Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Best of 2014: My Favorite Rock Albums

I'm usually pretty cynical about year-end Best Albums lists.

Including my own.

Which isn't to question the integrity of anyone (except me) who puts together such lists.

I would assume that most reputable rock critics (if they still exist) and publications hear and revisit a much wider swath of albums than I do, and offer up their honest opinions about the ones they liked best.

But even in understanding that music is much more segmented these days, that rock--still my preferred genre--isn't the dominant pop style anymore and that pretty much everyone knows and likes some artists that others have never even heard of, all too often it seems Best Albums of (Year) lists are filled with many choices that appear far too arcane.

At least for my tastes and awareness.

In part, because--to me--for an album to really be considered great, it (and to a certain extent the artist) needs to have staying power. I realize that's kind of impossible for anyone to judge within the year of release, but when I see Best Of lists filled with unfamiliar artists, I can't help but wonder if said critic will really revisit those albums or acts in years to come.

Led Zeppelin III - My favorite album reissue of 2014
Thus, for better or worse, my tastes--and Best Albums selections--usually run to the tried & true, and are likely much more populist than those of most rock critics or publications.

Sure, I have several lesser-known personal favorites, and try to listen to what critics herald, so there will always be some selections others may see as esoteric.

But I know that a "decent" album by a favorite band will typically stay in my listening repertoire far longer, and provide more acute pleasure, than many a MetaCritic Top 10 year-end album by unfamiliar artists that time may likely soon forget.

Which makes 2014 all the more weird.

As the album as a commercial art form continues to devolve--though I would argue qualitatively as well, I really mean that fewer & fewer albums are being sold, especially as one can listen to almost anything for free on Spotify, and not necessarily in full--Rolling Stone honored some of my all-time favorite rock artists with top spots in its 50 Best Albums of 2014 list.

U2 ranked #1 with their free-via-the-Apple-tree Songs of Innocence. Bruce Springsteen was second with his collection of outtakes and covers, High Hopes. Foo Fighters came in at #12 with their recorded all-across-the-USA Sonic Highways. Weezer was #14 with yet another "return to form" in Everything Will Be Alright in the End. The Black Keys, whose last two albums I really liked, were ranked #3 by Rolling Stone for Turn Blue. And Taylor Swift, who I really have fancied as a first-rate pop songwriter, slotted in at #10 with 1989, by far the biggest selling album of 2014.

And I thoroughly disagree with any of these albums being close to the very best I heard in 2014.

Each of the above had their moments of professionalism, satisfaction and sometimes even brilliance, but none of them delighted me from beginning to end like a truly great album should.

And I really can't say many on my list below did either, where somewhat surprisingly a band I've never really liked before wound up at #2.

So before I get to my Top 10 and some Honorable (enough) Mentions, let me say that nothing on my list was really among my favorite dozen albums released in 2014.

By far, the music that excited and delighted me most on albums purchased since January 1 was found on the first five Led Zeppelin albums (re-released individually) and the first seven Bruce Springsteen albums (released as The Album Collection, Vol. 1).

With outstanding remastering, these albums--even in MP3 form, though I bought the CDs--sound better than they ever have. And they were phenomenal to begin with. I was particularly delighted to discover just how great Led Zeppelin III is, and of the Springsteen re-issues, listening to The River through good headphones is an absolute job.

Anyway, for those of you going, "Just give my your damn list already," well, here it is.

My Favorite Rock Albums of 2014

1. Bob Mould - Beauty and Ruin (Spotify link)
2. Interpol - El Pintor (Spotify link)
3. The Both (Spotify link)
(note: The Both = Aimee Mann + Ted Leo)
4. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye (Spotify link)
5. Ryan Adams - 1984 (Spotify link)
6. Johnny Marr - Playland (Spotify link)
7. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream (Spotify link) 
8. Robert Plant - Rainbow (not on Spotify)
9. AC/DC - Rock or Bust (not on Spotify)
10. The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers (Spotify link)

Honorable Mention
(in preference order)

Jackson Browne - Standing in the Breach (Spotify link)
Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes (Spotify link)
J Mascis - Tied to a Star (Spotify link)
The Last Internationale - We Will Reign (Spotify link)
Tokyo Police Club - Forcefield (Spotify link) 
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots (Spotify link)
Tweedy - Sukierae (Spotify link)
U2 - Songs of Innocence (Spotify link) 
Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways (Spotify link)
The Men - Tomorrow's Hits (Spotify link)

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