Like all years 2016 had its ups, its downs, its cheery hellos, its sad goodbyes and its fair share of the bizarre. There was certainly plenty of great music to get excited about, with albums and songs to shout about from both established big names and dream-chasing stars-in-the-making. Here we look at the best of what the rock world gave us – and those we lost – over the past 12 months.
50) Heart - Broken Beautiful
The idea of Heart revisiting virtually ignored songs from their early-80s catalogue might seem less than enticing, but the reality on Broken Beautiful is thrilling. Heart wanted to prove that these songs should never have been overlooked, and they’ve done far more by making you want to dig deeper into their catalogue. That, and the album features a rare vocal cameo from Metallica’s James Hetfield.
49) Weezer - The White Album
Just when you’d given up on Weezer, they came back with their strongest album for more than a decade. Mainman Rivers Cuomo got back to what he does best: writing irresistible pop songs about girls. The result is tracks such as Thank God For Girls and LA Girlz which prove that sometimes getting back to basics yields the best results.
48) Purple - Bodacious
The second album from Texan band Purple is a sugar-rush of fizzy indie pop. Drummer Hanna Brewer’s vocals add more than a soupçon of sweet sass to the mix, from Mini Van, which suggests a fun-size Pixies, and Money – imagine a funky Chili Peppers filled with E numbers – to Medicated which dips Nirvana’s loud/quiet dynamic in candy.
47) Joe Bonamassa - Blues Of Desperation
As he stares down middle-age the bluesman has hit a rich seam of songcraft, palling up with the cream of Nashville to deliver another all-originals album to file alongside 2014’s Different Shades Of Blue. Inevitably the guitar playing is dazzling, while standouts like the rollicking This Train and the Zep-inspired title track suggest that Bonamassa’s mid-period songbook is going to be quite something.
46) Drive-By Truckers - American Band
Twenty years in, alt.country mainstays Drive-By Truckers are absolutely furious on this, their eleventh album. Taking a despairing look at the paranoia, hatred, division and confusion at the heart of their nation, it’s as powerful a statement on this political year – wrapped up in personal minutiae – as you’re likely to hear. That it’s all done with music that’s so timeless marks out American Band as one for history scholars of the future to pore over.
45) Ming City Rockers - Lemon
Consolidating the scuffed-punk burst of 2014’s self-titled debut, Immingham’s gender-split, back-combed noiseniks’ second album benefited from the none-more-raw production of veteran Steve Albini. Smalltown ire and swagger rub along with lip-curling snarls, hints of rockabilly and even white-boy reggae, illustrating wider aspirations. It’s topped off with an inspired cover of Hawkwind’s Death Trap.
44) Hey! Hello! - Hey! Hello! Too!
The follow-up to 2013’s debut was another triumph for Ginger Wildheart’s posse – a cornucopia of power-pop hooks and handclaps, harmonies and heavenly anthemia. Chinn-Chapman couldn’t have devised a better bubblegum punk band. Songs such as Kids, Forever Young and Loud And Fucking Clear possess a playground urgency, while the cover of Sailor’s Glass Of Champagne is glam-tastic.
43) Biffy Clyro - Ellipsis
Ayrshire alt.rockers Biffy Clyro have always had a weird streak. So for every lighter-waving anthem, there’s been a barrage of bizarre time signatures and fabulous screaming just around the corner. After their proggy double album Opposites, they returned with this taut, raw beast, with frontman Simon Neil flitting from spitting rage to crooning self-awareness, and even throwing in a country ballad for good measure. We expected the unexpected, and they delivered in spades.
42) Crobot - Welcome To Fat City
If the band’s debut album suggested Crobot had potential, then their second took them beyond the confines of their influences. Blues, rock’n’roll and stoner music are all integrated into a sound that belongs to them alone. The songs are ferocious but well crafted, the musicianship is mature and the overall effect is commanding. Here is a band who know what works and have refined it to create a major force.
41) Brian Fallon - Painkillers
Ever since he first appeared with New Jersey’s the Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon has been pinned as the new Bruce Springsteen, revelling in a particularly all-American sense of nostalgia. Painkillers, his solo debut, found him building on his old band’s foundations and is stuffed with soda-fountain anthems about the trials and tribulations of the everyman, presented with a gruff passion that suggests the start of a brilliant solo career.
40) Syd Arthur - Apricity
For album number four the Canterbury quartet went to California and worked with Jellyfish’s Jason Falkner. The results still embraced stunning technical complexity, but using electronica and experimentation based on leaner, catchier songs, on Apricity the balance shifted neatly from their previously earthy, jazz-folk textures to a spectrum of soaring psychedelic gems.
39) Deap Vally - Femejism
With this stonking album the hottest band of 2013 showed that they’re not just a one-trick pony. Vocalist/guitarist Lindsey Troy takes the ‘has fuzz pedal, can travel’ approach once more on Femejism. The result is part Queens Of The Stone Age, part White Stripes, with a sprinkle of Led Zep.
38) Scorpion Child - Acid Roulette
Just when you thought hairy-arsed heavy blues had nowhere left to go, these Texans’ second album ditched the clichés and carved out its own space. Between the guiding concept of “a bohemian guy who gets framed for a murder he perhaps did or didn’t do”, standout tunes such as the gonzoid title track and Aryn Black’s force-10 voice box they sounded like the cavalry arriving.
37) Royal Republic - Weekend Man
Bottling the essence of fellow Swedes The Hives and The Hellacopters, and adding extra fizz and fuzz, album four scintillated and sparkled at every turn. Energetic instant singalongs that are simple enough in structure reveal rare gifts with melodies and hooks. As razor-sharp as their dress sense.
36) The Virginmarys - Divides
If the Virginmarys’ second album didn’t grab us quite as much as their debut, it’s only because King Of Conflict set the bar so high. Divides is the sound you make when you’ve made one of the greatest debut albums in a decade and the mainstream doesn’t even bat an eyelid: hurt, angry and defiant. We still wouldn’t bet against them making it big.
35) Jeff Beck - Loud Hailer
‘The revolution will be televised – you can watch it in HD,’ drawled Rosie Bones on the grindingly slow, heavy opener, neatly capturing the tone of righteous post-9⁄11 indignation on this album of electric – and electrifying – metallic blues. Jeff Beck’s eleventh studio record found the 72-year-old virtuoso joined by Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg, in lyrical and lacerating form.
34) Zakk Wylde - Book Of Shadows II
Wylde’s Book Of Shadows, released two decades ago, was a fascinating acoustic stop-off in a career dominated by metal pyrotechnics. Channelling Neil Young, CSN and his own demons, this sequel re-established the man so often portrayed as a shred knucklehead as an artist of sensitivity, depth and vulnerability. Although he’d probably punch your lights out for saying so.
33) Teenage Fanclub - Here
Let other bands push the envelope; it’s always a pleasure to hear Teenage Fanclub circling the wagons. On this, their tenth album, the Scots didn’t change a formula that has served them well since the early 90s, with Here trading in sun-kissed strums and wistful lyrics with “a loose theme of mortality”. Released in September, it was an autumn sunbeam of a record.
32) Beware Of Darkness - Are You Real?
The opening words on Are You Real? are ‘Muthafucka, I’m back!’ If you weren’t waiting, you obviously didn’t hear Beware Of Darkness’s debut, Orthodox. Like that 2013 album, Are You Real? is a feral mix of alt. and classic rock. Imagine Muse without all the keyboards and sci-fi bollocks, Jane’s Addiction tearing through the Velvet Underground songbook or Rush gone punk and you’re close.
31) Van Morrison - Keep Me Singing
Sir ‘Van The Man’ might not possess Mick Jagger’s snake hips or Rod Stewart’s tabloid real estate, but his latest album Keep Me Singing shames his contemporaries with its emotional potency and brilliance. Tracks such as the poignant Memory Lane and the achingly soulful Every Time I See A River prove that the grumpy old bastard still has the ability to break your heart. Click here for an extended Q&A with Van Morrison.
30) Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Since picking up the unwanted tag of ‘saviour of country music’ following the release of his 2013 ‘outlaw’ album High Top Mountain, Kentucky-born Sturgill Simpson has defied Nashville’s musical conventions.
Take his new record, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, on which a haunting pedal steel-drenched take on Nirvana’s In Bloom suddenly explodes into thumping, horn-driven soul. This is not your regular ‘white hat’ country meathead. With the ethereal Breakers Roar giving way to the southern funk of Keep It Between The Lines, the record marks Simpson’s importance as a modern-day Willie Nelson, a fellow outlaw who loved country music too much not to fuck with it. Click here for an extended Q&A with Simpson.
29) Dream Theater - The Astonishing
Released in January, Dream Theater’s concept album The Astonishing set the bar for the year ahead, while also proving that fiercely ambitious music could still make the tills ring. The Astonishing’s live premiere in London was jaw-dropping, but the record alone felt almost as immersive, with guitarist John Petrucci and company’s elaborate compositions throwing the listener headlong into a dystopian future world with a killer soundtrack. Dream Theater began the year as modern prog’s uncontested kings, and their crown didn’t slip an inch.
28) Eric Clapton - I Still Do
‘Slowhand’ isn’t reinventing the wheel on I Still Do, his twenty-third solo record, but that’s the beauty of it. Instead he slips a couple of more-than-passable originals in among a collection of beautifully interpreted covers, the highlight of which is Skip James’s Cypress Grove. A reunion with producer Glyn Johns and a rumoured (and totally unconfirmed) posthumous appearance from George Harrison (on I Will Be There) add to the record’s mystique.
27) Pretenders - Alone
The intended sequel to Stockholm, Chrissy Hynde’s 2014 solo debut, somehow evolved into the first Pretenders album for eight years (a nebulous matter, given that Hynde remains the sole permanent member of the band). Alone found her recording at Dan Auerbach’s Nashville studio, the Black Keys man serving as both producer and player, roping in a sympatico backing group. But the record – country ballads and dusty blues-rockers draped with scabrous wit, self-mockery and heaps of attitude – was very much Hynde’s vision.
26) Blackberry Smoke - Like An Arrow
Their last two records (2013’s The Whippoorwill and follow-up Holding All The Roses) proved that Blackberry Smoke have slow-burning southern rock down to a tee. But on Like An Arrow the Atlanta five-piece show a little soul – they’ve found emotion to underpin their swagger. They also get their rock well and truly on with the title track and the foot-stomping opener Waiting For The Thunder. All of a sudden these southern gents are bona-fide classic rock heroes.
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25) Metallica - Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
A near-decade gap between records and the bold decision to go with a double album meant the pressure was on for Metallica’s tenth studio full-lengther. Was it worth the wait? While Hardwired… To Self-Destruct was a bit top-heavy and didn’t quite match up to some of the all-time great double albums, tracks such as Moth Into Flame, Atlas, Rise!, Dream No More and Spit Out The Bone proved that Metallica are very much still capable of producing crushing, vibrant and relevant metal anthems. Phew!
24) Opeth - Sorceress
These Swedes never stand still. Latest album Sorceress has hints of their recent, proggy albums, but it also stretches out and challenges. To call this prog metal is to do it an injustice – there’s so much more depth and imagination here. While the music has virtuoso substance and remarkable intricacy, it also has a vibrant urgency that makes it warm and charismatic. What makes the album work at the highest level is that every time you return to it, it seems to renew itself.
23) Ian Hunter And The Rant Band - Fingers Crossed
Ian Hunter is 77. This is worth remarking on because musicians of this vintage aren’t meant to be making music as remarkable as on Hunter’s latest album. The centrepiece of Fingers Crossed is Dandy, a swaying, boozy elegy to David Bowie that sounds like part two of All The Young Dudes and is almost guaranteed to put goosebumps on your goosebumps. Elsewhere the quality never really drops. And don’t be wary. This album is fierce, cocky, defiant and very, very good.
22) Hiss Golden Messenger - Heart Like A Levee
Like John Forgerty before him, MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger is a man who grew up in California but whose soul belongs to the south. Heart Like A Levee is an album full of magic and mystery, crackling with the spirit of Jim White, William Faulkner and Harry Crews. It’s mystical Americana – imagine a backwoods Tom Petty raised on Bible class and black-eyed peas – and a successful attempt to climb to the very top of the the alt.country tree.
21) Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel
Adopted and adored by what Chris Robinson calls “freak America”, for their fourth album his Brotherhood quintet draw from classic artists such as Sly & The Family Stone, Little Feat, the Flying Burrito Brothers and especially the Grateful Dead to create chooglin’ jam-band psychedelia for neo-hippies. But while the music dwells happily in a retro world, the lyrics on standouts Oak Apple Day, Forever As The Moon and Some Gardens Green are topical, addressing viciously divided America with prescriptions for brotherly love.
20) Blues Pills - Lady In Gold
After the success of Blues Pills’ self-titled debut, in all its party-like-it’s-1969 glory, the Sweden-based four-piece were understandably sick of being dubbed ‘retro rock’. Lady In Gold, therefore, was about establishing their own musical personality. So they totally changed gear, right? Not quite. Their bluesy psychedelic foundations still inform most of the record, but there’s a freshness and contemporary soulfulness to these songs that says ‘21st-century band’ in a way their debut didn’t. And in the spine-tingling soul-rock triumph Burned Out they have one of – if not the – strongest tracks of their career. Click here for an extended Q&A with Blues Pills.
19) Tax The Heat - Fed To The Lions
Bristolians Tax The Heat hit the ground at top speed for this April-released diamond, which is arguably the boldest and brashest debut album in this list. Reinvigorating blues rock with enough strut, swagger and swing to enthuse even jaded ears, a dozen tracks channelling the spirit of Free, QOTSA and The White Stripes were presented in such a tight, lean and live manner that it plays like a gig. If the band can maintain the quality control, work ethic and energy – and there are no signs to suggest they can’t – then next year could see a well-deserved breakthrough.
18) Whiskey Myers - Mud
One of the leading lights in the second coming of southern rock, this hirsute collective from Texas evoke the sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Black Crowes. In fact the album’s standout, Frogman, is a co-write with erstwhile Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson. Equal parts country [they’ve got two members called Cody, fer Chrissakes], equal parts rock’n’roll, Whiskey Myers reveal more of the former side to their character with the sublime Trailer We Call Home. Mud is all gravy with a side order of grits.
17) Hawkwind - The Machine Stops
With arguably their best album in quite some time, our venerable spacelord brethren crash-landed on a countercultural sweet spot by hot-wiring EM Forster’s 1909 apocalyptic sci-fi tale for a 21st-century, soon-to-be-Brexit Britain. As mainstay Dave Brock led the charge with some ominous narration and relentless riffing, a reinvigorated line-up set the controls for a theatrical, synth-driven psychedelic maelstrom that actually saw them return to the UK Top 30 and achieve their highest placing since 1982.
16) Black Stone Cherry - Kentucky
A change of record label ahead of writing album number five appears to have done the trick for Black Stone Cherry. Kentucky is their most cohesive record to date, free of songs that were clearly written with the words ‘We need a radio hit’ ringing in the band’s ears. That’s not to say it doesn’t have killer tunes, though; Shakin’ My Cage is a classic muscular BSC rocker, while Soul Machine has groove to burn. Just don’t mention the diabolical cover of Edwin Starr’s War, okay?
15) Purson - Desire’s Magic Theatre
Led by singer/guitarist Rosalie Cunningham, Purson truly excelled on this, their second album, an acid-rock opera soaked in vintage glam, prog and pastoral freak-folk. The breadth of their ambition was dizzying, creating a vivid Technicolor dream from core elements of Sabbath, Traffic, Ziggy-era Bowie, Small Faces and White Album-Beatles. Many of the lyrical themes were drawn from Cunningham’s own psychedelic experiences (“It’s like a trippy variety show,” she quipped), among them the hallucinatory The Window Cleaner and majestic mini-epic The Bitter Suite.
14) Alter Bridge - The Last Hero
Slowly but surely, almost under the radar, over the past decade Alter Bridge have become arena headliners. The Last Hero is the record that should see them climb to festival bill-topping status. The riff-tastic opening four-track salvo is the strongest the band have ever put out, and overall with The Last Hero Alter Bridge have married the raw power of their first two albums with the depth and colour of 2013’s III. An absolute triumph.
13) Big Big Train - Folklore
From the Salisbury Giant to the history of London through its oldest botanical inhabitants to Winkie the wartime pigeon hero, BBT’s ninth album provided a Boy’s Own miscellany of facts and fables for us to feast on. But Folkore was no jolly prog-folk knees-up (apart from the celebratory harvesting anthem Wassail); the Anglo-US-Swedish band are notorious for compositions of heartbreaking poignancy. And as star-crossed lovers looked to the skies, or an aging racing driver suddenly realised his fate, we all got a little something in our eye.
12) Cheap Trick - Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello
On album number 17, veterans Cheap Trick proved they could still do tuneful metal as well as anyone, with an album that merited being ranked alongside their first four late-70s classics. Drummer Bun E Carlos may have been replaced by guitarist Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx, thereby affecting the original four’s geek/hunk symmetry, but Robin Zander was in fine rasping voice, and Nielsen Sr was in top songwriting form, from glam stomper Blood Red Lips to the Quo-meets-ELO orchestral boogie of The Sun Never Sets and the chant-worthy Long Time No See Ya.
11) Steven Wilson - 4 1⁄2
When Steven Wilson isn’t busy remastering the entire history of progressive music, he occasionally comes up with his own. This stopgap mini-album of off-cuts and leftovers – released between the brilliant Hand. Cannot. Erase. and whatever rabbit he pulls out of his next hat – certainly isn’t filler until the latter, and much of the material is genuinely majestic. When critics use phrases like ‘sprawling genius’ to describe music, this album is the kind of thing they usually have in mind.
10) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
Skeleton Tree was never going to be the easiest listen. The death of Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur during the recording period was bound to cast the darkest of shadows over the album on its release, although the singer cautioned us against linking too many of the lyrics to that tragedy; most of them were written before it occurred.
It does feel like a new chapter in the Bad Seeds story though. While Cave’s usual obsessions with death, lust, violence and madness are presented as emotionally and poetically as ever, musically the lush gilding of their previous work has been stripped away, leaving us with Warren Ellis’s spooked, avant garde electronica that shares more with the ethereal soundtrack work of Vangelis than with the spiky ire of side Cave’s Grinderman project. It’s more than an album, it’s a great work of art, and without doubt one of the year’s most engrossing listens.
9) The Answer - Solas
The fag-end of 2015 found Northern Irishmen The Answer on the ropes, reeling from family illness, burnt out from a decade spent on the treadmill and disenchanted by the prospect of “just making another rock record and going through the motions”.
Following a semi-hiatus, their solution was to fork off into left field, the recording of their sixth album influenced by folk, bluegrass, film scores and the Celtic motifs of their homeland, and renewing their relevance along the way.
Solas was textured and operatic on tracks like Beautiful World, or stripped to a pure folk essence on Battle Cry and In This Land, and even on more blues-rocking moments such as Untrue Colours the synths and harmonies spoke of a band suddenly unshackled and revelling in the creative process. Brave, broad-minded, heartfelt and anthemic, if there’s any justice, it’ll do the business for them.
8) Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome
Eleven years on from their previous studio album A Bigger Bang, it was starting to look like the Stones’ recording days were behind them. After all, as the ultimate touring legacy act, boasting a gilt-edged songbook, they had no need of fresh material to fuel their still blazing fire.
Then, with minimum fanfare, along came Blue & Lonesome, an all-but-live, supremely executed assault on a dozen blues covers (prime cuts from artists who shaped the Stones: Little Walter; Jimmy Reed et al) cracked out over three frantic days in West London. With all concerned – especially an indefatigably vital Jagger – at the top of their game, the album blazes by in a blur. I Gotta Go romps, Commit A Crime swaggers, Just Like I Treat You swings and Eric Clapton guests. This is the Stones doing what they do best. And when they’re on this form nobody does better.
7) The Cadillac Three - Bury Me In My Boots
The Cadillac Three’s signature blend of blues, country and southern rock emanates from a power trio of singer/guitarist Jaren Johnston, bassist Kelby Ray and drummer Neil Mason. So far, so Wikipedia. But the important seam to mine here is that their latest album, Bury Me In My Boots, finds our three amigos at their most ‘Nashville’. If that rings alarm bells in your head, then be aware that we’re talking about the tougher side of country here, via a band that cut it at Download, sharing stages with the likes of Black Stone Cherry.
This is the Cadillac Three’s most commercial-sounding album yet, with big, radio-friendly choruses on the title track and the throbbing Drunk Like You which comes across like a heavier shot of The Band Perry fronted by Hank Williams III. Country music hasn’t been this cool since Johnny Cash smashed up the Grand Ole Opry.
6) Rival Sons - Hollow Bones
With album number five in the bag, Californian four-piece Rival Sons possibly hoped those Led Zeppelin comparisons had run their course. Sorry, lads, but if you will insist on producing first-rate classic rock like this then you’re gonna get lumped in with the heavy hitters.
Anyhow… the dynamics that made Jimmy Page’s squad so mind-blowing are there in Hollow Bones PT.1 while it’s Free that spring to mind on the smouldering, soulful Tied Up. And you’ve got to admire frontman Jay Buchanan’s balls for referencing Steve Marriott’s arrangement of the old Ike & Tina Turner classic Black Coffee.
While some fans were disappointed the band didn’t seize the opportunity to nail a stylistic Great Leap Forward with Hollow Bones after exalted predecessors Head Down  and Great Western Valkyrie , in this case business as usual is absolutely fine by us. Click here for an extended Q&A with Rival Sons.
5) The Temperance Movement - White Bear
You could argue that The Temperance Movement are revivalists, when we need pioneers, traditionalists at a time when ‘tradition’ is a dirty word, moderates at a time when rock needs radicals. You could draw parallels with their musical puritanism and UKIP and Trump (“All those musical influences coming over here, spoiling our music – let’s build a wall!”). You could, but you’d have gone too far. Because, in a way, TTM are heading up their own quiet revolution, taking classic rock tropes, stripping them of past excesses (the hairy-chested machismo, the lyrical clichés) and reworking the genre for the 21st-century. White Bear seems to be in love with the music of the early-to-mid-70s (The Band, the Steve Miller Band, Bob Seger etc), but it’s not pastiche. It’s tighter, harder and, in I Hope I’m Not Losing My Mind, features one of the best tracks of the year.
4) Marillion - F*** Everyone And Run (F E A R)
Marillion’s fourteenth post-Fish album was a masterpiece from a band who have gone 27 years with this line-up. Uncannily prescient with its songs about Leavers and Remainers, it featured music of elegiacal beauty barely concealing a heart of angry darkness and sense of rising tumult, with its intimations of imminent global catastrophe. It was a superb ensemble display, as well as a showcase for Steve Hogarth’s searing croon and lyrics railing against the parlous state of the planet, delivered with an air of quiet disgust; Steve Rothery’s powerful yet plangent guitar; and Mark Kelly’s bombastic, shimmering keyboards. ‘What a life… everything is everywhere, know what I mean?’ Hogarth wept on Demolished Lives, one of several mournful yet majestic peaks here, alluding to the unfolding chaos abroad.
3 The Struts - Everybody Wants
Strictly speaking, Everybody Wants didn’t come out this year. First released in 2014 with different artwork, it was given a fresh lick of paint this summer and relaunched. And it makes us wonder about the sanity of a world that paid no attention first time round.
It takes a great chunk of British music, from glam rock to Britpop, adds a touch of Sunset Strip sleaze, and wrestles it all into a joyous, singalong package. Singer Luke Spiller is a genuine star, with a voice that sits comfortably between Freddie Mercury and Noddy Holder. And as anyone who has seen one of the band’s sweat-drenched, triumphant shows can attest, these songs are here for the duration.
