50) Styx - The Mission (UM)
This is the album that proves the US veterans Styx are still masters of pomp. Here they’ve drawn from past glories such as The Grand Illusion and Paradise Theater, using these reference points to create something textured and focused for modern times, and Gone Gone Gone and Radio Silence stand up against any of the band’s acknowledged classics.
Killer track: Gone Gone Gone
49) Eric Gales - Middle Of The Road (Mascot)
Memphis-born guitar prodigy Eric Gales looked set for big things in the early 90s, then lost decades of his life to drugs and trouble with the law. If Middle Of The Road is anything to go by, then he isn’t struggling to make up for it. Swishing between funked-up blues, soul, high-velocity reggae on Change In Me and stellar guitar playing everywhere, it’s a smooth, classy record.
Killer track: Carry Yourself
48) Hiss Golden Messenger - Hallelujah Anyhow (Merge)
North Carolina-based MC Taylor has been crafting guileful Americana for some years now, first with The Court & Spark and, for the past decade, as the lynchpin of Hiss Golden Messenger. With Hallelujah Anyhow, Taylor’s intuitive grasp of southern idioms, allied to a deep recognition of his spiritual forebears (Neil Young, The Band, Tom Petty etc) has enabled him to fashion an understated minor classic.
Killer track: Domino (Time Will Tell)
47) Procol Harum - Novum (Eagle)
In the 14 years since Procol’s apparent swansong The Well’s On Fire, ageless prog-soul singer Gary Brooker somehow misplaced the veteran band’s other constant, lyricist Keith Reid. Reid’s replacement, Pete Brown, learnt on the job writing for Cream, and for this record gave Brooker meaty new tales tinged with 60s sentiments. On key song Sunday Morning, Brooker draws on classical sources, as he did for their 60s classic A Whiter Shade Of Pale, and a baroque little beauty about life’s daily grind sits alongside some surprisingly earthy AOR.
Killer track: Businessman
46) Sólstafir - Berdreyminn (Season Of Mist)
Like its national football team, Iceland’s music scene punches above its weight these days. Sólstafir embody its more esoteric wing. All glacial heaviness, chilly atmospheres and pained vocals, Berdreyminn (it roughly translates as ‘Dreamer’) is a work of widescreen beauty, sometimes bleak but never impenetrable. If Iceland was music, this is what it would sound like.
Killer track: Silfur Refur
45) Biters - The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be (Earache)
Biters are firm believers in the old adage that talent borrows and genius steals. The Atlanta band’s second album reads like A Brief History Of Rock’N’Roll, from Stone Cold Love’s blatant T.Rex knock-off to the ZZ Top heartbeat of Vulture City. That they get away with it is testament to their sheer chutzpah. Brilliantly shameless, shamelessly brilliant. DE
Killer track: Stone Cold Love
44) Walter Trout - We’re All In This Together (Mascot/Provogue)
With Trout pulling in a dazzling array of blues luminaries, you need sunglasses to read the credits of We’re All In This Together, but it’s the original tunes that make this more than an exercise in star-fucking. Whether duelling with JoBo, cutting heads with Kenny Wayne Shepherd or goading slide maestro Sonny Landreth to a personal best on Ain’t Goin’ Back, camaraderie sploshes from the speakers.
Killer track: Gonna Hurt Like Hell
43) Amplifier - Trippin’ With Dr Faustus (Rockosmos)
Amplifier continued their battle against the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune with the only album of 2017 that referenced both Silvio Berlusconi and Frank Sinatra. It’s quite the collection, taking 80s alt.rock and twisting it into a psychedelic beast constructed of riffs and thunder. Brilliantly recorded, it’s both savage and pretty, and – perhaps best of all – features a singer named Beth Zeppelin.
Killer track: Old Blue Eyes
42) Gun - Favourite Pleasures (Caroline International)
Nearly 30 years after their excellent debut album, Gun have proved that they’re still more than capable of springing a surprise. Favourite Pleasures gets right in your face, thanks in part to new guitarist Tommy Gentry. The melodic swagger is still there, as evidenced by Silent Lovers, and the stomp of She Knows and the emotion of Tragic Heroes is real proof of a band reborn.
