Thursday, December 27, 2012

THE BEST OF 2012 - The Best ROCK Of The Year


- All in all, rumors to the contrary, rock n' roll was quite alive - and even kicking - in 2012. This may sound cheesy, but I felt like rock got a kick in the pants thanks to a single song that sent shockwaves through the system. That song is "Weatherman" by the band DEAD SARA. Maybe you've heard it, maybe you haven't. It wasn't a mainstream hit (few real rock songs are these days), but it marked the first time in a long time that I heard a new, totally out-of-nowhere song on the radio and said "what is that? I need to hear that again right now!" The song, with its driving guitars and flaming-hot vocals from lead singer Emily Armstrong, was a revelation. In a year when rock radio was taken over by folk revival bands, Weatherman was a stark reminder that real rock n' roll was still out there, and it could still hit you like a thunderbolt when the right new song or band came along.

Another similar revelation about the state of rock came about early in the year, when I went to see THE DARKNESS in concert. The Darkness coming back after a hiatus of several years was big in and of itself. A playful throwback to glam-rock excess, The Darkness were my favorite new band during my college years, and it was fantastic to finally have them back - touring and putting out a great new album to boot. I was psyched to finally see The Darkness live, but the real eureka moment at the concert came before the band even took the stage. A band I'd never previously heard of, called FOXY SHAZAM, was the opener. They got on stage, and within about 20 seconds my jaw was on the floor, shocked at what I'd seen. Channeling the likes of Queen and Iggy Pop, the band owned the stage like few other rock acts I've seen, and churned out a set of instantly-memorable, bombastic rock songs that, quite frankly, blew my mind. This was another sign to me that rock n' roll was very much alive. 

In fact, this year I sought out, listened to, and enjoyed more great new music than I have in a long while.

Old favorites - Aerosmith, Kiss, Green Day - turned out albums that, even if not top-to-bottom successful, at the least contained some killer tunes. The Offspring rallied from a disappointing couple of albums with a kick-ass return to form. Rush had an epic new concept album that only got better the more I listened. The Darkness finally came out with their long-awaited third album, and it was pretty damn good. Jack White went solo, and had an exciting debut. Bruce Springsteen had a timely new album that produced the rallying cry of the year and Barack Obama's political anthem. This was a great year for rock n' roll.

Personally, I saw some incredible concerts this year. I started the year with a bang, with the aforementioned Darkness / Foxy Shazam show at the House of Blues in Hollywood. Soon after that, I got to see another awesome show from one of my classic-rock favorites, The Scorpions. A year earlier, my brother and I thought we'd seen seen them on their last-ever tour. But now, they were back for one "final sting," and seemed as good as ever ... perhaps talk of their retirement was premature. 

Speaking of classic rockers, this past summer I saw the legendary Meatloaf in concert at the Wiltern in LA. Meat has made more headlines lately for his political stunts than anything else - but, putting that aside, it was a thrill to see a musician I've long been a fan of live and in concert. Meatloaf still had some real power in his voice, and despite a lukewarm crowd it was a really great show. I'm glad I saw him in concert while I had the chance. 

Also this the summer, I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see another band that I wasn't sure if I'd ever get to see again - Aerosmith. The last time I was set to see the Bad Boys from Boston live, they cancelled the show due to a Steven Tyler injury. Soon after that, the band essentially broke up. Then Tyler joined American Idol, and the hopes for more 'Smith seemed shaky at best. But, finally, the band got their act together and went back on tour. And man, they were in fine form on that summer evening. After being intro'd onstage by none other than Stan Lee, Tyler, Joe Perry, and the rest of the band blasted through classic after classic (plus some choice cuts from their new album) looking rejuvenated, and reminding fans why they shouldn't be a pop-culture punchline, but should truly be considered one of America's great rock n' roll institutions. And also, it was great to see opener Cheap Trick again. This was my fifth time seeing Aerosmith in concert, and it was up there as one of the best live overall performances I've seen from them. 

