2021 has already given us a multiplicity of magical musical moments, but enough of the alliteration: these are the 25 albums that have provided the Classic Rock team with the most pleasure so far this year.
Listed in alphabetical order, they include both old stagers and new kids on the block, and feature music that winds its way from the most English of progressive rock to the psychedelic sounds of the Sahara (more alliteration, sorry). Via Texas. And Scotland. And lots of points between.
Detroit Stories is Alice Cooper's most concise bolt of precision-tooled heavy rock in 50 years, enhanced by Ezrin’s robust production and Alice on lethal form, vocally and lyric-wise. At 73, Alice has come home to give his home city a new classic to add to its illustrious hard rock legacy.
Their ever-growing legion of fanatical followers should be delighted by an evolution that sounds like the album Big Big Train have been meaning to make all along. Yet while there’s more than a soupçon of new-found radio-friendliness, there’s nothing to undermine the notion that this might be their artistic as well as commercial time. At last.
Billy Gibbons sounds like he’s having a ball, finally making the desert-rock album he’s hinted at since ZZ Top’s First Album’s Goin’ Down To Mexico. While he’s not straying too far from the mothership, nothing here is phoned-in. As befits the craftsman he’s always been, he’s taken the time and trouble to fashion a bunch of songs worthy of standing alongside anything in his catalogue.
There was always a danger for a band like Blackberry Smoke that they would end up too country for rock fans and too rock for the country massive. But after six studio albums, including two No.1s on the US country chart, they seem to have perfected a winning balancing act between their two chief influences.
How does a band with nearly 25 years and eight albums on the clock manage to top everything they’ve done before? Buckcherry’s answer is to make a great upbeat record that has both anthemic stompers and more considered, polished moments.
In Another World, Cheap Trick's twentieth studio album, is one of their best yet. As ever the band appear to have listened to both every record ever made and nothing at all since 1977. Riffs pile upon riffs like dogs in a basket, harmonies are layered upon other harmonies, and everything sounds like polished thunder.
Medicine melts modern pop textures into Dave Grohl’s trademark grunge-pop ballast with panache, and inspires some of his most infectious choruses since the 90s. It’s the zippiest Foo Fighters album to date, and is largely unburdened by the dark-times politicising that thickened Concrete And Gold.
The Battle At Garden’s Gate, GVF’s followup to 2018’s Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, showcases an undeniably more varied sonic palette, even if that just means there are more classic bands that its 12 songs remind you of. But make all the comparisons you like, because Greta Van Fleet are rapidly coming into their own.
Echoes of Deep Purple, Whitesnake and Rainbow (both Dio and Bonnet eras) abound across melodically strident, melodramatically charged and riff-studded hard rock of a kind few bands currently dare to be passé enough to attempt, breathing fresh life into an irresistible 70s rock template.
The album’s overall pace is relentless and peppered with false stops and starts. Among the stand-out tracks are the poppy but forceful Think It Over with its shades of Jimmy Eat World, the arena-rocking anthem Don’t Back Down with its glam-tinged chorus, and the chunky riffs of You’re To Blame that lead to a spectacular guitar solo – all high bending notes and slick runs.
The songs are well constructed, melodic and powerful. Predicated on Scott Taylor’s emotive vocal style, and with the quick-fire guitar interplay between James Bird and Marc Montgomery, Scottish quartet Mason Hill have come up with an album of mostly memorable songs. One or two tracks, such as We Pray, are a little ordinary, but for the most part the album displays an exciting young talent.
Merging lyrical nonchalance with the instrumental buoyancy of country and the emotional rawness of blues makes for a powerhouse of sanguine musicality. Keep a ladder handy so that you can retrieve your socks from a nearby telegraph wire when you’re done.
Death By Rock And Roll is The Pretty Reckless's first attempt to claw back what they had since Chris Cornell’s death nixed a support tour with Soundgarden and producer Kato Khandwala died in a bike crash. Fortunately it’s brilliant.
From the sound of Typhoons, Royal Blood's Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher were the only two people who spent 2020 on a dancefloor; disco rock is the order of the day, adorned with synthesised 70s strings on Trouble’s Coming and Limbo, modernist pop twinkles and vocal phases on the jungle-gonemetal Who Needs Friends, and retro electronics on Million To One.
There’s plenty to like here, from the old-school futurism of Self to 12 Things I Forgot, which come across like the Manic Street Preachers at their poppiest put through a Peter Gabriel filter. Powerful and thought-provoking, if depressing, The Future Bites ultimately asks you to take a good hard look at what the hell you’re doing with your life.
The zeal and passion with which W.E.T. dispatch opener Big Boys Don’t Cry must be heard to be believed, and once they up the pace slightly with the crunchier yet equally dizzying The Moment Of Truth, all bets are off. As closer One Final Kiss, fades away, just two words are written in this reviewer’s notepad: “Ludicrously good”.