Sam’s Albums of the Year 2023

It’s that time of the year again, and I’ve got my top ten albums (plus two honourable mentions) all laid out for you. They’re unmissable, frankly. And the list runs tenth to first, of course, to build tensions.

Theory Of A Deadman – Dinosaur

The new full length from Theory Of A Deadman (not Theory, as they’ve dubbed themselves for the past few records) finally saw the band get back on track after their wayward foray into soft rock and pop with albums Wake Up Call and Say Nothing (the former spawned a handful of good tracks, the latter was forgettable from start to finish). Dinosaur saw the band making hard-hitting, snotty 2000s rock again, but with a modern edge. The title track and ‘Ambulance’ are gritty and anthemic, while ‘Head In The Clouds’ and ‘Hearts Too Wild’ hark back to the glory days of the band, where sun-soaked love songs were a point of strength. A fine return to form.

Beartooth – The Surface

The latest offering from Beartooth saw them more comfortable in their catchy melodies without taking away much of the band’s grit. ‘Sunshine!’ is a stellar anthem that really pushes the band forward, while ‘Might Love Myself’ is incredibly infectious. The title track is the best offering here, however, alternating in a stark manner between the band’s early days heavy tendencies and the soaring melodies of later output. I think the band might love themselves, but they also might’ve found themselves, too.

You Me At Six – Truth Decay

A bit like Theory Of A Deadman, You Me At Six had lost me with everything they’d put out since 2017’s Night People. They called that album a halfway house to nowhere (quote marks omitted as I’m not exactly sure on the wording) which is ironic as, frankly, everything they’ve done since has been just that, with the exception of a handful of tracks here and there. This record sees the band put out a convincing, lengthy body of work. Opener ‘Deep Cuts’ is brooding and hits harder than anything for years, while ‘God Bless The 90s Kids’ is irresistible. ‘Traumatic Iconic’ sounds like the band’s early days and the closer ‘A Love Letter To Those That Feel Lost’ closes out this accomplished record beautifully. Not back to their best, but back on track at last.

Asking Alexandria – Where Do We Go From Here?

Modern day AA seem to get dragged. I respect that their newer output isn’t anywhere close in power to their 2009-2013 heyday, but the band now sound more assured and more themselves. 2020’s Like A House On Fire was a horrendous misstep, but everything else since Worsnop rejoined the band has been convincing. This new offering picks up where the solid but safe See What’s On The Inside (2021) left off. The choruses are like that of 80’s arena rock, there’s some old aggression in there in tracks like ‘Let The Dead Take Me’ and the band, in ‘Things Could Be Different’ and ‘Dark Void’, put together some of their best stuff to date.

McFly – Power To Play

There seem to be a lot of bands here who’ve had some missteps lately. McFly’s first was vanishing for half a decade. Their second was following up the brilliant The Lost Songs (2019-2020) with their worst album to date, Young Dumb Thrills (2020). Power To Play rights all their wrongs, however. Opener ‘Where Did All The Guitars Go?’ and ‘God Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’ hark back to their best album, 2008’s Radio:ACTIVE, while album highlight ‘Forever’s Not Enough’ and ‘Route 55’ bring out some of the best parts of The Lost Songs. There’s not many missteps on this record; it’s solid from start to finish.

Fall Out Boy –  So Much (For) Stardust

No band on here has a previous offering as bad as Fall Out Boy’s Mania (2018). No band righted their wrongs quite as well as Fall Out Boy on So Much (For) Stardust. The album managed to draw on 2013’s Save Rock and Roll and 2015’s American Beauty/American Psycho while also harking back to their first iteration, namely my personal favourite Folie A Deux (2008). Opener ‘Love From The Other Side’ is a real stadium-ready anthem, ‘Fake Out’ is a classic FOB beauty and the one-two-three punch of the final three tracks, ‘The Kintsugi Kid (Ten Years)’, ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ and the title track see the band close out a very accomplished record with minimal missteps – if we ignore, of course, needless interludes.

