November albums REVIEWED: REM, Sting, Steve Hackett, Chris Rea, Marillion, Hawkwind

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NOVEMBER ALBUMS: The bumper best of rock reviewed this month includes REM, Sting, Steve Hackett, Chris Rea, Marillion and Hawkwind.

What proved to be their final album release for EMI, turned out to be one of their strongest with established frontman Steve Hogarth on vocals. The powerful mix of immediate neo-prog bangers Gazpacho and Cannibal Surf Babe with the more epic sublime cuts Beautiful, King and title track must have had EMI immediately regretting their decision as Marillion’s stock soared following this sparkling slab’s release. Sonic treasures twinkle throughout this fan aware collection with jams and early versions, bonus tracks, and a full 1995 live concert from Rotterdam. Ever mindful of their followers, Marillion were the first band to crowdfund their subsequent releases following this milestone recording. They continue to repay their dedicated believers with this immersive offering.

As its title suggests, REM’s ninth studio album dominated the album charts and spawned a slew of worldwide hit singles in its wake.

Ballsier than their previous album release, Automatic For The People, Monster still leaves its massive commercial footprint all over this Athens, Georgia band’s total output. It also provided a huge step into 1990s arena rock with its powerful melodies and super-catchy choruses.

Most noticeable is the loud confidence of a band right at the very top of their game on this spruced-up deluxe edition. This modern historical document reveals the creation of this behemoth across a bunch of discs delving deep into the hysteria which followed its original release. It will also pull in many new and curious fans to this idiosyncratic band who took indie-rock into the world’s stadiums.

Amongst the goodies is an entire concert from 1995, unreleased demos and a special remix by original producer Scott Litt that lets everybody in to enjoy this hulking giant that transformed REM from indie gods into rock royalty.

Genius Genesis guitarist Hackett has been busy both preserving Genesis’ golden years of treasured songs whilst progressing his singular solo output. This exceptional audio recording, plus DVD, recorded with a 41 piece orchestra, blends both strands of his peerless output into one glorious perfect whole.

Capturing Hackett and his band on scorching hot form, Genesis classic Dance On A Volcano opens a magical musical door to a fantastical evening of sonic surprises. The dizzying latticework of combined instrumentation by this crack band and orchestra executing their supreme art and craft is infectiously superb.

The heady mix of the rarely aired Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, an epic Supper’s Ready and an enchanting Musical Box, with Nad Sylvan singing Peter Gabriel’s parts with panache, seal the deal on this live Royal Festival Hall recording.

Love him or loathe him, Sting‘s songwriting produces a strong binary reaction from most. Having sold and performed his music to millions the world over, during the past forty-plus years, this is the curse placed on one of the most overachieving and successful songwriters in modern popular music.

However, distilling and re-recording hiS favourite songs over one CD, which is accompanied by further live show recordings from his most recent tours, gives pause for re-assessment of his impressive songwriting talents.

Adding a maturity of voice to much-loved songs Demolition Man, Walking On The Moon, Can’t Stand Losing You and Every Breath You Take, these classic songs take on another grown-up life of their own as Sting improves some of these tunes originally recorded in commercial haste.

 At the same time, it’s clear that this redux release is a stopgap during a lacuna for new music. Nevertheless, gems do come shining through especially with the bolted on live concerts on which the musicianship of his superb band flourishes.

 Playing to his own gallery his legions of dedicated fans will no doubt swoon over this release.

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A somewhat overlooked master of the slide guitar, Chris Rea is much more famous for a platinum roll of chart-topping albums and timeless hit single releases.

It’s almost guaranteed that anybody embarking on a long drive will dial into a radio station that will eventually play one of Rea’s ubiquitous hits: Road To Hell, On The Beach, Driving Home For Christmas, Let’s Dance etc. However, it’s the album releases which birthed some of these top tunes that are being re-released with extra audio goodies galore that are a top draw.

The rare nugget of recorded gold is the inclusion of One Fine Day. Originally recorded in 1980, yet not officially released as a single body of work, this lovingly curated collection brings these songs, some of which have never been released before, together on an album for the first time.

The endearing husky gravel of Rea’s voice, coupled with his undoubted guitar skills, ensures that his body of work remains in the rudest of health.

Now in the 50th year of their spaced-out existence, Hawkwind sound supernaturally fresh as ever.

Opener Flesh Fondue earworms into the mind to transport the listener away on a cosmic ride of highly addictive spooky sonics. This song about aliens’ epicurean delights begins a feast of astounding otherworldly, multi-dimensional tunes.

With Dave Brock’s nasal estuary voice leading, choice cuts from Last Man On Earth, We Are Not Dead…Only Sleeping, The Fantasy Of Faldum and the album title track’s adventure in mind-expanding music, launch this venerable British band back up to the heady heights of the charts once again.

A bonus disc of resurrected acoustic interpretations of past favourites provides an extra lift to this majestic flight of amazing tuneful fancies.

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