2012 was a year for some notable musical comebacks. Neil Young, Donald Fagen, Van Halen (with Diamond Dave!) – from Asia to ZZ Top, there was a lot of nostalgia. I’ll review some of the highlights here.
Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill was a refreshing return to the old Crazy Horse days featuring the rambling 27 minute long Driftin’ Back and the 17 min Ramada Inn. It is a beautiful tapestry with dazzling guitar work. Young hasn’t lost a step with rockers like Born in Ontario and Twisted Road and yet still slows down with For the Love of Man which reminds me a bit of Harvest Moon. There are not really any weak moments here. I think my favorite track is the 16 minute Walk Like a Giant. Doing a little research on Wikipedia for this article, I learned that this was actually the second Young/CH album of 2012 following Americana released earlier in 2012. I guess I have some more homework to do.
Donald Fagen’s Nightfly was a watershed for me music-wise. After listening to it back in university, I went back and purchased all the Steely Dan vinyl (I still have them!) and loved them all. Kamakiriad didn’t do anything for me and I totally missed the apparently forgettable Morph the Cat. Fortunately, Fagen went back to his Nightfly roots and recorded the gem, Sunken Condos. It is jazzy, bluesy, and funky and features a typically classy and tight rhythm section, great strings, perfect guitar, and a wonderful variety of other instruments. The lyrics are sharp and the backup vocals provide a delicious texture in this rich and lucious ambiance. It took Fagen 31 years, but he finally produced an album that is a worthy spiritual child of Nightfly. Weather in My Head, The New Breed, Slinky Thing…hard to find fault here. Its all good.
After the disastrous reunion of Diamond Dave with Van Halen for Best of Vol 1 and the sub-standard Humans Being and Me Wise Magic, one could have thought that the band that produced Van Halen I, II, Women and Children First, Mean Streets, Diver Down and the sublime 1984 was history. Well, one would have been quite wrong. Replacing Michael Anthony with Eddie’s son Wolfgang, the Van Halen trio with David on vocals kicks some serious ass. OK, so it isn’t exactly intellectual stuff, but for this kid that bought 1984 that day it came out, it came as a very welcome surprise. From the thundering addictive Tattoo, they went back to the pre VH I archives and ressurected She’s the Woman and bring it to life. You and Your Blues, China Town, As Is, Honeybabysweetiedoll, Bullethead, The Trouble With Never, and Beats Workin’ are all classic Van Halen tracks that have pieces of each of the first albums sprinkled here and there. The reunion anthem Blood and Fire almost sounds like a song from the Van Hagar period but honestly, Dave has much better pipes than Sammy, let’s get serious! Outta Space is an amazing track and I love the rolling beat of Big River, like being carried away on a rock-n-roll canoe down memory lane. And what Halen fan couldn’t love Stay Frosty’s throwback to Ice Cream Man. This was probably the most pleasant surprise for me in 2012.
I remember very well listening to Asia’s eponymous debut sitting on the floor of my room mesmerised in front of my record player. I dug the cover art and was enamored with the guitar work and vocals. I even liked Alpha, but Astra despite the kickass coverart blew chunks and I forgot about Asia (well, until Heat of the Moment gets played on geezer FM from time to time. So, when I read about XXX, I was pretty interested to see whether the original four coming from Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer could turn back the clock thirty years like Donald Fagen did. Well, I was not all that impressed to be honest. Perhaps I need to give it another few listens, but I don’t really see the spark of genius here. It sounds kind of fake to me. Tomorrow the World rings a bit hollow and too poppy. Bury Me in Willow too much like Fleetwood Mac crossed with Toto or something? OK, so they rock out a bit on No Religion but then they get all sappy again (almost to a bad Nashville level) with Faithful and sound like Toto again on I Know How You Feel. Face On The Bridge sounds too much like the opening track. I guess that they finally hit a bit of a groove with Al Gatto Nero, Judas, and Reno (Silver and Gold) but the sappiness comes back too strong for me on Ghost of a Chance.
Bob Dylan comes back once again with a masterpiece in Tempest. Can this guy ever write a bad album? Super backup band, killer lyrics, and his own eternal voice and guitar, how could this album not excel? This album goes back to the 20s and 30s with the superb Duquense Whistle and talks us through some countrified blues with Soon After Midnight. We pass through a rocky, funky Narrow Way throughout our Long and Wasted Years again touching on some country influences. The backup band is great and his voice is amazing on Pay In Blood as well as his storytelling on Scarlet Town. The blues in Early Roman Kings is refreshing with a New Orleans twist and a wink to Bo Diddley. Tin Angel reminded me a bit of my favorite Dylan album, the eternal Blood on the Tracks. And yet there is still Roll On John which takes us out triumphantly. Dylan has weathered his share of storms, but Tempest is clearly a quite, relaxed and masterful place for him. Yet another masterpiece from the quintessential singer-songwriter.
I have had a hard time with Rush since Signals. For me, the albums sound a bit monotone since that period and although 2012’s Clockwork Angels is a good album. Again, looking back some 30-odd years, Moving Pictures and Exit…Stage Left were so formative on my rock-n-roll youth, that the more polished sound of Clockwork Angels still leaves me wanting despite the anthems like the title track and The Anarchist. I mean, there is no doubt in the mastery of Neil, Alec, and Geddy as the virtuosos that form perhaps the most powerful trio ever – certainly the longest lasting one. And, now that I think about it, has any other band stuck together with the original founding members (perhaps U2 (1976) but they formed almost 8 years after Rush did (1968)). I am probably completely unjust with the magic trio, but I honestly tried listening to this album over a day or two but found that I was hitting the skip button and feeling that it kept sounding a bit redundant. I’ll give it another shot. Promise.
Finally we come to the boys from Tejas, ZZ Top who cam back with La Future in 2012. While it is not as bad as some of their previous work (basically all the forgettable formulaic albums from Afterburner to Mescalero), this album gets almost back to Eliminator. It rocks and has plenty of raunchy humor. The bluesy I Gotsa Get Paid (is it me or does this one remind you of Black Keys too?) has a highly addictive groove and some great mixing. Chartreuse has an amazing bass line that throws me almost all the way back to Rio Grande Mud or Tres Hombres. Consumption is more a child of the eternal Eliminator (reminding me a bit of TV Dinners). Over You is a lovely slow song dripping in irony in the classic ZZ style. The straightforward raunchy blues of Heartache in Blue gets you dancing in your chair with some great harmonica (I am a sucker for the mouth harp personally). I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose You is a classic ZZ rock anthem with knee deep grooves and loads of distortion. Flyin’ High is a nice jab at AC/DC with a Texas twist, like seein Angus in a Stetson. Back to a slow bluesy It’s Too Easy Mañana and just as we start feeling drowsy Big Shiny Nine wakes us up (shoulders now moving side to side) before the big close with Have A Little Mercy. I really enjoyed this album and found it a welcome new start for the Bearded Ones.
Strange, as I am finishing this article, I realized that – with the exception of immortals Neil Young and Bob Dylan – all of these albums sent me back about 30 years to sweet memories of my rock-n-roll roots in my early teens and in most cases, the 2012 re-editions were pretty damn good. Who says 2012 wasn’t a great year for comebacks?
Do you agree? Did you make some re-discoveries in music recently? Sound off in the comments!
Just a quick shout out to the awesome AllMusic 2012 list which was helpful in finding some of these memories. Thanks All Music!
- AllMusic’s Favorite Rock Albums of 2012 (allmusic.com)