Killer track: Favourire Pleasures
41) Mastodon - Emperor Of Sand (Reprise)
The band’s seventh record may be a concept album, but it follows the musical template of its predecessor: fantastical imagery pinned to precise rhythms and finely tuned melodies. Guitarist Bill Kelliher lost his mother to cancer during the recording, so the album takes on the greater questions of mortality with a musical dexterity that sings, but also hits like hammer. Dazzling.
Killer track: Steambreather
40) Hawkwind - Into The Woods (Cherry Red)
You could be forgiven for thinking that by now, 47 years after releasing their debut album, Hawkwind would be resting on their reputation as space-rock pioneers. Not a bit of it. On Into The Woods Dave Brock and co show real imagination as they conjure up visions of nature in all its glory, mystery and terror. Nobody sounds quite like Hawkwind.
Killer track: Have You Seen Them
39) Europe - Walk The Earth (Hell And Back)
In a year when we were all bored shitless by Brexit, it’s ironic that we couldn’t wait for the return of Europe. On Walk The Earth, Joey Tempest peppers his lyrics with an examination of democracy – as evidenced by The Siege’s proggy bombast and groove-laden lead-off single Election Day – but never loses sight of the fact that ‘we are entertainers’. And how.
Killer track: Turn To Dust
38) Alice Cooper - Paranormal (earMUSIC)
Reunited with producer Bob Ezrin, Alice roped in some heavy-hitting allies – Billy Gibbons, Larry Mullen Jr, Roger Glover – for his first album in six years, although the biggest thrill was the partial return of original bandmates Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith. Cue a bruising batch of riff-centric tales that found AC encountering ghouls, demons, transsexuals and the apocalypse.
Killer track: Genuine American Girl
37) Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Barefoot In The Head (Silver Arrow)
While brother Rich was getting it together as The Magpie Salute, singer Chris Robinson distanced himself further from their old band the Black Crowes by continuing his exploration of cosmic American folk and what he calls “hippie baroque”. His ensemble’s fifth album in as many years offers fried country rock, California soul and sun-dipped psychedelia, all rolled into a blissful jam-band aesthetic. Balm for troubled times.
Killer track: Blonde Light Of Morning
36) David Crosby - Sky Trails (BMG)
Charmingly cherubic septuagenarian and former Byrd David Crosby delivered this album, the dazzling third instalment of his muse-revitalising post-CSNY solo career, and recaptured a deliciously laconic Laurel Canyon vibe along the way. Strident BS&T parps punctuate slick Steely Dan ensemble interplay, while there’s a typically sharp lyrical response to America’s contemporary political mire. With elder statesmen like Crosby still peaking, rock’s advancing years only seem irrelevant.
Killer track: She’s Got To Be Somewhere
35) The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)
America’s guitar-rock underground went overground this year, as The War On Drugs’ major-label debut hit the transatlantic Top 10. It didn’t hurt that Adam Granduciel’s influences included some of the grandest chart rock of the Reagan era. The pop nous and gloss of 80s Fleetwood Mac crept in among the widescreen yearnings of this new Philly Springsteen; if anyone’s built for a Stevie Nicks duet, it’s Granduciel. It was the way his solos slashed and drilled through his production’s highway glide, though, that confirmed his classic rock credentials.
Killer track: In Chains
Read our full feature with The War On Drugs
34) Steve Hackett - The Night Siren (InsideOut)
In recent times Steve Hackett has really embraced the notion of progressing, and The Night Siren is a thrilling representation of this. It’s experimental in musical nuances and themes, as he brings into focus a vision of humanity overcoming prejudice, by bringing in instrumentation from around the globe. Proof that the former Genesis man is far more than a ‘mere’ guitar virtuoso.
Killer track: El Nino
33) Ray Davies - Americana (Sony Legacy)
Billed as Davies’s first new songs for a decade, Americana also reaches back to unrecorded Kinks music. Its lyrics span his bittersweet history with the USA, from being inspired by blues and jazz to getting shot by a mugger, while its best song, Poetry, is another anthem against the modern world’s fuckery. With the Jayhawks giving him with his first proper band since The Kinks, this is in many ways Davies’s best solo album, built from a lifetime’s studio and song craft.
Killer track: Poetry
32) Cats In Space - Scarecrow (Harmony Factory)
Cats In Space are an anomaly. They’re a group whose combined music biz experience rivals that of the Stones, yet this second album sounds completely fresh despite apparently choosing to ignore anything that’s happened in music since about 1978, when rock’s most magnificent dinosaurs dominated the charts. It’s smart and shiny, filled with seemingly effortlessly composed songs and harmonies that rival AOR’s finest.
