2016 is shaping up to be a vintage year for music, with killer new tracks from returning heroes including Metallica, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck and Heart as well as strong challenges from newer acts such as Crobot and Monster Truck. And while there’s still plenty of time for another act to come along and knock it out of the park, these are the songs that have got us all hot under the collar so far this year – check out the Spotify playlist below to hear why.
Hardwired – Metallica
Reception to this speedy, energetic number has been varied in the CR office, with responses ranging from “Great!” to “Oh my God, that’s boring!“, but Hardwired’s fierce thrash attack has certainly made an impact. It’s mostly about the speed and the riffs, the band getting their lyrical message across in a few choice words spat with resigned venom.
As a three-minute shot of adrenaline, it’s a far cry from the long-winded Lords Of Summer – First Pass Version, which they debuted in 2014, and much shorter than anything on Death Magnetic – though it shares the same 80s-meets-00s DNA.
No Direction Home – Cheap Trick
Chicago’s power-pop kings return with this sparkling diamond of a tune that reminds you just why they deserve their long overdue induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Sly of verse and huge of chorus, as with all the best Cheap Trick songs it’s bubblegum laced with grit.
Gardenia – Iggy Pop
Taken from Post Pop Depression – an album, recorded with QOTSA’s Josh Homme and Dean Fertita, that The Ig is strongly hinting may be his last – merges menacingly sultry Berlin-era Pop with desert rock atmospherics to career-revitalising effect.
Scared For The Children – Jeff Beck
Nobody else sounds like Jeff Beck. No matter what he does, the veteran guitarist is unique and compelling. On this track from Loud Hailer he plays some warm, low-key guitar that’s complemented by some wonderfully expressive vocals from Rosie Bones, who at times sounds like a female Rod Stewart.
Graffiti – The Cadillac Three
Graffiti finds the Nashville hotshots channelling their inner Springsteen – if the Boss was given to sipping home-brewed hooch on the back of open trucks in the sticky Tennessee sun. This song has it all: laid-back vibes, big booming drums, handclaps and tales of small town winners and losers.
Breathing Lightning – Anthrax
Their thrash roots are still there, but Anthrax allow the melody to breathe on a song that’s rather sophisticated, and even hints at an influence from (ulp!) Journey and Foreigner. Fear not, there’s enough of a scorching riff here for the diehards. But it’s all so… classy.
Push The Pedal – The Virginmarys
Commanding, expansive opener from the Macclesfield trio’s second LP Divides that suggests what Arctic Monkeys might sound like if they moved in heavier, gnarlier circles.
Dark Necessities – Red Hot Chili Peppers
This is pure Chili Peppers, and you really can’t mistake their funk-rock gait, but Dark Necessities is far from by-numbers RHCP. It’s restless, agitated, has some prime guitar moments, an energetic beat and Anthony Kiedis’s careworn vocals. Proof that the Chilis are still hot in 2016.
Beautiful Broken – Heart
The strong-armed track captures the heavier end of the Heart spectrum (it even has a guest appearance on vocals from James Hetfield). The Wilson sisters are on top form, with Ann providing a singing masterclass, while Nancy heats it up with some searing guitar.
Sorceress – Opeth
Continuing the proggy vibe of 2014’s Pale Communion, while reintroducing some of their heaviness of old, this title track from the Swedes’ 12th studio LP is a satisfying (almost Ghost-like) mix of prog-metal riffs and ominous mystique.
Say Your Prayers – Devon Allman
Gregg Allman’s guitar-toting son seems to be doing just fine after his exit from the Royal Southern Brotherhood. This hard-hitting anthem from his album Ride Or Die rams home 45-year-old Devon’s prowess as both a guitar player and a frontman.
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Stay Gold – Butch Walker
If 2015’s Afraid Of Ghosts was Walker’s ‘sad but beautiful’ moment (written a year after his father died, about “coming to terms with your ghosts”), Stay Gold is its ‘get happy’ counterpart. Blending Bruce Springsteen-esque melody with a country-boogie groove, it’s a chirpy indicator of jolly things to come.