The Used – Toxic Positivity

After the band put out their best record to date in Heartwork (2020), an album whose outtakes formed a solid B-side album when the deluxe edition dropped, I was initially a little disappointed with Toxic Positivity. Clocking in at half an hour, it is much shorter than their last outing (and even more so than the two-disc behemoth of 2017’s experimental The Canyon) and, sometimes, you really feel it. After some time with the record, though, its mastery sinks in. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, musically or lyrically, and tracks like opener ‘The Worst I’ve Ever Been’, belting ‘Pinky Swear’ and emotional closer ‘Giving Up’ make for brilliant listening. Not only that, but there’s no misses anywhere on the album, meaning it’s a concise thirty minutes (eleven songs) that only really cries out for stellar non-album single ‘People Are Vomit’.

Story Of The Year – Tear Me To Pieces

A band that haven’t really ever missed the mark is Story Of The Year. Their 2017 crowdfunded full length Wolves was, in my opinion, their best album to date, and Tear Me To Pieces both picks up where that record left off while bringing in some of the band’s Page Avenue style. The title track is stellar, lead single and comeback track ‘Real Life’ perfectly encapsulates everything the band are and ‘Take The Ride’ is without doubt one of the band’s best songs ever. Not only that, deep cuts like ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Knives Out’ are insanely good. This is by far one of the best comebacks I’ve heard and manages to encapsulate everything that the band are. A great album.

WSTR – ‘Til The Wheels Fall Off

I discovered WSTR at Slam Dunk 2019 and immediately went to spin their 2018 album Identity Crisis, which led me into everything else in their catalogue. They’ve never missed, but a five-year wait for an album was embarrassing. It’s here, though, and pushes them into new territory while keeping on board everything they’ve learned through previous albums. Tracks like killer opener ‘Until Then’, highlight ‘Jobbo’ and cracking ‘Bot Lobby’ hark back to their early days, but are much harder. Meanwhile, they push themselves fantastically with the insane ‘Poor Boy’. The rest of the album is consistent, though the title track is a little lacking and 10 Bag Boyz are unnecessary on the otherwise good ‘ISLEEPWITHAGUN’. Stellar and, admittedly, worth the wait.

All Time Low – Tell Me I’m Alive

With the competition already mounting for 2024’s album of the year, it’s for the best that All Time Low dropped this album in 2023 – I’d likely have had no idea who to crown otherwise. Tell Me I’m Alive is everything I could’ve wanted. The band did a full sweep of my Spotify wrapped, finishing as my top artist and with ‘Modern Love’, ‘The Way You Miss Me’, ‘The Other Side’, ‘Lost Along The Way’ and the title track as my top 5 songs. On here are the ghosts of my favourite era, Last Young Renegade, Future Hearts/Wake Up, Sunshine style compositions and, with tracks like highlight ‘The Other Side’, a harking back to their early days. Underrated tracks like ‘Are You There?’ and ‘English Blood // American Heartache’ are good enough to be another band’s singles. This is a stellar record. The only downside is the insistence of the label to excessively promote the worst tracks – in this case, the abominable ‘Calm Down’ (they did the same with ‘Monsters’ in the last album cycle). Nevertheless, I can hide the track on Spotify and the skip button on my stereo allows me to pretend this is a flawless 12-track album. Because it is very, very good.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

I insist on having albums of all new material making up the top ten list, but stand-out re-recordings, greatest hits packages, live albums and other good stuff are eligible for honourable mentions. And here’s this year’s.

Def Leppard – Drastic Symphonies

My favourite band dropping anything is a time to celebrate, and I was fortunate to see them at the Leadmill in Sheffield just after this album came out. Drastic Symphonies reimagines select tracks from the band’s catalogue with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Other than a few missteps (‘Animal’ and the stripped back ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’) this record is a success. Standouts include ‘Too Late For Love’, in which Elliott harmonises with his younger self, ‘Gods Of War’ and the wonderful, oft-neglected ‘Turn To Dust’.

Busted – Greatest Hits 2.0 (Guest Features Edition)

I was unsure about Busted’s re-recording idea – I am someone who is averse to features on albums. But they offered fans versions with and without the guest artists, and both work well. The features one, though, stands out. Each act compliments the original, with standouts being Charlotte Sands on ‘You Said No’, All Time Low on ‘Crashed The Wedding’ and my personal favourite, Deaf Havana on ‘Sleeping With The Light On’. Neck Deep also help the band reimagine ‘Meet You There’ as a pop punk rager. Very, very good.

Elizabeth Birt

December 28, 2023

Band management assistant. Goth princess and lover of all things music and sport.

@lbirt1993

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