Six months into 2018 and it's been a helluva half-year. Guns N' Roses released a $1000 box set, then played Wichita Lineman at Download. Richie Sambora joined Bon Jovi on stage for the first time in the best part of a decade. Purple and Priest decided to go on your together, a member of Crowded House joined Fleetwood Mac, and Phil Mogg elected to quit UFO after fronting the band for nearly three hundred years.
All in all, it's been a bit lively. And it's been just as exciting on the release front. For all the tiresome "rock is dead" naysaying, 2018 has been a year of vintage releases, and we're only halfway through. With no new music from Sabbath, Purple, Metallica, GN'R, AC/DC or Maiden it's felt a little quiet sometimes, but scratch around in the dirt a while and you'll find plenty of absolute diamonds in the dust.
Judas Priest released what's clearly their best album in ages. Wilko Johnson put out his first album of new material in 30 years, and it sounds as fresh as a freshly-baked bap. The Sheepdogs came up with an Allman Brothers-inspired masterpiece that sounds like it was beamed in from 1973 without touching the sides. Ghost released an album of pop-rock monsters that confused the hell out of many metalheads. And there were bright and shiny and surprising sounds from the likes of Roger Daltrey, Paul Rodgers, Blackberry Smoke, Ginger Wildheart and Jimi Hendrix.
Below are our Best 50 Albums Of The Year So Far, listed in alphabetical order.
A Perfect Circle - Eat The Elephant
We said: "Eat The Elephant gradually gains heft while staying intriguingly unpredictable. If The Contrarian, Feathers, By And Down The River and The Doomed are multi-segment, quasi-religious goth epics designed to appease Tool fans (“blessed are the fornicants, may we bend down to be their whores!” Keenan growls, clearly a Love Island fan), they’re also misleading diversions to give Keenan and Howerdel breathing space for more frivolous fun."
Andrew WK - You’re Not Alone
We said: "Thematically, if previous Andrew WK albums have felt like having entire kegs shotgunned in your face, this one is like being syphon-fed after-dinner brandies. Dotted with spoken-word speeches, sermons and psychological TED talks about how we must “party with our demons” and “keep clarity just out of reach”, it explores how ‘party’, as philosophy, lifestyle and self-help technique, will save humanity. Our round."
Ash - Islands
We said: "Tim Wheeler is undergoing another musical growth spurt, and Ash are now making bigger music than ever before, so the sprawling It’s A Trap and, better still, the epic, regret-strewn (‘All I’ve got is time to think about the moment it went wrong’) Incoming Waves is the sound of a man finally having the maturity to express what he’s been meaning to say all along, even before the layered guitars carry it home."
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa - Black Coffee
We said: "Give It Everything You Got is an opening statement of intent. The screaming Sly Stone-style funk original by Edgar Winter’s White Trash actually gets dialled down a bit, but it still lets Hart come over like Tina Turner, with Bonamassa her benign Ike. Black Coffee – an actual Ike and Tina song, popularised by Humble Pie – is even better, its truck-stop rock dripping with innuendo and crossing racial and gender wires as Hart gets worked up into a mighty, majestic sweat."
Black Moth - Black Moth
We said: "Despite a handful of more generic tracks, including the gnarly psych-metal chugger Severed Grace and the prosaic indie-rock riff-slammer Screen Queen, West Yorkshire’s earthly conduits for diabolical decadence make great strides on this confident third album."
Black Stone Cherry - Family Tree
We said: "Southern rock is no longer just played by those who hail from its homeland. And while there shouldn’t be geographical restrictions on anyone to make the music they love, the fact that BSC were born and bred in Kentucky undeniably gives them an authentic edge."
Blackberry Smoke - Find A Light
We said: "Like Skynyrd and all the other great southern rock bands who came after them, Blackberry Smoke know the value of keeping it simple. They play music for the people, pure and simple, stripped of pretension and artifice. There’s a chunk of rock’n’roll here, a little bit of boogie there, a touch of country twangin’ for the good ol’ boys. They deploy a bar-room piano for the good times, a crying guitar for the bad, and a little bit of fiddle for when they want things to get wild. It’s an age-old formula, but one that they’ve got locked down."
Brothers Osborne - Port Saint Joe
We said: "The countrified R&B of Slow Your Rollcarries echoes of Chris Stapleton, as does Weed, Whiskey And Willie. And while they tend to over-rely on Nashville’s standard lyrical tropes, the Osbornes excel on harder-rocking tunes like Shoot Me Straight, which morphs into a dazzling showcase for John’s guitar mastery."