Three Bulleits – The Temperance Movement
It’s got a groove, a strut and a joyous melody that mixes the Stones, The Black Crowes and Rod Stewart yet also remains refreshing and individual. An intimate anthem for the drinking classes, with no hint of a hangover.
Black Coffee – Rival Sons
At Classic Rock Towers we drink a lot of coffee. So perhaps it’s not surprising that this bluesy ode to no-frills caffeine (a Humble Pie cover), from Hollow Bones, resonated well here. A raw, rugged yet very tasty shot of vintage rock’n’roll.
Breakin’ Outta Hell – Airbourne
Joel O’Keefe must have wept for days when Axl Rose got the AC/DC gig. Fronting Aussie hellraisers Airbourne, he’s basically been training for it for years – as this strutting piece of perfection reaffirms. The band are showing no signs of stopping, or changing, but when the time comes for them to belt this out on the live circuit, who’s going to protest?
Welcome To Fat City – Crobot
The grooviest men in Pennsylvania are flexing their stoner-rock muscles here. Welcome To Fat City is flippin’ great – more of their swaggering, high-octane heaviness, upped a couple of notches.
Shake It – Santana
Guitar-stuffed, percussion-packed belter from the reassembled late-60s line-up successfully recreate the sounds and smells of the invigorating Afro-Latin Santana’s first three albums. Dance to the music!
Visibility Zero – Kansas
Without chief songwriters Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh, nobody foresaw a new Kansas album – including the veteran group themselves. And yet they’ve been hard at work on The Prelude Implicit, their first new record in 16 years. Equally surprising, Visibility Zero is a brilliant proggy hard rocker.
Narcissus Soaking Wet – Chris Robinson Brotherhood
The former Black Crowes frontman and his band recorded the album this is taken from, Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel, “on the side of a mountain” in rural North California overlooking the Pacific Ocean. By the sound of this relaxed, organic yet deliciously funky slice of psych-blues, that exotic choice of location paid off handsomely and was well worth the mosquito bites.
Sleeping Dogs – Zakk Wylde
The guitar-wielding madman in a more contemplative mood, as he explores the gentler side of his personality. With Black Label Society it’s easy to get lost in the power-chord downpour. But this is where Wylde shows he can rein in the loud bombast, although his virtuosity is still thankfully to the fore.
Biloxi – Hiss Golden Messenger
There was no shortage of smiles when we first heard this song from Hiss Golden Messenger (aka hardcore punk-turned-Americana troubadour MC Taylor, plus pals). A blissful sun-trap of countrified soul and bittersweet sentiment, it’s been perfect listening material for the summer months.
Blood Is Thicker Than Water – Royal Southern Brotherhood
The Royal Gospel is Royal Southern Brotherhood’s second album since a line-up change that saw the introduction of guitarist Tyrone Vaughan (son of Jimmie, nephew of Stevie Ray) and Bart Walker in place of Devon Allman and Mike Zito. Blood Is Thicker Than Water finds the RSB in languid yet typically classy form.
Blues Of Desperation – Joe Bonamassa
The sharp-suited flag-bearer for modern blues just rocked things up – and sounds all the better for it. This track summons Eastern-tinged, Zeppelin-esque guitar that hoists him out of squeaky-clean bluesy territory and on to grittier ground.
Ain’t No Christmas – David Lee Roth
A consciously weary, acoustic track from Diamond Dave, on which he hints that his latest stint with Van Halen might be over. Something different to the normal party attitude with which DLR made his name, but this is intimately charismatic and one of his best studio performances for a long time.
Moon Tension – Scorpion Child
The psychedelic Texans are on hooky, head-throwing form with Moon Tension, a track on their quality album Acid Roulette. Mixing the tastes of classic rock A-listers with their own heavy, fuzzy hoodoo, it’s a winner.
Under The Bottom – Ugly Kid Joe
A pounding piece of icy riffage from the Uglies, Under The Bottom includes a searing guitar solo from Motörhead’s Phil Campbell. It all works remarkably well, as the band crank up the energy and Whitfield Crane delivers a sneering vocal performance.
Smile More – Deap Vally
Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards’s big return after an absence of three years. Based on a primal, simplistic guitar riff and beginning with the lines ‘Everybody’s trying to tell me what to do/It makes me wanna break some shit and sniff some glue’, Smile More is a withering response to the demand ‘cheer up’.
Shakin’ My Cage – Black Stone Cherry
A choice cut from their album Kentucky, BSC return to their crunchy southern metal/rock roots with Shakin’ My Cage. Heavy, thunderous yet riffy stuff – “smokin’ guns” and “burnin’ sun” included.
Don’t Hurt Yourself – Beyonce
Nope, not a typo, it’s Beyonce in Classic Rock. Squally, angular guitar from Jack White, a John Bonham drum sample from Zep’s When The Levee Breaks, a jagged, vicious vocal from Queen Bey, and the result is this startling and quite brilliant rock track from her Lemonade album.
No Man’s Land – The Pineapple Thief
An exquisite, anticipation-building new track from Bruce Soord and co, No Man’s Land is a highlight on The Pineapple Thief’s Your Wilderness album. Delicate and moreish, it’s a beautiful atmospheric taste of what’s to come.
Why Are You Not Rocking? – Monster Truck
Slash, Dee Snider, Mike Inez and Dave Navarro were all fans of this Canadian band’s full-length debut, Furiosity. The high-intensity lead-off track to its follow-up, Sittin’ Heavy, reiterates their manifesto: ‘Rock’n’roll should be a celebration’.
Innocence – Tarja
A gloriously pompous piece of operatic metal from ex-Nightwish singer Tarja. With a beguiling melody that butts up neatly against some overblown yet effective orchestration, it has the hallmarks of Nightwish but with a restive, individual spirit.
Battleship Chains – Volbeat
This was covered brilliantly nearly 30 years ago by the Georgia Satellites. On this version Volbeat bring their own rock’n’roll sensibility to the song, and the Danish band’s panache for uplifting, thrusting energy is guaranteed to get the feet, arms and even the stomach moving.
Mojo Workin’ – Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown
God knows every band in rock wanted that AC/DC support slot. And who actually got it? A 25-year-old Texan gunslinger and his band, who recorded – among other things, obviously – this monstrously groovy, dirty blues rocker.
London Plane – Big Big Train
A beautiful, evocative slice of neo-prog that will appeal to anyone who’s ever taken a lazy walk along a grassy river bank, got ‘drunk for a penny or two’ and followed the stars home. London Plane is taken from the eight-piece English-Swedish-American group’s album Folklore.
Victorious – Wolfmother
After a largely ignored solo career, Andrew Stockdale reactivated the band with which he made his name to record a belated third album. The title track finds the sweet spot between Black Sabbath, the White Stripes and 60s psychedelia.
The Devil – The Treatment
It’s been a bumpy ride for these British hard rock youths, with line-up changes and an iffy second album. But in The Devil, from third album Generation Me, they’ve reclaimed their mojo in triumphant, riff-crunching style. Classic and cool.
Club 27 – The People The Poet
If you’ve made it past the age of one score and seven, you’re doing okay. Many of our musical heroes didn’t fare so well – Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, Morrison, Jones… The list is long and well documented. South Wales’ The People The Poet considers this unfortunate ‘club’ without a hit of mawkishness on this strangely triumphant anthem. Big, epic, heartfelt stuff.
Legba’s Feast – Vodun
Formed from the ashes of schizoid South London rockers (and one-time labelmates of The Darkness) Do Me Bad Things, Vodun filter West African spirituality and voodoo rhythms through fat-riffing 21st century rock, all powered by Chantal ‘Oya’ Brown’s lustful wail. If Afro-metal isn’t already a thing, then it should be soon.
When I See You Dance With Another – Royal Republic
If The Hives and Eagles Of Death Metal decided to cross-breed, they’d end up with this. A boogieing, party-fuelling highlight from the Swedes’ third album, it’ll have the even most po-faced musos hitting ‘replay’ repeatedly.