In the Fall, I finally crossed a big item off of my rock n' roll bucket list - I saw RUSH live! The concert, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, was truly epic. Surrounded by an elaborate, steampunk-themed set, the soon-to-be Hall of Famers played a number of classics (a lot of 80's stuff, in honor of the 30th anniversary of their Signals album), plus a good portion of their new Clockwork Angels album, backed by a full string section no less. A series of video vignettes telling the story of the sci-fi themed album set the mood, and the pyrotechnics were spectacular. Plus, Rush ended with a kickass play-through of the 2112 sequence, only appropriate given the year. A ridiculously awesome, monumental show. 

Finally, I capped off 2012 by heading to the Orpheum in downtown LA to see another legend - Alice Cooper. I'd seen Alice once before, paired with Rob Zombie, but this was the first time I'd seen him as a headliner. And it was great to see Alice and his band (which included the female guitar virtuoso Orianthi) tear through so many of the hits - 70's classics like "Eighteen", "School's Out," and "Welcome to My Nightmare," 80's monster-mashers like "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)", "Hey Stoopid," and "House of Fire," "Feed My Frankenstein" from the 90's, and a couple of great songs off his latest album, including a previous rock song-of-the-year pick from me, "I'll Bite Your Face Off." Alice also paid tribute to fallen rock comrades by doing a "Raise the Dead" segment of the show, covering classics from Hendrix, Lennon, The Doors, and more. The theatrics - from sword-fighting to hangings to giant Frankenstein monsters - were all vintage Cooper. And the odd coincidence of the year? At both the Aerosmith and Alice Cooper shows I attended, none other than Johnny Depp made a surprise appearance towards the end of each concert, showing up onstage rather mysteriously and hammering through several songs on backup guitar. 

I saw some amazing shows this year - some - The Darkness/Foxy Shazam, Rush, and Alice Cooper - I'd count as easily among the best I've ever seen. 

But, back to the new music that came out this year ... here they are, my picks for the year's best in rock.


1.) Dead Sara – “Weatherman”

- A sonic blast of pure, straight-up rock n' roll, this was far and away the single most kickass rock song of 2012 - a reminder of what rock can be when it's in-your-face and unrelenting. A pure adrenaline rush, matched with Emily Armstrong's raspy, passionate, almost apocalyptic vocals, "Weatherman" is rock magic, the likes of which we haven't seen from a brand new band in a long, long time.

2.) Bruce Springsteen – “We Take Care of Our Own”

- A rallying cry for 2012, this latest Springsteen rocker was a great song but also a poignant one, a thesis statement for what America can and should be. The song was prescient, summing up the stakes in the 2012 presidential election, and boldly challenging the GOP platform by questioning if they stood for the masses, or only the select few. Sometimes Springsteen can be overhyped, but this was a song that was worthy of the praise, and of instant-classic status.

3.) The Darkness – “She’s Just a Girl, Eddie”

- Man, it was great to have The Darkness back, with a new album that showed the band to still be in top form. This is my favorite comeback track, a sing-along rocker that's just-about perfectly crafted in every way - mixing the band's trademark glam-rock bigness with their tongue-in-cheek lyrics. One of the best-ever "get over that girl" songs.

4.) Foxy Shazam – "Holy Touch"

- This is such a good song - catchy as hell and sort of a "we have arrived" statement of purpose from the best up-and-coming rock band around, Foxy Shazam. When you hear singer Eric Nally's soaring vocals, you can't help but think of Freddie Mercury. And indeed, Foxy performs with the same operatic bombast as Queen, kicking down the door of the rock world, singlehandedly working to save rock with the holy touch of the guitar gods.

5.) Rush – "Wish Them Well"

- My favorite track off of Clockwork Angels, this song works as the a kickass climax to an epic concept album that could only have come from the minds of Geddy Lee and his band. Who else would make a steampunk sci-fi concept album like this? What other classic rock band could make such a top-to-bottom great album - one that is harder and heavier than almost anything they've done before - at this stage of their careers? Rush is one of a kind.