Killer track: Felix & The Golden Sun
31) Lionize - Nuclear Soul (The End)
Lionize are probably best-known here as Clutch’s contemporaries, but their history actually stretches back more than a decade. This, their latest – and best – album is as much Thin Lizzy and Free as it is Solomon Burke and R&B, all topped off by the smoky and occasionally raw vocals of vocalist Nate Bergman filtered over Hammond organ, a relentless snare drum, rock’n’roll and some beautifully realised soul music.
Killer track: Blindness To Danger
30) Marilyn Manson - Heaven Upside Down (Loma Vista)
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that with the imminent global apocalypse forming mushroom clouds of dread on the horizon, Marilyn Manson found vintage form with Heaven Upside Down, an album that ranks among his very best. Following the drone-through-the-letterbox fanfare of lead single We Know Where You Fucking Live, it customarily substitutes ‘Say10’ for ‘God’, marks the passing of Manson’s father with the epic Saturnalia and twists Mechanical Animals through an Antichrist Superstar filter.
Where has rock’s rage gone? Here.
Killer track: We Know Where You Fucking Live
Read our full feature with Marilyn Manson
29) Sparks - Hippopotamus (BMG)
With their 23rd studio album, pop’s finest purveyors of surrealist, baroque’n’roll found themselves back in the UK Top 10 for the first time since 1974’s Propaganda. Hippopotamus is a sublimely silly showcase for Russell Mael’s wry falsetto and brother Ron’s straight-faced but askew musings on sexual positions, excitable populaces and fear of dementia, and Sparks’ strongest record for years.
Killer track: Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
28) Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie - Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Atlantic)
As a way of easing McVie back into songwriting, this album worked a treat, her signature breezy melodies neatly counterpointing Buckingham’s intricate guitar finger-picking. It may have been recorded at the same studio as Tusk, but this is strictly about songs, not sonic exploration. With contributions from Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, it’s a Mac album in all but name.
Killer track: In My World
27) Ryan Adams - Prisoner (PAX-AM/Blue Note)
On his sixteenth solo album Ryan Adams returns to a world of heartache – in the best possible way. Written after his split from his wife, Prisoner sees Adams draw again on themes of loss and love, his voice sounding Dylan-esque in places. From the epic Do You Still Love Me? through the alt.country likes of To Be Without You and 80s power-balladry of Doomsday, it’s an expert blend of arena-ready triumph and rootsy pain.
Killer track: Do You Still Love Me?
26) The Cadillac Three - Legacy (Big Machine)
Following 2016’s expansive, Springsteen-esque Bury Me In My Boots, Legacy sees the Nashville trio mix some of those tendencies with their familiar country-fuzz tales of liquor, girls and Tennessee. It’s hardly a departure from what TC3 already know, but when they do it this well who’s complaining? Especially when the shit-kicking likes of Cadillacin’ are offset by sweetly stirring tracks such as Hank And Jesus. Good times.
Killer track: Cadillacin’
25) Royal Blood - How Did We Get So Dark? (Warner)
They were the rock scene’s toast of 2014, but could the Brighton pair repeat the trick? This follow-up is emphatic proof that you don’t need to evolve when you can bring the hooks and shake the rafters. And while the duo were on familiar ground with seismic gems like Lights Out and I Only Lie When I Love You, complaining about a faint whiff of repetition is like saying you’re bored of visceral brilliance.
Killer track: Lights Out
24) Koyo - Koyo (88 Watt)
Young Leeds band Koyo have managed the enviable feat of blending prog, psychedelia and shoegazing noisescapes into the same intoxicating sonic package, and this debut album suggests it’s just the start. The epic vistas of Strange Bird In The Sky open the record in breathtaking style, there are echoes of Dark Side-era Floyd and The Verve, and they also make inventive use of samples and veer into math-rock territory. A band for whom anything seems possible.
Killer track: Strange Bird In The Sky
23) Von Hertzen Brothers - War Is Over (Mascot)
On something of a roll after previous albums Nine Lives and the thunderous New Day Rising, with War Is Over, the Von Hertzen Brothers embraced both their prog roots (e.g. the thrilling 12-minute title track) and slick rock/pop with tracks like The Arsonist and Frozen Butterflies – think the Foo Fighters if Dave Grohl had grown up in Helsinki. Pop, prog and pomp all in one album is a good trick if you can manage it – ask the Brothers.
