I know, I know, 2012 is, like, so last year: Gangnam Style, Mitt Romney, the London Olympics . . . it all seems a lifetime away. However, there was in that twelvemonth some cracking rock music delivered to our grateful lugholes, particularly from the elder statesmen. Thus, I thought it important, albeit belatedly, to keep this feature going. And so, without further ado, my top ten tracks of last year:
10. Jimi Jamison, Never Too Late – Survivor legend Jimi Jamison is justly acclaimed as one of melodic rock’s all-time great vocalists, and his universally lauded solo album Never Too Late proved that he’s still got it in bucketloads. Check out its breezy but affecting title track to see what all the fuss is about.
9. Ten, Gunrunning – Ten remain arguably the U.K.’s most criminally undervalued rock ‘n’ roll institution, with visionary Gary Hughes a strong contender for the title of greatest rock songwriter of his generation. Whether they’re hitting us with absorbing fantasy epics, lusicious ballads or, as here, ball-busting Whitesnake-infused bluesy hard rock, it’s always a joy to be caught in their sights. This choice cut from their fine Heresy and Creed opus is replete with the swagger that helped make Spellbound one of the very best albums of the 1990s.
8. Van Halen, Blood and Fire – Van Halen’s long overdue comeback album – featuring an almost classic line up reunion – was, for me, a largely disappointing mess, masking a distinct lack of songwriting inspiration with their undeniably dazzling musicianship. It had its moments, though, and, as far as I’m concerned, this nostalgic autobiographical cut is the pick of the bunch: one of only a handful of tracks from A Different Kind of Truth that could hold its own on a VH ‘Best of’ collection.
7. Dokken, Waterfall – If Broken Bones does prove to be, as the singer himself has stated, Don Dokken’s hard rock/metal swansong, he can take pride and satisfaction in having gone out on an impressive high. A compulsive slow burner that rewards repeated listening, the album is to be commended for its adventurous spirit, with its use of unconventional time signatures and structures. Picking out a favourite is tricky, but Waterfall has had me reaching for the repeat button on more than the odd occasion, so I’ll plump for that one.
6. Aerosmith, What Could Have Been Love – Van Halen weren’t the only All American rock ‘n’ roll institution to deliver a distinctly Obama comeback album in 2012: the Smithsters, after all of their much publicised travails in recent years, came across as a band still at war with itself on Music from Another Dimension, a disparate collection of songs – some good, some forgettable – that all hangs together rather awkwardly. While most fans were hoping for a return to the raw and rootsy Aerosmith of old, the album’s best moment for me was a blockbuster ballad very much in the post-Permanent Vacation tradition. I’ve always been a sucker for a great ballad and, for my money, What Could Have Been Love is their best since the Big Ones from Get a Grip.
5. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Something to Live for – Gawd bless ’em, Lynyrd Skynyrd keep on turning out high octane southern fried rock ‘n’ roll worthy of their legendary name – never more so than in 2012, when Last of a Dyin’ Breed emerged as perhaps their finest album since reforming in 1987. I’ve reached for this gorgeous ballad so many times in the last year or so. Turn it up.
4. Black Country Communion, Afterglow – Watching them bow out on a low following their very public meltdown, an individual more waggish than I might have suggested that Afterthought would have been a more fitting title for this most difficult of third albums. However, Afterglow is not a complete washout; indeed, its epic title track is something of a masterwork. Stongly evocative of the best stuff from Led Zeppelin’s awesome Houses of the Holy, it’s a track to gloriously lose yourself in.
3. Magnum, Shadow Town – Generally speaking, Magnum’s post-reunion output has been somewhat patchy – but not so the storming On the Thirteenth Day! I was very hard pressed to choose between Shadow Town and the infectious single So Let It Rain, but in the end, this poignant and anthemic song about the decline of the British high street won the day. Towering.
2. Rush, The Wreckers – One of the manifold joys of Clockwork Angels, Rush’s first full-blown concept album, is the way that so many of the songs hold up so wonderfully when listened to in isolation. And in that vein, The Wreckers is probably my favourite: tension and release, unbridled joy, and overpowering emotion. A rush, indeed.
1. UFO, Waving Goodbye – UFO delivered another astonishingly high calibre late career album in Seven Deadly, on which the work of Phil Mogg – a blue collar bard of the Ronnie Van Zant order – was at its raw, searing best. Add to that the mesmerising, tasteful lead playing of Vinnie Moore, and you have a veritable match made in rock ‘n’ roll heaven. Both parties fire on all cylinders on this valedictory closing cut, a song for the ages that blows me away every time.