Without a doubt, 2013 has been a great year for rock music, perhaps one of the best since the Millennium when that wildly successful interactive dome thingy was built on the bank of the Thames. Where in previous years we’ve only had the increasingly apathetic and yawn-inducing records of the likes of Kings of Leon and Muse flying the flag for rock music in a scene dominated by electronic dance music, rap and Disney stars forgetting to dress themselves, rock music worth getting excited about is rearing its head once again. It’s selling in the hundreds of thousands, being hailed by Radio 1 DJs and contending for album of the year. It’s just like the good old days.
Here are four albums of 2013 which make the case for Rock music once again being at its loudest and proudest; bending the rules, and smashing its way back into music lover’s collective consciousness.
…Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age (June 2013)
The monumental album Queens of the Stone Age have always threatened finally came into realisation in June of this year, seeing them reach the peak of their powers – commanding arenas and leading the charge of the rock brigade following years on the fringes of huge success. The blistering lead single, My God is the Sun, premiered on Zane Lowe’s show, the last bastion of rock on Radio 1, and since then the album has been widely recognised as their best work since 2002’s acclaimed Song’s for the Deaf. It’s their first album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, which isn’t surprising when you consider the extended family of frontman Josh Homme’s co-conspirators lending a hand, with Dave Grohl, Alex Turner and even Sir Elton John making guest appearances. This album promised so much and managed to deliver beyond expectations.
Inspired by Homme’s depression following complications arising from a routine knee surgery, the songs are often tinged with melancholy and are a good deal more thoughtful than previous outings. Homme’s lyrics are deeply affecting and more emotive than ever, as he considers themes of changing circumstances, wading through depression and the helplessness which accompanies it. The greater depths of expression on the album are matched by a versatility and vulnerability in his voice which we have not previously been treated to. Sweeping falsettos and piano-led ballads of the quality of The Vampyre of Time and Memory make you wonder why we haven’t had more of this from the Queens, while I Appear Missing boasts the most hauntingly poignant ending of any song this year.
By no means have they lost their swagger or groove though, as …Like Clockwork still reeks of the same nonchalant, effortless cool which has made Homme’s song writing so distinctive. The runaway-train-riffs of My God is the Sun, Elton John’s ivory-tickling-embellished jive Fairweather Friends and the snarling stomp of Smooth Sailing confidently cement their place as the most compelling rock band of the moment. Despite it being their darkest album, it’s also their most accomplished.
Have a listen to: If I Had a Tail, Smooth Sailing and I Appear Missing.
AM – Arctic Monkeys (September 2013)
Sure, it seems as if the Arctic Monkeys have been around forever, but 2013 has been their most successful year yet. They are light-years from the awkward teenagers of 2006 and have evolved into performers capable of bringing Glastonbury to its knees, while their new Los Angeles flavoured record has shot them into the stratosphere. Nominated for the Mercury Prize (again), AM’s success has made the band record breakers, as they’re the first independent label band to have each of their first five albums debut at number one. They’re at the forefront of a resurgence in British rock music and their influence will inspire more young rock bands to keep the genre in the ascendancy.
AM is more hip-hop and blues than the abrasive indie rock with which the Monkeys announced themselves. Alex Turner’s current muse is femme fatales and the debauched LA party lifestyle, which is worlds away from the kebab shop scuffles of their debut but they manage to pull of this evolution with such aplomb that you don’t miss the youthful exuberance and kitchen sink drama of old Monkeys. New Monkeys are both cocksure and chart-topping sheen in equal measure, as exemplified by the jarring groove of Do I Wanna Know, the irresistible swagger of Knee Socks and the surprisingly affecting synthesis of poet John Cooper Clarke’s words with the Monkey’s own composition.
Their most engaging album to date, AM is the culmination of previous, occasionally misfiring records into a supremely confident rock record that owes a great deal to old-school influences but feels overwhelmingly current and fresh. What direction they take next is anyone’s guess, but whatever they do is going to be worth getting excited about.
Have a listen to: R U Mine, Arabella and Knee Socks.
Opposites – Biffy Clyro (January 2013)
Despite hard grafting on the toilet circuit and the unwavering devotion of their fan base, it wasn’t until 2007’s Puzzle, and a dramatic change of musical direction, that Biffy Clyro achieved mainstream success. With this in mind, it’s doubly encouraging to see that it’s their sixth effort, coinciding with a conscious return to their more experimental, unorthodox approach to song writing, which has seen them top the charts and arrive as arena-slaying giants.
Opposites is the grandest statement of Biffy’s ambition yet – a concept album consisting of twenty songs across two discs. Each side is the polar opposite of the other in terms of its lyrical content, with the first side exploring the pains of the past and the second side celebrating the hope that the future holds. Such ambition and a decision to move away from the more streamlined pop sensibilities that had opened up a whole world of possibilities for them may seem reckless considering they were on the precipice of realising their potential as one of Britain’s biggest acts, but boy, did they pull it off.
Garth Richardson, producer of their two previous efforts, returned to great effect to guide the trio out of a troubled period, which almost spelled the end for the band. Spanish Radio’s trumpets and mariachi-infused rock and the bagpipe interlude of Stingin’ Belle manage to be both sincere and intriguing without seeming self-indulgent. Biffy don’t deprive of any of the angular riffs, soaring choruses and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time changes which make them instantly recognisable and while Opposites is perhaps not as accessible or rousing as we’ve come to expect from them, it’s nonetheless an example of when throwing in the kitchen sink pays off tremendously.
Have a listen to: Sounds Like Balloons, Spanish Radio and Victory Over the Sun.
Hesitation Marks – Nine Inch Nails (2013)
Following 2009’s announced hiatus, it was only ever a matter of time before Trent Reznor got bored of scoring Oscar winning films and resurrected his genre-bending industrial rock project Nine Inch Nails. Hesitation Marks, his eighth album, is his most gripping and inventive collection of songs since the acclaimed With Teeth, and music lovers seem to agree, as it debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and number 2 in the UK, making it their fifth top five album. This consistent success is revealing of the sustained relevance of Nine Inch Nails and the debt they are owed for changing the state of rock and electronic music since their inception in 1988.
Electronic dance beats have never sounded as haunting and foreboding as when they’re set against Reznor’s tortured soundscapes. His lyrics are as emphatic as ever and Reznor’s voice has that uncanny quality of inhabiting your headspace and only leaving reluctantly once the album stops playing, making Hesitation Marks a powerful, yet intimate listening experience. Although it sometimes lacks the urgency of With Teeth, this album’s virtues lie in the explosive moments of bombastic guitars, such as in album highlight Various Methods of Escape and the vehement funk of All Time Low and Came Back Haunted.
It’s easy to dismiss Nine Inch Nails’ palpable rage and sense of disillusionment as pandering to the disaffected, but Reznor’s exploration of identity, desire for change and human nature resonate with us all and it’s just as easy to identify our own concerns in his music. What’s harder to do, is to forget the dramatic impact of Nine Inch Nail’s progressive attitude to challenging perceptions of what rock music should be and Hesitation Marks is not only a welcome return for a unique artist still at the peak of his powers, but as a reminder of the possibilities of rock music.
Have a listen to; All Time Low, Various Methods of Escape and While I’m Still Here.