
4) Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio
6) The New Mendicants – Into The Lime
7) Chris Mills & The Distant Stars – Alexandria
8) Cherry Ghost – Herd Runners
9) Ben Watt – Hendra
11) Johnny Marr – Playland
12) Cool Ghouls – A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye
13) Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
14) The Delines – Colfax Avenue
15) Beck – Morning Phase
16) Speedy – News From Nowhere
17) Temples – Sun Structures
18) Cleaners From Venus – Return To Bohemia
19) Manic Street Preachers – Futurology
20) Kings of The South Seas – Kings of The South Seas
21) Gallon Drunk – The Soul of the Hour
22) Len Price 3 – Nobody Knows
23) Little Barrie – Shadow
24) Tweedy – Sukirae
25) The Autumn Defense – Fifth
26) Neville Skelly – Carousel
28) Pete Molinari – Theosophy
29) Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham
30) Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything