411's Top 25 Albums of 2012 (#20 - 16)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 01.22.2013
From Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer and Muse's The 2nd Law to Soundgarden's King Animal and more, the 411 staff continues its journey to name the top 25 albums of 2012 with #20 through #16!
Welcome to 411's Top 25 Albums of 2012! Are you burned out on year-end lists yet? Well, hopefully not as we have one more for you! 2012 saw the release of many great albums from a variety of genres, from pop and rap to rock, alternative, even folk and electronica/dance music. The field of popular music diversified greatly over the last twelve months; when it's all said and done however, there were some albums that just rose to the top and deserved to be honored as the best of the year. We of the 411 music zone chose to honor those efforts.
To present this list, every 411 writer had the opportunity to share their top 25 albums that were released during 2012. After the staff provided their lists, the results were tabulated and compiled into one single top 25 list. Writers took several things into account, from chart performance and individual sounds to the personal tastes, the album's progression (for good or ill) of the artist's catalog and much more. Keep in mind when reading this list that it is one that spanned all genres, and every staff member of 411 has different tastes. Some value certain criteria more than others do. We don't all agree on what albums deserved the top spots, but we all respect each other's choices and hope you can do the same. We begin our list today with the five albums that just missed the cut, a recap of what's come before and then #20 through #16.
Stone Sour - House of Gold and Bones Part 1
Green Day - ¡Uno!
Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Shinedown - Amaryllis
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
The List So Far:
#25: B.o.B. - Strange Clouds
#24: The Killers - Battle Born
#23: Marina & The Diamonds - Electra Heart
#22: The Lumineers - The Lumineers
#21: Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
#20: Soundgarden - King Animal
Billboard 200: #5
Rock Albums: #2
Alternative Albums: #2
"Been Away Too Long"
Sean Comer:"I've been away for too long…"
Damn straight, you have, Chris Cornell. Oh, what a relieved burden to have the underwhelming, bland Audioslave once and for all seemingly undone by first Rage Against The Machine and now, at long last, Soundgarden respectively reunited. What a truly rare resurrection: the grunge pioneers let time be the balm to the wounds of their 1997 disbanding, and emerged together again in 2012 sounding indeed strong and tight as they ever did even on 1994's Superunknown. Lead guitarist Kim Thayil and Cornell's freight train-steady rhythms sound especially combustible, along with the pushed tempo of Matt Cameron's ever-outstanding drumming. Fifteen years later, the whetstone has been kind to the band, leaving their new-old edge gleaming.
Jeremy Thomas: I'll be completely honest and say that I wasn't all that excited about the return of Soundgarden. Not that I didn't like the band, but Cornell's solo work left something (or in some cases, much) to be desired and Audioslave didn't really excite me all that much, and with fourteen years of that nonsense between now and the last Soundgarden music my perception had been colored quite a bit. Another problem came with the fact that "Live to Rise" from the Avengers soundtrack could really only be called decent if you're feeling generous. That is probably to the group's benefit because when King Animal was released in November, I was surprised by how much I liked it. All of a sudden, Soundgarden was actually back. Not some watered-down version of them or "going through the motions for a payday" style reunion; no, this was Cornell, Thayil, Cameron and Shephard sounding something like we used to remember. Their sound isn't exactly the same of course; it has been fourteen years (sixteen since the last album was released) after all. But it's a better album for the fact that the band has grown up, and while they may not be quite as hard-rocking, they make up with it by using a vigor and enthusiasm I wouldn't have thought possible of middle-aged rockers outside of the Stones. (And yes, people...they are middle aged. Chris Cornell is pushing fifty. You are allowed to feel old now.) With their batteries recharged and their attitude as rock and roll as ever, Soundgarden came back in a big way to show people how rock should be done.