6.) Aerosmith – “Out Go the Lights”

- Yes, Aerosmith's new album "Music From Another Dimension" is a bit of a mixed bag. It's got enough lame ballads (including a duet with Carrie Underwood) to make a hardcore member of Aeroforce One cringe. But ... and this is a big but ... a good 50 to 60% of the new album actually owns it, and "Out Go The Lights" is case in point. A big, brash, bluesy, soulful rocker that is vintage 'Smith, this song makes me smile and sing along every time. 

7.) The Offspring – "Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell"

- I think I unfairly dismissed the new Offspring album when I heard the first single, "Days Go By," and assumed that the whole album would be that same sort of semi-bland pop-rock. Luckily, I was wrong, as the album is a total comeback for the band, and features a great mix of pop-punk, novelty songs, and more hardcore, vintage Offspring-style songs like this one. "Slim Pickens" is just a jolt of energy, a burn-it-all-down bit of nihilism that begs you to crank up the volume.

8.) Rush – "The Wreckers"

- The most epic song off an an insanely epic concept album, "The Wreckers" is a five-minute sonic journey that is emblematic of Rush's ability to tell a story and create a whole fictional universe via song. Another reason why Clockwork Angels is among the finest albums of the year.

9.) Green Day – "Wow! That’s Loud"

- Green Day released two of my all-time favorite rock albums in American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. It was going to be tough to follow those up, but the band, ever-ambitious, chose to release a trio of back-to-back-to-back companion albums late this year. Did we really need a triple-album? No - in my view there's a lot of filler on these three discs. But there are some gems, particularly on Dos, which I thought was by-far the best overall album of the three. Among the standouts is "Wow! That's Loud," an instantly-catchy anthem that feels like classic Green Day.

10.) Foxy Shazam – "Freedom"

- Foxy Shazam infuses their lyrics with a mix of personal confession, jokey satire, and bombastic balladry. While "Holy Touch" is a bouncy, jokey, darkly-funny song, "Freedom" hints at the band's ability to craft a modern-day power-ballad for the ages. Freedom is Springsteen-esque swagger and Americana mixed with Queen-style go-for-broke bigness. It's over-the-top, but man, it's over-the-top in the way where you've simply got to turn it up and belt it out.


11.) Green Day – "Nightlife"

12.) Foxy Shazam – "Last Chance at Love"
13.) Green Day - "Let Yourself Go"
14.) Aerosmith – "Legendary Child"
15.) Kiss – "Take Me Down Below"
16.) Aerosmith – "Beautiful"
17.) Slash with Myles Kennedy – "Anastasia"
18.) The Offspring – "Cruisin’ California (Bumpin’ in my Trunk)"
19.) Jack White - "Sixteen Saltines"
20.) The Darkness – "Keeps Me Hangin’ On"
21.) Linkin Park – "Burn It Down"
22.) Kiss – "Outta This World"
23.) Jack White – "Freedom at 21"
24.) Foxy Shazam – "The Temple"
25.) The Darkness – "Living Each Day Blind"


1.) Foxy Shazam - The Church of Rock n' Roll

2.) Rush - Clockwork Angels
3.) Tie: The Darkness - Hot Cakes, The Offspring - Days Go By


- Yes, as much as I love rock, I like all kinds of music - pop, hip-hop, rap, whatever. I appreciate a great pop-song, and here are my picks for the best tunes of the year that, hey, even a guy like me can't help groovin' to on occasion.

1.) Rihanna - "Diamonds"

2.) Gotye featuring Kimbra - "Somebody That I Used to Know"
3.) Carly Rae Jepson - "Call Me Maybe"
4.) Ke$ha - "Die Young"
5.) Fun featuring Janelle Monae - "We Are Young"

And that's the year in ROCK for 2012. Thoughts? Personal picks? Feel free to comment. But hey, here's to 2013 being a rockin' year for us all.

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