Killer track: War Is Over
Read our full feature with Von Hertzen Brothers
22) Benjamin Booker - Witness (Rough Trade)
Righteous ire is a rare commodity in modern rock, so it’s refreshing to see this New Orleans songwriter add a little topical spice to his southern gumbo of blues, soul, and gospel-tinged rock’n’roll. On the title track soul legend Mavis Staples helps sing a powerful treatise on police violence against young black men, and the dilemma anyone with a conscience has when deciding whether to be a passive bystander or join the resistance. Believe ploughs a similarly spiritual vein, but if that suggests the punk vigour of Booker’s debut had mellowed, the stomping Right On You shows otherwise in thrilling style.
Killer track: Right On You
21) Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown - Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown (Snakefarm)
Tyler Bryant’s journey from teen Texan blues prodigy to 20-something modern rock’n’roll flag-bearer is a welcome transformation. On his and The Shakedown’s second album, all the lessons he learned from supporting AC/DC and Guns N’Roses have been put to good use; Heartland, Don’t Mind The Blood and Jealous Me are unswerving in their dedication to the cause, powered by the unrelenting energy that only youth can bring.
Killer track: Don’t Mind The Blood
20) Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want? (Columbia)
No one does ‘furious old dude’ like Roger Waters. The former Floyd man’s first rock album in 27 years is a seething broadside that takes aim at the stupidity of government, society and, ultimately, people. Credit to producer Nigel Godrich for giving it a warmth that pulls everything back from the brink of total despair. Still, it’s the sharpest protest album of the Trump era so far. The disappointment is that more people aren’t taking up cudgels and joining Waters on the front line.
Killer track: The Last Refugee
19) Prophets Of Rage - Prophets Of Rage (Concord Music)
Last year, guitarist Tom Morello said Prophets Of Rage were “determined to confront this mountain of election-year bullshit”. And now this debut album from RATM alumni alongside Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real sounds no less relevant, and when they really turn on the turbo drive, on tracks such as the lurching Hail To The Chief and the thunderfunk groover Take Me Higher, they’re like a street-corner ranter who you’d gladly stand at the barricades with.
Killer track: Unfuck The World
18) The Magpie Salute - The Magpie Salute (live) (Eagle Rock)
They might be steeped in a vision of rock’n’soul that can be carbon-dated to around 1972, but this debut from former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson’s new collective showcases a gentler sound. Recorded live in the studio, this debut has an irresistibly warm, organic sound, enhancing languid jams through covers of Faces and Floyd tunes, old Crowes tracks and jazzy instrumentals. The sole new song, Omission, also suggests the potential for a gutsier sound if this proves to be more than just a busman’s holiday for Robinson.
Killer track: Omission
17) Cheap Trick - We’re All Alright! (Big Machine)
Hot on the heels of 2016’s Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello came this, veterans Cheap Trick’s 18th studio album. The title might nod to the band’s 1978 classic hit Surrender, but We’re All Alright! does more than rehash former glories. Robin Zander continues to deliver his throaty rasp, while Anglophile guitarist Rick Nielsen tosses out power-pop riffs with aplomb, from the Kinks-ish Long Time Coming to Nowhere, the latter a piledriving boogie worthy of the Quo.
Killer track: Nowhere
16) Steven Wilson - To The Bone (Caroline International)
With this, his fifth solo album and debut UK Top-Three entry, the prog polymath and 5.1 mixer to the stars finally achieved the mainstream penetration he craved. To The Bone matches prog extrapolation with pop concision. On Permanating, Wilson manages to contrive the ELO/ABBA melodic confection of his boyhood fantasies. Elsewhere there’s the moody riffing of People Who Eat Darkness and the Zeppelin-ish grandeur of The Same Asylum As Before. Overall it’s a richly textured, expertly crafted delight.
Killer track: Nowhere Now
15) Low Cut Connie - Dirty Pictures (Part 1) (Contender)
Undisputed pioneers of the campaign to bring bonkers piano playing back into rock’n’roll, this Philadelphia quintet do their mission the power of good on this fourth album. Ivory-hammering frontman Adam Weiner turns gutsy R&B grooves such as Revolution Rock’n’Roll and Stonesy struts like Dirty Water into irresistible anthems by the sheer power of his rabble-rousing personality. Already one of the most exciting live bands in America, this album captures their frenzied, filthy essence better than ever before.
