End of year means an avalanche of Top Ten lists coming your way from every direction. While the temptation was strong to join the ranks of hipsters around the world and present my own, I must say that I usually find these lists useless (and remember, this is coming from a guy whose last post was a Top Ten list) So I’d rather deliver my high points (and some low points) without being overly infatuated with our decimal system. The categories are not meant to cover the entire spectrum of what happened in music, but represent what marked my musical experiences in 2012.
Most surprising album
Slash – Apocalyptic Love
Slash’s 6-string mastery is undeniable, and his guitar tone and playing are instantly recognizable, but his first solo album was a mish mash of very average tracks, brought down by the self indulgent gimmick of having guest singers on almost every track. When Apocalyptic Love was announced, I expected more of the same. But to my surprise, Slash and Miles Kennedy (who’s now his regular singer) created a kick ass rock album that, while not completely capturing the magic of early GNR, is Slash’s best work since this heyday. And their show is tight, energetic, and sprinkled with a heavy dose of Appetite tracks (6 of them at the show I saw). Thumbs up for the man with the hat.
Best Metal album
Testament – Dark Root of the Earth
Testament is a band that followed in the footsteps of the Big 4 of thrash metal in the 80’s (those would be Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) but never quite reached the limelight before the bottom fell out of the metal scene and the genre went underground when grunge exploded. After a rough time during the 90’s, flirting with all out cookie monster vocals on Demonic, the band started to slowly climb back in the 00’s.
Their latest opus is an unrelenting assault of precision riffs from guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson, and powerful vocals from Chuck Billy. This album proves that Testament would definitely have a spot on the Big 5.
Honorable mention to:
Accept – Stalingrad
Who’d have thought these old timers had two great albums in them, with a replacement singer, so late in their career? Following 2010’s Blood of Nations, Stalingrad is pure Accept and pure Germanic metal (whatever that means). Bonus points for quoting the USSR National anthem in the title track (and honestly, has there ever been a better anthem than that one?)
2012 was a slow concert year for me, and I only attended 11. But the quality made up for the lack of quantity! Highlights were Iron Maiden with Alice Cooper opening, two of my all time favourite acts. Performance and setlists were amazing. Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour was also amazing, mostly because of the setlist full of deep cuts. Slash put on an amazing show with his band, as did Anthrax and Testament. The Trews remain one of my favourite live acts, even in an acoustic setting, and Lady Antebellum surprised me by how good they are in concert.
“Stick a fork in him, he’s done” award
Marilyn Manson was an edgy and experimental artist in the 90’s (yes, he was). By the turn of the century, he was cruising on his reputation but still turning out good material. His last 2 albums have been sub par though, with this latest one being entirely forgettable. Bland, unoriginal and stale, the only high point is his cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”. But really, he’s not shocking anyone anymore by doing a metal cover of a pop song, after doing so with “Sweet Dreams” (his initial claim to fame), “Personal Jesus” and “Tainted Love”. I didn’t expect much and still felt let down.
2012 was to be the return of No Doubt! Their reunion tour was awesome, and showed they had’t lost a step while Gwen Stefani was off playing pop queen. The advance single was good (not great) but sounded like classic No Doubt, which set up my expectations for an album that would be a return to form. Alas, the dreck they came up with (and worked on for a year!) bears little resemblance to what made No Doubt great, and sounds like outtakes from Stefani’s albums. Very disappointing.
Special Mentions: Rush’s Clockwork Angels. The lead singles were excellent and seemed to foreshadow a return to form, but the rest of the album is generic rock. The Cult’s Choice of Weapon was also horribly bland.
Best Supergroup Album (tie)
Flying Colors – Flying Colors
This Neal Morse side project featuring Mike Portnoy, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson, Neal Morse and Steve Morse (no relation) served up some classic prog rock that, surprisingly, isn’t hung up on technical prowess. Highly recommended.
Black Country Communion – Afterglow
The third album from Black Country Communion, featuring Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, and Derek Sherinian might be their best one yet (unfortunately it looks like it might be their last too, because of interpersonal tensions). Their bluesy, classic rock infused music feels more refined this time around. With 3 albums in 2 years, it’s doubtful they can keep up this pace, even if they get over their personal differences, so if it is indeed their swan song, at least they’ll go out on a high note.
Best alternative release channel
Stones Archive (http://www.stonesarchivestore.com)
Metallica and Pearl Jam have been doing this for years, and in late 2011 (so I’m cheating by including it here) The Rolling Stones started releasing remastered classic shows that have circulated as bootlegs in collectors circles for years. All their releases are of high quality, but the highlights are the 73 and 75 shows. (Brussels Affair and LA Friday)
Best example of post record label economics
PSY’s Gangnam Style, 2012’s viral hit, became the first video to rack up a billion views on Youtube. While it’s easy to dismiss PSY’s novelty single (you gotta give him credit though: it’s catchy as hell), he embodies the realty of the post MP3 music business. According to an Associated Press report, PSY made 60,000$ from downloads in South Korea, but around 8.1 million $ from his share of YouTube advertisements around the world! His success is the best example of how the music industry must learn to monetize in new ways to adapt to a changing market. Maybe the dinosaurs will survive this time?
Best record label replacement strategy
You may have heard of Kickstarter this year, the crowd funding site that allows people with a great idea to connect to people willing to invest a small amount of money to help make it happen. Copycat site PledgeMusic is offering the same service but solely dedicated to music, allowing artists to connect with their fanbase and make albums without the need for a label to bankroll the operation (and without the shackles that come with it). I’m hoping to see more and more artists do that in 2013. (Look for a post on the subject in 2013)
Best film score
Patrick Doyle’s score to Brave was enchanting and melodic, the perfect companion to Merida’s scottish adventures. Modern film music is expected to be unobtrusive, and is too often unmemorable. Doyle’s score is all the opposite, and the movie was better for it. Julie Fowlis’s vocals are also a big factor in the success of this score.
Special Mentions: John Williams’s Lincoln, Alan Silvestri’s The Avengers, Howard Shore’s The Hobbit and James Horner’s The Amazing Spider-Man.
“You can’t go back” award
Led Zeppelin’s highly publicized 2007 reunion could have been the precursor to a highly lucrative reunion tour, but singer Robert Plant refused to have it be more than a one off thing. In an interview, he mentioned that Led Zeppelin was “young man music” and that it should stay in the past. Well, 2012 finally saw the release of the reunion show, and it proved Plant right. It’s not a bad show, in fact it’s very good. But it’s old men playing young man music. I’m sure the show was amazing for the people who attended, but it’s probably best that they didn’t tour.
Most unexpected release
Specialty label Lalaland Records released a comprehensive boxset containing the scores to the first 6 Friday the 13th movies. For years, film music fans were told these recordings were lost, so to have them released complete came as a shock. It’s not the best music ever written (and is way too derivative of other scores like Psycho and Jaws) but it’s campy fun, and triggers a lot of memories of watching these films as a teenager. And the first 100 purchases came with a signed booklet by composer Harry Manfredini!
But by far my musical highlight of 2012 has been launching this blog! I love having an outlet to share my thoughts on music. I know most of you come here through search engines, looking for info on specific topics, but I do hope that some of you will keep coming back to check what I have to say, and even start discussions. Thank you for reading, and I wish everyone a great musical 2013!
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