Music Review 2012: Rock and Pop giants - part 1
The pop scene in 2012 was wonderful and exciting in many ways. Veteran , established talents, relative newcomers, and new artistes helped to bring about what is arguably one of the best ever years in popular music. Not that there was anything really innovative, but there were lots of quality albums released. The year saw some new bright hopes and sad demises too.
Bob Dylan, now 71, came up with ‘Tempest’, an album full of great songs and some groundbreaking epic songs, not least the title tune. Here is a song which, at around 16 minutes long, will probably compare with Highlands off his historic album ‘Time Out of Mind’, released 15 years ago. Dylan actually went one step further than ‘Time Out of Mind’, as he also took care of Tempest’s production. In 1997, it was Daniel Lanois who did this job. Dylan, on his part, did something different and indeed, groundbreaking.
Van Morrison too came up with a very good release, ‘Born to Sing, No Plan B’. Like Bob Dylan, he has been touring very often and this time, he also managed to come up with a fine set of songs, which isn’t surprising. His works are almost flawless. ‘Born to Sing’ has the edge over most of his other releases, and compares very well with Poetics Champions Compose, Hymns To The Silence, Inarticulate Speech of The Heart, and quite close but not exactly equal to ‘Astral Weeks’. Van Morrison, now 67, still retains a great soul voice (even when performing live, having myself watched him at the Royal Albert Hall back in October 2010). There were songs about love, and songs that addressed bankers’ greed and the current recession, all done in his usual nimble lyrical and musical style.
The impossibility of love, conversely, was the narrative thread running through Dexys' retro-soul concept album ‘One Day I'm Going to Soar’. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Kevin Rowland and co. returned after a 27-year hiatus and they did deliver some strong songs, much in the style they had in the 1980s. The Darkness had a good comeback with their third album ‘Hot Cakes’, so did Scott Walker with another weird and awesome, spine-chilling album entitled ‘Bisch Bosch’. So did Ian Hunter, with ‘When I’m President’. Hunter, now 73, like Van Morrison, still retains his great voice, and his delivery, though initially inspired by Bob Dylan, has developed into something which is singular and unique. Here was another set of strong songs, at times inspired by the social scene in American and around the world, at times inspired by personal issues too. Ry Cooder, returned to the studios after just one year with Election Special. Here was another political album, which focused on many issues pertaining to the USA and North America and quite hard-hitting against the Republican Party. If Cooder’s previous album ‘Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down’ was spurred by bank bailouts and the resulting recession, Election Special was aimed at various dubious political tactics and corporate takeovers, as well as a yearning for more social justice.
Springsteen likewise did the same with ‘Wrecking Ball’. Here was another passionate album by The Boss, which was aimed to portray more issues related to the financial crisis. Paste Magazine dubbed it “a big rock record” which befits Wrecking Ball completely. Springsteen also proved to be very eclectic on Rocky Ground, which featured a beautiful gospel choir.
30 years since the release of The Nightfly, Don Fagen is still rendering quality songs, in his own trademark style. His fourth studio, ‘Sunken Condos’, album won him accolades, though not on the same scale as ‘Nightfly’. Sunken Condos is essentially lighter but nonetheless Don Fagen has managed to weave a nice string of melodies that will endure. Rolling Stone Magazine stated that "the music is deceitfully lush, a snazzy cascade of rock, R&B and swing, with production as costly as a Santa Monica beach house.” A listen to one particular song, Weather in My Head proves the point.
Joe Cocker and Neil Young also delivered good albums, namely Fire It Up and Psychedelic Pill respectively. Neil Young seems to have realised that doing old standards is not really his forte. This time he came back with a strong set of songs, though perhaps he could have cut down his epic 27 minute song ‘Driftin’ Back’. It would have been effect even as an eight-minuter. Mark Knopfler also did a good job with his double set Privateering, evoking more personal experiences, perhaps his own experiences onstage with Bob Dylan and Rush came up with a nice fanpack package on ‘Clockwork Angels’, arguably one of their most focused and consistent set of songs ever. Again, their tour proved to be a sell-out even though Geddy Lee’s vocals are not as high-pitched on some live songs as they used to be in their prime. Yet, this power trio are full of endurance and verve, considering some sad experience that individual members have passed through.