Killer track: Revolution Rock’n’Roll
14) Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind - Super Natural (Hound Gawd!)
Stoking the funeral pyre of the much lamented Jim Jones Revue into a raging inferno of hellacious swampland ultra-boogie, on this debut album sonic insurrectionist Jim Jones sets flame to a collection of rare and feral intensity. Guitar ferocity perpetually strains at its leash as a broader approach to keyboard atmospherics defines The Righteous Mind’s core post-Revue dynamic. And Jones? Maturity, smoky shebeens and hard liquor have sprinkled yet more gravel into his grave and gutsy hellhound holler.
Killer track: Boil Yer Blood
13) Big Big Train - Grimspound (English Electric/GEP)
As English as village cricket, cream teas and infuriating delays on Southern Rail, Big Big Train seem to be gaining both traction and velocity as their career progresses.
Grimspound takes off where its predecessor Folklore left off, elegantly turning tales of historical derring-do into a stunning series of prog-folk masterpieces. It’s ambitious without being overwrought, and as beautiful as it is smart. If anyone asks you about the state of prog rock in 2017, this is the direction you should point them in.
Killer track: A Mead Hall In Winter
12) Deep Purple - Infinite (earMUSIC)
Purple pulled off quite a trick with this record, maintaining their late-career purple patch by revisiting the classic 70s sound. Singer Ian Gillan’s lyrics might prompt a few sniggers (On Top Of The World, we’re looking at you) but the strength of music is undeniable: a prog-flavoured, neo-classical rave-up whose ambition never comes at the expense of a hard rock backbone. With original songs as strong as Time For Bedlam and Hip Boots, hopefully that long goodbye they’re currently waving has a few more years left in it.
Killer track: Time For Bedlam
11) Thunder - Rip It Up (Edel)
After their more conventional comeback Wonder Days album, Thunder took a bit of a left turn on Rip It Up. With more introspection – No One Gets Out Alive, In Another Life – and Beach Boys pop notes in the title track, it’s the sound of a band finally coming of age: considered, musically adventurous and clearly out of their comfort zone, but in the most compelling way. Late in their career and against the odds, Thunder have managed to make one of the best and most complete albums of their career so far.
Killer track: The Enemy Inside
10) H.e.a.t - Into The Great Unknown (earMusic)
Let’s not kid ourselves. Hard rock has been holding out for a new set of heroes ever since the end of the 80s. The last few decades are littered with the corpses of bands – invariably Swedish – whose desire to become the new Def Leppard or Journey were thwarted by indifference, lack of talent or both. Thankfully, five streetwise Hercules have arrived to awake the giant from its slumber.
Into The Great Unknown, H.e.a.t’s fifth album, is the sound of a band standing victorious atop the fallen bodies of everyone who came before, brandishing the finest hard rock record since those halcyon days. It has ambition, tunes and charisma to burn – Redefined, Eye Of The Storm and the blockbusting banger Time On Our Side crackle with the energy of 10,000 exploding stars. Suddenly the future for the genre looks very bright indeed.
Killer track: Redefined
9) All Them Witches - Sleeping Through The War (New West)
Following a three-album gestation period of no little merit, Nashville band All Them Witches have realised their full potential in significant style with Sleeping Through The War.
There’s a brooding gravitas to scene-setting opener Bulls that immediately snags the listener and, via a climactic crescendo of spiralling psychedelic telepathy, reveals intuitive ensemble interplay and a towering assurance that is increasingly rare. Referencing Led Zeppelin is almost inevitable. In this case not for their chest-beating machismo or bludgeoning blues template, but for their alchemical invention, their improvisational hive brain and a magpie’s eye for raw material, sourced from across the musical spectrum then realised in a signature style that is utterly unmistakable.
It’s all too easy to assume that they simply don’t make rock bands like All Them Witches any more, that rock this classic belongs to a lost era. But Sleeping Through The War is right here, right now.
Killer track: Don’t Bring Me Coffee
8) Black Star Riders - Heavy Fire (Nuclear Blast)
Any lingering sense of Black Star Riders as a Thin Lizzy fan’s consolation prize was blown away by their third album, Heavy Fire, which reached a career-best UK No.6 back in February. On first inspection, little has changed since 2015’s The Killer Instinct – from the vintage sleeve art to Nick Raskulinecz’s whip-cracking production – but something has plainly clicked in the Riders’ creative approach, making this the most consistent record of their five-year run.