#19: Testament - Dark Roots of Earth
Billboard 200: #12
Rock Albums: #1
Robert Cooper: It's safe to say that when it comes to metal, this was my favorite album of the year. My hopes were VERY high for this album, especially when you consider that I'm one of the people that think Testament has never had a bad album. Luckily, I was not saddened when I cobbled together $8 in change to go buy this album on day one. This album does everything that the last one did, but I think that it does it just a little better. I think that the reason is, that while Paul Bostaph is a very good drummer in his own right, I don't think you can beat Gene Hoglan as a choice to replace him.(though Richard Christy is my favorite drummer, I'm the only one) Hoglan brings in his usual awesome drumming, even bringing in blast beats in "Native Blood." We get the rest of the crew that we all know and love from most Testament albums. On vocals is Chuck Billy, who does his usual growls and even has some nice sung sections. On guitars is one of the best duos in all of music, Eric Peterson, who actually lays down some damn good solos, and Alex Skolnick, who is seen by many as one of the best guitarist in the world of metal, and I can't disagree with that statement a bit. On bass, is Greg Christen, and while you don't hear him as much as you would the guitars, he has some very good parts, and great intros that really set the mood to the songs he has the intro to. There isn't much to complain about with this album, with even the longer songs not suffering from any sort of fatigue to them. The closest thing to a ballad we get is, "Cold Embrace," which has great vocal work and the solos trade off beautifully. The star of this album is, "Rise Up." That song is built to be the standout of any live show with the call and response of, "When I say rise up, you say war." "RISE UP!", "WAR!". This album should still be pretty cheap retail wise, and it's worth every penny and there is not a second you will regret.
Chad Webb: Over the past 5 years or so, thrash metal has enjoyed a healthy resurgence, primarily due to the searing releases from popular veteran acts like Metallica with Death Magnetic and Slayer with World Painted Blood. 2012 was Testament's turn, and with their colleagues raising the bar of intensity and uniformly great albums, they cemented just how awesome they still are with Dark Roots of Earth.
Testament received their highest chart position in the US to date when Dark Roots of Earth hit shelves. It is a superlative, harmonious, and aggressive effort that exhibits how this band(like other thrash outfits) are not just waxing nostalgic, but blending trademark riffs and solos with a burgeoning sense and style of heavy metal. Highlighting one of two numbers is pointless since they are all magnificent, even the bonus tracks. It is a skilled mixture of the classic sound with a new approach. The spotlight should be on the duo of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson whose playing blends together seamlessly, improving one another as they compliment the growling vocals of Chuck Billy.
The creepy, yet mesmerizing cover catches your eye, but it's the forceful onslaught of heaviness that stays with you and brings you back for more. Testament was not part of The Big 4 tour, but this is their 10th album and they have been kicking ass for nearly 30 years. If another all-star thrash line-up should arise, they deserve to be involved. Dark Roots of Earth stands up admirably with what any other thrash group has to offer. Testament reaffirms that they are just as powerful as ever.
#18: Muse - The 2nd Law
Billboard 200: #2
Rock Albums: #2
Alternative Albums: #2
Joseph Lee: Muse got me to enjoy dubstep, even if for only a few minutes. This band is so good they took something as stupid as dubstep and made it listenable. That's impressive. But The 2nd Law is more than just one gimmicked song. It has several great tracks including the single "Madness," which may be the band's best single ever. It's incredibly catchy and easy to get stuck in your head (and it won't come out...ever). Other good songs for me included their Olympics song "Survival" and "Follow Me." Matt Bellamy and Muse can pretty much do whatever they want at this point, and I'll listen.
Chad Webb: Since their debut in 1999 with Showbiz, the English band Muse has never stopped adapting and fine-tuning their sound, yet always maintaining the anthemic, entertaining quality that brought them to the dance. The release of The 2nd Law continues that 3 year gap between efforts, but their latest comes off the heels of The Resistance, a brilliant album from start to finish. It was a tough mountain to climb, but they ended up delivering a terrific 6th album.
In all honesty, The 2nd Law does not exhibit Muse in peak form. This will likely not be viewed as their greatest offering, but that does mean it's weak either. This record has the group leaning harder on dub-step, electronic, and dance sounds than the rock they are known for. While not every track is a masterpiece, "Madness" is perhaps the best example of Muse's ever-changing direction. Listeners got a preview during the 2011 Olympic Games with the memorable theme "Survival." "Explorers" is one that sticks out most in my mind. Overall the set-list is solid, catchy and affably experimental.
Muse is constantly compared to Queen, for obvious reasons, and it has been used as both a compliment and a criticism. While it's true that the wailing choruses and stadium thumping songs are reminiscent of Freddie Mercury and company, The 2nd Law proves that they are embracing other influences as well, such as progressive rock acts and even Radiohead to a degree. I always look forward to the next Muse release. They put on an unforgettable show and their music is easy to sing along to. The 2nd Law is an excellent album from a threesome that is only learning and growing.
