I go back and forth between naming The Wall the best album ever, or Genesis’ Selling
England by the Pound. They are both worthy of the title for different reasons. Selling England moves beyond the mere genre of rock and grounds itself in the western tradition. The Wall, though, tugs and pulls on our emotions while telling a timeless story. Does this make The Wall the better album?
Today, I say it does. If you ask me tomorrow, I may tell you that Selling England by the Pound is the best ever. I’m annoying like that. The Wall has so much going on, and it all fits together so perfectly. In a way, it really is just one very long song, like Thick as a Brick. It tells a story beginning with Pink, a rock star, as a young man. It continues with his story as a rock star, living a life of debauchery and drugs, and it ends with his trial. Throughout the whole story, he gradually builds a wall around his emotions to protect himself from his pain.
We can’t all relate to having a crappy, oppressive childhood, but some can. We don’t all live like rock stars, surrounded by drugs and sex, but some do. We don’t all find ourselves standing before a judge after our wall has collapsed, but some do. We don’t all build a wall inside of us to hide from the rest of the world, but a lot of us do.
Even if we can’t relate to all or any of those things specifically, in some way, we either understand them or we have experienced something similar. That is the brilliance of The Wall. Every time we listen to it, it connects with us in some new and exciting way. Some days, we throw our fists in the air to “Another Brick in the Wall Pt.2” as a way of sticking it to the man. Other days, we close our eyes and sing along to “Comfortably Numb,” as we enjoy those fleeting moments of carefree protection within our walls.
From undertones of anti-progressive governments to emotional despair, this album has it all. Furthermore, what it means to me is likely much different than what it means to you, and it is probably different than what inspired Waters to write it in the first place (the death of his father and grandfather in the two World Wars).
That is why, today, I say The Wall is the best album ever made. It defies time and genre. It makes us ponder our own existence and whether or not we too are building emotional walls to protect ourselves. Were Pink Floyd the best musicians in the world? No, not by a longshot, but they managed to compose their music in such a way that it conveyed the emotions they were getting across in the lyrics. This album will persist long after we are gone, in part, because it connects with people at a deeper level than most music. That is why The Wall truly is the best.
2015 turned out to be another fantastic year for prog, as well as metal. Last year, I made a top 10 list, but this year, there has been far too much great music in prog, metal, and rock to narrow it down to 10 albums. Apart from my top 4, there will be no particular order for the rest of my picks. Most of this will be prog, but there is some straight up metal here as well.
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Neal Morse and company have made another outstanding album. “Alive Again” might be one of the top 10 best long progressive songs ever made. It is remarkably beautiful. Mike Portnoy’s drumming is exceptional, as always, and, like last year, this isn’t the last we shall hear of him on this list.
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
The Oblivion Particle is my first introduction to Spock’s Beard, and I am heartily impressed. Ted Leonard’s vocals really round out the band. “Bennett Built a Time Machine” is my personal favorite from the record.
Stryper – Fallen
I’m brand new to Stryper, and after listening to their last two albums, I’m flabbergasted. Their new music is better than their original stuff from the 80s. The drummer has grown incredibly, and Michael Sweet’s vocals soar to the heavens. The best thing – Stryper hasn’t given up on their values. They blast metal to honor God.
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
I was pleasantly surprised by this album. The music has just the right amount of complexity, with a few pop hooks here and there for good measure. The song “Lonely Robot” should be a radio staple, but rock radio sucks.
LEAH – Kings and Queens
The reigning queen of prog metal released a masterpiece this year. A long masterpiece. Her combination of metal with celtic influences works amazingly well. She creates a wonderful sound that no one else really tries to duplicate. Originality abounds.
Dave Kerzner – New World (Deluxe Edition)
The deluxe edition came out this year, so it counts as 2015. Plus, I overlooked the album last year since it came out in December, and for that I sincerely apologize to Dave. This album brilliantly revives classic elements of Pink Floyd, and Kerzner’s voice is eerily reminiscent of David Gilmour’s. This is an album meant to last.
The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak
Wow! AC/DC meets Mike Portnoy! Richie Kotzen’s voice has grown on me, as has the “Dog’s” music. From the virtuosity of the first track, “Oblivion,” to the hard rock bombast of “Captain Love,” Hot Streak is a fantastic album. Billy Sheehan’s bass balances Portnoy’s drums and Kotzen’s guitars beautifully. The quiet piece, “Fire,” is a nice change up, as well.
You could call this a supergroup for thrash, although it seems anything with Mike Portnoy in it could be called a supergroup. His double bass thrash drumming is a nice change for him. The abundant guest performances from bands such as Testament, Anthrax, and many other groups really round out their sound. Normally I don’t like thrash because of the lyrics, but the lyrics here are great. The combination of guests makes this album one of the greatest thrash albums ever made.
Disturbed – Immortalized
This isn’t prog in any sense of the word, but Disturbed’s first album since 2010 is a return to form for the band. They didn’t want to make an album again unless it was really good, and they delivered on that desire. Immortalized is one of the best album’s they have made, with only one song that I don’t like. Their cover of “The Sound of Silence” is better than the original, in my opinion.
Flying Colors: Live at the Z7
The live Blu-ray is one of the best live shows I have seen. The music is played flawlessly, and the production for sound is excellent. It was filmed in 4K and you can choose from two sound choices – front row or sound board. Well played, FC, well played. Oh ya, more Mike Portnoy, too.
Rush – R40 Live
This needs no explanation. Long live Rush.
Steve Hackett – Wolflight
Another great solo effort from one of the greatest guitarists ever. I have such a great respect for Steve Hackett and his dedication to his craft and the genre. Of all the 70s prog giants, Hackett is probably the best ally to the newer prog artists and musicians.
A year ago, I couldn’t stand Steven Wilson. Now I’m a fan. Go figure. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is simply brilliant. The story telling is at an extremely high level, and this album, while rather depressing, is so addicting to listen to. Wilson is an incredibly important figure in progressive rock.
2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld Path 2
Yeehaw, this is a great album! Holy crap, I don’t know how Andy Tillison does it! He is a master of cultural criticism, and while I don’t agree with him politically, I do respect him immensely. This album is well worth your time.
Like I said, a great year for rock of all kinds. As I promised, Mike Portnoy features prominently in my list, just like last year. He certainly deserves it since he is one of the hardest working men in the business. His “Hello Kitty” drum video for Loudwire was an instant classic.
Best prog book of the year goes to Progarchy’s very own Brad Birzer for his excellent book on Neil Peart, a man of letters. Well worth your time.
The new Kansas documentary, Miracles out of Nowhere, is excellent. While it only goes through Point of Know Return, it is an excellent look at the band, from the band members themselves, as well as Brian May and Garth Brooks. It was great to see that the band members don’t hate each other. In fact, they genuinely seem to like each other. If at all possible, order it from the band because it comes with a bonus disc featuring the band reminiscing and a few other features – http://www.kansasmerch.toursync.com
One final documentary/live concert that is worthy of any “best of” list is Roger Waters’ movie, The Wall. It combines a live concert from his recent tour with short scenes that examine the meaning of the album for him. The concert itself is outstanding – better than his 1990 The Wall concert in Berlin, performed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The music is basically indistinguishable from the album. A worthy look at one of the best and most important albums ever made.
Sorry if I have bored you with my list, but I am nothing if not thorough. I’m just amazed by the quality of music that has been released the last few years, and I eagerly look forward to what the coming year has in store. New Dream Theater coming in January. And who knows what Mike Portnoy will release. Such excitement. Merry Christmas everybody, and prog on into 2016.