Quality is everywhere, from the high-velocity title track and the anthemic When The Night Comes In – hands-down the catchiest singalong they’ve written – to the glowering Cold War Love. And if there are nods to the Phil Lynott era on Dancing With The Wrong Girl – not to mention a cheeky half-steal of The Beatles’ riff and title on Ticket To Ride – the impression is still of a band with a bullet-belt full of ideas.
Killer track: Dancing With The Wrong Girl
7) Royal Thunder - WICK (Spinefarm)
Royal Thunder are the best band you’ve (probably) not heard this year, and this, their third album, is epic in its sound and painful in its soul-baring emotion. The Atlanta four-piece draw on a disparate array of sounds, from 70s metal to The Doors, from psychedelia to the music of singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz’s Spanish heritage, and this neither-fish-nor-flesh approach makes them a more intriguing proposition than so many of their more straight-down-the-line peers.
The bombastic Tied whips up a whirlwind, and plaintive ballad Plans brings it all back down to earth again. Everything on this record is tied together by Parsonz’s remarkable voice – a cavernous holler that can fill a room while breaking your heart at the same time.
It’s wrong to call Royal Thunder her band – that does a disservice to guitarist Josh Weaver – but she’s the one who takes WICK to another level.
Killer track: Plans
6) Bash & Pop - Anything Could Happen (Fat Possum)
As the final Replacements tour began its all-too-predictable descent into rancour and recrimination, one could be forgiven for assuming that the last thing bassist Tommy Stinson would do was go and record an album that sounded like the band at their brilliant, ramshackle best. But Anything Can Happen is vibrant, life-affirming proof that anything can happen.
It’s essentially a collection of enormously buoyant songs about intoxication and heartache, which in less capable hands might have proved to be a clumsy, ham-fisted mess. But the album fizzes with energy and proves that true rock’n’roll DNA isn’t easily misplaced. Unfuck You might just be the most jubilant song ever to feature swearing in the chorus, while Can’t Be Bothered sounds like Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg at his boozy, melancholic best. Joyous.
Killer track: Unfuck You
5) Anathema - The Optimist (KScope)
One day, if there’s any justice in this cruel world, Anathema will make an album that ‘does an Elbow’ and transports the Liverpool band into arenas and has them soundtracking swanky dinner parties. The Optimist might yet be the
one that does it for them.
It’s a record of adventure and crippling beauty. The stunning Springfield is a master class in restrained ambition, beginning with a simple repeated piano motif before clambering slowly towards psychedelic transcendence. San Francisco, with its skittering, acid-driven loops, sounds like the kind of distant, mysterious sound you hear at 3am at Glastonbury but can never quite locate. It’s all densely atmospheric, with walls of amplified noise matched by moments of almost unbearable quiet, pure pop craft nestling alongside hazy electronica. An actual masterpiece, cohesive and easy to love.
Killer track: Springfield
4) Robert Plant - Carry Fire (Nonesuch/Warner Bros.)
Plant’s solo career has taken a while to fully take hold, his 80s/90s records seemingly hampered by the expectations and baggage surrounding that old band of his. The past 10 years, however, have seen him thrive, be it on Raising Sand, his delicious album with Alison Krauss, or 2014’s majestic Lullaby And…The Ceaseless Roar.
Carry Fire is no less impressive, Plant is again backed by the Sensational Space Shifters on an expert synthesis of desert blues, folk, world music and thudding rock. The songs are weighted equally between the political and the personal, with Plant’s voice carrying the weight of experience on the deft ballads.Proof positive that neither age nor time are barriers to creative endeavour.
Killer track: New World…
3) Foo Fighters - Concrete And Gold (RCA/Roswell)
Depressed and writing alone in the wilderness, there were reasons to be fearful for Dave Grohl in the run-up to Concrete And Gold (even before his alarming proclamation that this ninth Foos album would be “Motörhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper”). In the event, our review deemed it “more like AC/DC having a crack at making their White Album”.
If 2014’s Sonic Highways roamed the tarmac, this album thumbs the crates of vinyl. T-Shirt splices vintage soul and FM pop-rock. Sunday Rain salutes The Beatles. The title track evokes a choir-bolstered Black Sabbath, while the scabrous La Dee Da references Grohl’s hard-core roots.
