Top 10 Albums of 2012
Our list of the Top 10 Albums of 2012 features some of the biggest names in classic rock history. Perennial favorites like Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, <a href="http://ultimateclassicrock.com/tags/bob-dylan/"Dylan and <a href="http://ultimateclassicrock.com/tags/rush/"Rush have issued strong new records. From arena rock groups to solo singer-songwriters, 2012 has been a year in which classic rockers we might have previously counted down and out have returned with a vengeance with strong new work — as you'll see in our list of the Top 10 Albums of 2012.
Joe Walsh's first solo album in two decades turned out to be worth the wait. 'Analog Man' sees the veteran guitarist and songwriter focused more on rock material than recent Eagles outings, and finds his trademark sense of humor intact. But his first solo album since embracing sobriety also demonstrates an older-and-wiser Walsh grappling with bigger issues in what our review called “the incredibly cohesive and lucid result of Walsh's long journey back to good.”
Let's face it, sometimes Kiss have been one of those bands that you don't know whether to look forward to their next album, or dread it. But they continued the winning streak they began with 2009's 'Sonic Boom' with their most recent disc, 'Monster,' mixing some new influences with standard Kiss fare for an album that our review called “more than a worthy addition to Kiss's recorded oeuvre” — especially tracks like 'All For the Love of Rock and Roll' and 'Take Me Down Below.'
Bob Dylan's 35th studio album is not exactly an entertaining disc. The perpetually morose, misanthropic troubadour hasn't lightened his mood much for 'Tempest,' but he has turned in a solid album of — obviously — well-crafted songs that are better than most of his more recent output, even if they lack the cultural impact of his early period. Never the most optimistic lyricist, Dylan turns his dark eye toward the Titanic disaster for the epic title track, which displays both the strength of Dylan's writing, and his penchant for self-indulgence — without which this album would have arguably ranked even higher.
Heart turned their attention more toward rock-oriented material for 'Fanatic,' resulting in an album that's like an amalgam of their classic period and their glossier later work. The Wilson sisters sound re-energized on 'Dear Old America,' while 'Mashallah!' is a musically fascinating tip of the hat to Led Zeppelin. As our review stated, “The band are clearly energized and engaged by 'Fanatic,' and that's perhaps the most gratifying thing about the album.'”
Ten years after their last studio album, Aerosmith reunited with classic-era producer Jack Douglas for 'Music From Another Dimension!,' which the band had promised would be a return to that sound . . . and actually, a good bit of it was. Not that the album is going to replace 'Toys in the Attic' in anybody's estimation, but even if it's too long and contains no less than four commercial ballads, our review says, “By our count there's about 10 good, very good or great songs on 'Music From Another Dimension!'”
Neil Young wanders around musically to such an extent that you never really know what you're going to get with his new work, but he came back to his spiritual and musical home with Crazy Horse for 'Psychedelic Pill.' The result is an uneven, but still great album that could have been recorded at almost any time in the last 40 years. The record is dominated by long, epic tracks like 'Walk Like a Giant,' and it's that kind of uncompromising artistry that drives the album — which could have been even better if parts of it were shorter.
Springsteen's 17th album, and the first since the death of E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, finds him in an angry mood, railing against the corporate greed that has damaged our world. Although not every song meets the high expectations placed on this album, our review notes that several tracks reach new heights by “drawing upon (Springsteen's) Catholic upbringing — always a rich source of inspiration for him — and breaking new ground musically, incorporating mournful horns, a sample from an Alan Lomax field recording, and gospel singer Michelle Moore.”
ZZ Top's first new album in eight years might not be quite the return to classic form that the band promised, but it's still an impressive outing in its own right. Eschewing the overly digital production elements that hampered much of their latter-day work, the band turned in a strong set of songs that make full use of their individual talents. With trademark fuzz guitars and mostly straightforward songs, our review says, “'La Futura' serves as an entertaining visit from old friends, and never overstays its welcome.”
Rush are quite simply a band to whom the rules don't apply. There's absolutely no logical reason why an uber-geeky Canadian progressive rock trio ought to be able to release a conceptual album in 2012 and not only get away with it, but still tour at the arena level. But with 'Clockwork Angels,' Rush not only pulled it off, they did so with such style that — almost alone of any classic rock band in the world — they've actually increased their critical respect. The much-maligned rockers are not only selling out arenas, they are also (finally!) in the running for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wow. They did it. After nearly 28 years apart, Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth demonstrated that their chemistry together remains unique and magical, and created our choice for top album of 2012. With very few missteps (sadly, that includes ill-chosen lead single 'Tattoo'), the band proved they can rock in as raw and explosive a manner as they did on their earliest records ('Outta Space' and 'She's the Woman') and deliver more mature material such as 'You and Your Blues' and 'Blood and Fire.'