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The 25 best rock albums of the year so far

Album covers of the year so far
(Image credit: Future)

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.     

Alt

Alice Cooper - Detroit Stories (opens in new tab)

Detroit Stories (opens in new tab) is Alice Cooper (opens in new tab)'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.

Ayron Jones - Child of the State (opens in new tab) 

From the full-fat riffage and punk-blues vocal of swaggering opener Boys From The Puget Sound to the grunge blast of Killing Season, to the good old-fashioned raunch of Supercharged, this album feels like a showcase of every aspect of Ayron Jones (opens in new tab)' character

Big Big Train – Common Ground (opens in new tab) 

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 (opens in new tab). 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 F Gibbons - Hardware (opens in new tab)

Billy Gibbons (opens in new tab) 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.

Blackberry Smoke - You Hear Georgia (opens in new tab)

There was always a danger for a band like Blackberry Smoke (opens in new tab) 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.

Buckcherry - Hellbound (opens in new tab)

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.

Cheap Trick - In Another World (opens in new tab)

In Another World, Cheap Trick (opens in new tab)'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.

The Dust Coda - Mojo Skyline (opens in new tab)

There was always going to be an album that would come along and lift the much vaunted New Wave Of Classic Rock (opens in new tab) to a new level. And this could be it. Predicated on John Drake’s massive vocals and Adam Mackie’s guitar slickness, Mojo Skyline is an exciting ride.

Foo Fighters - Medicine At Midnight (opens in new tab)

Medicine melts modern pop textures into Dave Grohl (opens in new tab)’s trademark grunge-pop ballast with panache, and inspires some of his most infectious choruses since the 90s. It’s the zippiest Foo Fighters (opens in new tab)album to date, and is largely unburdened by the dark-times politicising that thickened Concrete And Gold (opens in new tab).

Garbage - No Gods No Masters (opens in new tab) 

Once the album stops yelling and stamping for attention, the strong suits of this outfit come through, and dark, sinister atmospheres trademarked by Depeche Mode and Siouxsie & The Banshees (opens in new tab) are allowed to thrive.

Greta Van Fleet - Battle at Gardens Gate (opens in new tab)

The Battle At Garden’s Gate (opens in new tab), GVF’s followup to 2018’s Anthem Of The Peaceful Army (opens in new tab), 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.

Inglorious - We Will Ride (opens in new tab)

Echoes of Deep Purple (opens in new tab), Whitesnake (opens in new tab) and Rainbow (opens in new tab) (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.

Mammoth WVH - Mammoth WVH (opens in new tab)

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.

Mason Hill - Against The Wall (opens in new tab)

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.

Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime (opens in new tab)

Inspired by Black Flag (opens in new tab) and vintage Van Halen (opens in new tab) (Mdou Moctar (opens in new tab) studied videos of Eddie Van Halen (opens in new tab)’s technique), Afrique Victime is a liberating blast of West African grooves, blinding guitar and soul-steeped vocals, cut with distorted whorls of psychedelia.

Mojothunder - Hymns From The Electric Church (opens in new tab)

Two years in the making and well worth the wait, this rather spectacular debut album from Kentucky southern rockers Mojothunder (opens in new tab) will immediately bring to mind Money Maker-era Black Crowes (opens in new tab) and the swinging, good-time hard rock of the Georgia Satellites.

Myles Kennedy - The Ides Of March (opens in new tab)

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.

Nancy Wilson - You And Me (opens in new tab)

After a lifetime as sister Ann Wilson’s righthand woman, guitarist Nancy Wilson (opens in new tab) ventures yet further outside the boundaries of Heart (opens in new tab). With its contrasts in mood, this solo studio debut bleeds authenticity and does Wilson credit as an independent artist.

Royal Blood - Typhoons (opens in new tab)

From the sound of Typhoons, Royal Blood (opens in new tab)'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.

Steven Wilson – The Future Bites (opens in new tab)

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 (opens in new tab) at their poppiest put through a Peter Gabriel (opens in new tab) filter. Powerful and thought-provoking, if depressing, The Future Bites (opens in new tab) ultimately asks you to take a good hard look at what the hell you’re doing with your life. 

Styx - Crash Of The Crown (opens in new tab)

Crash Of The Crown, Styx (opens in new tab)’s new album, while occasionally verging on self-parody in its dogged determination to lift our mood, succeeds admirably in its upbeat message, by channelling the timeless power of melodic soft rock. As positivity goes, way more tonic than toxic.

Suzi Quatro – The Devil In Me (opens in new tab)  

if her latest album The Devil In Me (opens in new tab) proves anything it’s that you can take Suzi Quatro (opens in new tab) out of Detroit (opens in new tab), but you’ll never take Detroit out of Suzi, and if the devil does have the best tunes, then Suzi Quatro is grabbing enough of them here.

Thunder - All The Right Noises (opens in new tab)

Honest, consistent and uncompromising, All The Right Noises (opens in new tab) is quite the classy tour de force of songwriting prowess and pacy execution, with Thunder sounding enraged, engaged and thoroughly energised throughout. Which is just what we need right now.

W.E.T. - Retransmission (opens in new tab)

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”.

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