2) David Bowie - Blackstar
Epitaph, goodbye letter, summing up, cryptic maze. When Bowie released Blackstar on January 8, his 69th birthday, none of us could have fathomed that he’d be gone two days later. It changed the way we heard the songs, many of which hover around issues of mortality. But it doesn’t change the fact that for consistency and concept, it’s Bowie’s strongest album since his Berlin trilogy.
Collaborating with a fiery jazz quartet, Bowie throws his ideas and his voice into the shifting, improvised metabolism of sound, emerging with songs that stand outside genre; Lazarus, ’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore and Blackstar unfold like new language being created.
A beautifully orchestrated exit that with each listen makes us appreciate and miss The Dame even more. Click here to read our extended feature on David Bowie.
1) Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression
With the ravenous black dog of mortality stalking his brethren, Iggy Pop clearly took a long, hard look at himself before embarking upon Post Pop Depression. With his 70s on the horizon, he recognised that now was the time to produce an album for the ages. While he still could.
And so, with his powers still peaking in the raw, he hooked up with the best collaborative enabler he could possibly have chosen, to produce one final album to irrevocably seal his legacy as not only America’s greatest and most influential alternative artist, but also its most enduring.
Knee-jerk reactions to the announcement that Iggy was working with members of Queens Of The Stone Age were cautious. Many felt we’d been here before and been disappointed; memories of Lou Reed’s collaboration with Metallica, that produced the fatally flawed Lulu, were fresh
For his part, QOTSA’s Joshua Homme proved as empathetic to Iggy’s art as Bowie was. In light of their Post Pop Depression collaboration, listening again to Like Clockwork or Rated R, you detect similar textures, moods and grooves to those that characterise The Idiot and Lust For Life. Ultimately, the sophisticated European feel of Bowie/Iggy’s mid-70s Berlin collaboration is revealed as a key ingredient in the QOTSA sound.
Consequently, producing guitarist Homme and QOTSA multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita were on home turf when reproducing Iggy’s optimum sonic backdrop for PPD, and Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders was the ideal drummer to provide strident, driving, Hunt Sales-style percussive punch.
Lyrically, Iggy remains as visceral as ever. Post Pop Depression’s twin themes – bordering on obsessions – are sex (sweaty, passionate, desperate, gnarly, sinewy, and all gyrating in unflinching HD) and mortality (‘Time is so tight,’ Iggy intones with Johnny Cash openness on album standout Break Into Your Heart. ‘Death is the pill that’s tough to swallow,’ the least likely surviving member of Mick Rock’s Bowie/Pop/Reed Unholy Trinity triptych admits as American Valhalla glides by in cinematic widescreen).
In divine synchronicity, the wider world similarly decided to take a long, hard look at Iggy. Staggeringly fine return-to-form album that Post Pop Depression was, its March release fell coincidentally close to the shockingly unexpected loss of David Bowie in January. To many of the Bowie faithful, Iggy had always sat at The Dame’s left hand. Iggy’s apparent indestructibility could no longer be taken for granted – he was to be valued.
Finally, as Iggy prepared to unleash a legacy-defining magnum opus recorded with a band of mainstream rock giants at his back, guaranteed to bring him to the attention of a whole new audience from a distinctly younger demographic, his existing fan base was perfectly primed to recognise and acknowledge his true worth.
Post Pop Depression is Iggy Pop’s biggest-selling album. By some distance. It gave him his first Top Five hit in the UK, and his first Top 20 in the US. He’s a star. At last.
The jewel in the crown of Iggy’s extraordinary year was his debut engagement at London’s Royal Albert Hall on May 13, widely regarded by those who were there to be ‘the greatest gig of all time’. Iggy stage-dived, bled, grinned, gurned, got carried around the auditorium on the hands of an adoring audience, and finally, after five decades – an entire half-century in worthy, cult obscurity – got his big Hollywood happy ending.
Post Pop Depression, then: not just the album of any old year, but also the album of Iggy’s year. Click here to read an extended Q&A with Iggy Pop.