Before Concrete And Gold, the Foos Fighters seemed to be a busted flush. Now they sound capable of anything.
Killer track: Run
2) Black Country Communion - BCCIV (Mascot)
The most surprising thing about BCC’s much vaunted reunion isn’t that it happened, it’s that no one stepped into their shoes during the five years they were away. But then their powerhouse fourth album proves that they’re giants in a land of pygmies.
Where Glenn Hughes shouldered much of the songwriting burden in the past, here he and Joe Bonamassa are pulling in the same direction. The swaggering Over My Head floats and stings like a prize fighter, The Last Song For My Resting Place is stark Celtic blues, Collide nips at the heels of Zep’s Black Dog.
BBCIV is less of a period piece, more of a showcase for the kind of timeless hard rock that no one makes any more.
Killer track: Collide
1) Queens Of The Stone Age - Villains (Matador)
Never one to stick to type, however successful the formula might be, Josh Homme travelled further out than usual for QOTSA’s seventh album – and it worked brilliantly.
Villains sees him locate his inner disco bunny by enlisting Mark Ronson (best known for his work with Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Amy Winehouse) as producer. “I think maybe music people might not understand the vast overlap of curves between Ronson and Queens,” Homme explained to Rolling Stone. “If you listen to Uptown Funk you hear that tight, kind of vacuous dry sound, and that’s where I wanted to take this new Queens record. I wanted it to be like Songs For The Deaf , but looking at it with goggles on under water – that kind of clarity.”
In a year when political rock was suddenly back on the agenda in the US, there’s something refreshingly perverse about QOTSA’s decision to bypass the polemic and head straight for the dancefloor instead. Villains is loaded with chrome-plated grooves, perhaps best illustrated by Feet Don’t Fail Me. Indebted to at least two eras of 70s Bowie – the strutting peacock of Young Americans and the synth-savvy overlord of Heroes – the song also comes with a fair amount of autobiography. ‘I was born in the desert, May seventeen in seventy-three/When the needle hit the groove, I commence to moving/I was chasing what’s calling me,’ Homme sings, as if all roads have led to this very point. The same playful exuberance informs Un-Reborn Again, an unapologetic piece of glam-boogie with a cast of reprobates, that echoes T.Rex’s Telegram Sam, Homme indulging in some Bolanesque imagery: Acid-Faced Jake, Evil Ol’ Scratch et al.
Elsewhere the floor-shaking metal sci-fi of Head Like A Haunted House (despite its origins circa QOTSA’s 2007 album Era Vulgaris) feels like an outcrop of Homme’s work with Iggy Pop on last year’s Post Pop Depression. There’s a string quartet for six-minute closer Villains Of Circumstance, a tune that Homme first unveiled, in acoustic form, at Meltdown festival in 2014. Homme throws himself at it wholeheartedly, adopting a Russ Mael-like falsetto for its orchestral pop flourishes, the song rising to a midway point between Queen and ELO.
Villains may be more upbeat than its predecessor …Like Clockwork, but there’s still a certain degree of introspection. These are songs that address mortality, familial and romantic love, and the impermanence of things. Despite not being present, Homme has admitted that he was deeply shaken by the Bataclan attack on his other band, Eagles Of Death Metal, a couple of years ago. That seems to have sharpened his focus on the here and now – the immediacy of Villains a reflection of his desire to seize the moment. Fortress, written for his 11-year-old daughter, is as much about resilience as it is the need for sanctuary: ‘Every fortress falls, it is not the end/It ain’t if you fall, but how you rise that says who you really are.’
For all their shimmer, Queens Of The Stone Age haven’t forsaken the heavy riffs that have defined their progress since they emerged from the Palm Desert over 20 years ago. The Evil Has Landed slams along to big beats and even bigger guitars, with Homme, Troy Van Leeuwen and Dean Fertita delivering a three-tiered assault. Similarly, Domesticated Animals and the bludgeoning The Way You Used To Do both tap into the mighty classicism of previous albums Rated R and Songs For The Deaf.
From Bowie and Roxy Music to Kraftwerk, the Stooges and beyond, Villains is a glorious amalgam of the musical forces that continue to shape Queens Of The Stone Age’s vision.
Killer track: The Evil Has Landed
Read our full feature with Josh Homme