Buddy Guy - The Blues Is Alive And Well
We said: "Even now, at 81, the old Chess-era renegade can still surface to kick your teeth in – see the Strat-flaying Somebody Up There or End Of The Line (where Guy casts himself as ‘the last man standing on an empty stage’). But his lone soldier is at his best when the cavalry arrives, with Jagger honking on a languid You Did The Crime, and Keef tussling with Jeff Beck over a fine Cognac."
Buffalo Tom - Quiet And Peace
We said: "It’s twenty-five years since their epochal third album Let Me Come Over and though time has softened their grunge-country edges and their albums are few and far between, Boston’s impressionistic rockers Buffalo Tom still know the power of a good old billow."
Dan Patlansky - Perfection Kills
We said: "Patlansky’s supple guitar wraps itself around warm-bodied electric piano on Never Long Enough, and Eyes jerks and grinds over a bass line that will have Stevie Wonder on the phone asking if he can have it back. The odd dime-a-dozen blues plodder (Judge A Man) is offset by the all-axes-blazing high point Dog Day. The net result is undeniably good, but falls short of greatness."
DeWolff - Thrust
We said: "But within their own gleefully built parameters, DeWolff’s arrangements are so imaginatively freewheeling, and their spirit so open-hearted, that they brim with versatile vigour in the 21st century. This eighth album by a trio still not out of their twenties is a blueprint for classic rock as an enduring form."
Fantastic Negrito - Please Don’t Be Dead
We said: "With its roots burrowing deeply into the rich earth of the blues, Please Don’t Be Dead, inspired largely by addressing his fears for the world his children are set to grow up in, melds the personal with the political, completely unconfined by genre or self-censorship. Prince aside, there are no other comparisons for Fantastic Negrito – he’s dancing to the beat of his own drum, and it’s hard not to want to join him."
FM - Atomic Generation
We said: "It would be easy for FM to coast, to make an acceptable album with little effort. But while there are others of their vintage who’d do exactly that, FM have risen to the challenge and made one of the best albums of their career."
Ghost - Prequelle
We said: "A set of subversive, contrary, frequently brilliant songs that push against the boundaries of metal’s self-imposed cult-hood. There are moments of arena-rock ambition, sly transgression and winking blasphemy, all sugared by the kind of pop nous that rock seems to have misplaced years ago."
Ginger Wildheart - Ghost In The Tanglewood
We said: "With profits going to The Samaritans, Ghost In The Tanglewood should be applauded on principle. But this music needs no sympathy vote; these are joyous, beautiful, vulnerable songs that can soundtrack only good things."
Godsmack - When Legends Rise
We said: "When Legends Rise is more of a pop/rock album than anything else, with songs like Bulletproof, Under Your Scarsand Unforgettable based on finely honed melodies which allow Sully Erna to accentuate the fact that he is an emotionally charged, charismatic vocalist."
Graveyard - Peace
We said: "And although the heavier numbers like Cold Love, Please Don’t and Walk On have a strutting-cock swagger that’s plugged straight into the rarefied magic of early 70s hard rock heroism, Graveyard are equally adept at the moments of hushed vulnerability."
Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides Of The Sky
We said: "But while Experience Hendrix insist that 10 of the 13 tracks are previously unreleased, producer Eddie Kramer’s modern technology-assisted brush-up ensures that songs long familiar on bootleg or posthumous albums have never sounded so good."
Joe Satriani - What Happens Next
We said: "What Happens Next is another dazzling set of virtuosity, verve and light and shade, especially brilliant in the delicate Cherry Blossoms, the melodious Righteous and the driven Headrush. However, the ace he’s played this time is enlisting Glenn Hughes and Chad Smith as his backing band. It gives the record a cohesiveness and energy, the trio driving the song home every single time and sounding all the better for it."
Judas Priest - Firepower
We said: "Come the year 2018, cometh the hour, and they’re still screaming for vengeance – at the top of their timeworn lungs. They’re still writing heavy-as-fuck new songs; still releasing heavy-as-fuck new albums."
Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile
We said: "The first album to be recorded at the band’s new rural studio in Wales, it has a pleasingly boomy big-room sound, high in polish and rich in ripsnorting glam-metal guitar. With stalwart producer Dave Eringa back at the controls, this is vintage arena-rocking Manics, grandiose in scale and unusually buoyant in mood."
Monster Magnet - Mindfucker
We said: "Look, all of these songs are probably going to sound brilliant live and if you dig Monster Magnet’s back catalogue, then you’ll find something to enjoy on Mindfucker. Listen to it and you’ll probably have a good time."
Myles Kennedy - Year Of The Tiger
We said: "But while there are moments of soft acoustics – particularly in the delicate beauty of Turning Stones – and many of the melodies are played on acoustic guitars, banjo and mandolin, most of the songs still swell to grandiose, multi-layered levels, a characteristic certainly synonymous with Alter Bridge’s sonic style."