#17: G.O.O.D. Music - Cruel Summer
Billboard 200: #2
R&B/Hip-Hop Albums: #1
Rap Albums: #1
"New God Flow"
David Hayter: Since dropping the brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and dissecting his own bloated ego in front of a global audience, Kanye has decided to take a two-year break from catharsis. He's back to being the world's biggest rap superstar, and he's having a whale of a time in the process. The results have been mixed, Watch The Throne was brilliant (incredible live btw), 2 Chainz and "Birthday Song"…not…so…much.
Kanye continuous to "get ignant" on Cruel Summer; ridding atop brilliant beats by Hit Boy and Hudson Mowhawke, Kanye and his all-star cast set about dropping one monstrous tune after another. As a compilation there are inevitably spotty moments but the good outweighs the bad, and with tracks as strong as "To The World", "Clique", "Mercy", "New God Flow", "Cold", "Higher" and "Don't Like", Cruel Summer feels like a ready-made greatest hits collection.
Tony Acero: After the release of Watch the Throne there was talk of a compilation album that was to put a bulk of artists on the "G.O.O.D. Music" roster, as well as some guests, together. It could have been a clusterfuck, but instead it turned out to be a pretty awesome album. There are minor issues, such as the fact that it was hardly a Summer album, and a few questionable guests and/or lyrics but by and large, the album had something going for it from the very first track. It's almost unfair for any compilation album to be put on the list, as with so much talent, it's hard not to be considered at least "good," but what sets this apart from others is the feel of the album. Although released at the end of "Summer," there is a tone of the album that doesn't go unnoticed. It was boisterous, egotistical and brash - just like Kanye West, and yet he isn't the only star of the album. Names such as Common, R. Kelly, Kid Cudi, Big Sean, and Ma$e (yeah, that guy) all show up for a verse or more, and they all seem to sound like they're shittin on gold plated toilets. Admittedly, some of the verses and acts may very well have been left to the wayside and we'd be fine, but this album is every bit as audacious as it's meant to be and there's not a damned thing wrong with that.
#16: Black Country Communion - Afterglow
Hard Rock Albums: #5
Robert Cooper: This is one of my favorite supergroups in the history of ever. First off, you have a velvet voiced and bass gifted Glenn Hughes; one of my favorite guitarists of the current generation, Joe Bonamassa; a damn good drummer and son of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, Jason Bonham; and a man that is one of the best keyboardists you'll find in former Dream Theater keyboardist, Derek Sherinian. This album does what the other two albums do, but does it in a way that feels almost like a love letter to the 70s. There is not a bad song on this album, there are a few tracks that aren't as spectacular as the rest, but that doesn't mean that they aren't still very good songs. They each bring a different flavor to them, and though some of those flavors are similar to one another, they have a hint of something different in each.
The only thing that I can really complain about is the fact that Joe Bonamassa only gets to sing in my favorite song on the album, "Cry Freedom." Otherwise, almost everything else works really well. Glenn's vocals hit multiple ranges, and all of them are awesome. There is a certain smoothness to his voice that really fits the throwback vibe that this album has. Joe Bonamassa's solos are also pretty damn great; I already knew that coming in, but he really hits the nail on the head with every one of them. There are also some damn nice keyboard solos in here, and it's rare that I say that. By far, this is one of the best hard rock records of the year, it's a fun time, with not a note out of place, and every song garnished by a great solo. Good luck getting this album out of your head!
Jeremy Thomas: Supergroups are sometimes a double-edged sword. On one hand, there is the obvious appeal of some of the greatest musicians coalescing into one group, which gives us a chance to hear some truly epic music. On the other, sometimes expectations raise too high, or things don't just come together like they should have for a variety of reasons. With Black Country Communion, luckily, we got the former and not the latter. Fright from the opening track "Big Train" you get a sense for the down and dirty, 70s-esque rock that you're going to get on this album and it's a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. Frontman Glenn Hughes keeps things going strong on this, their third LP with a sound that approaches a lot of iconic bands but ultimately remains unique to this one. The Southern rock influences are certainly appreciated by yours truly and some surprisingly good turns in unexpected directions like "The Circle" lift this up from being a very good album to a truly great one. You can consider this one of my favorite pleasant surprises of 2012.
And there you have it! Come back tomorrow as we reveal #15 - 11!