Review of 2012: Music



Albums of the Year

Alabama Shakes -  Boys & Girls

The year's great breakthrough discovery was this down-home four-piece from Athens, Alabama, fronted by the volcanic Brittany Howard, who took their earthy raw influences, from Otis Redding to AC/DC, and forged from them a new, dynamic form of soul-rock that sounded like the Stones backing Etta James or Big Mama Thornton.

Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

Re-connecting with his core political anger again, Springsteen's Wrecking Ball was the musical equivalent of the Occupy Wall Street movement, confronting the repercussions of the ongoing recession through a range of songs – augmenting his signature Spector-esque rock bombast and muscular hootenanny folk-rock with touches of noble gospel, poignant jazz and feisty Irish rebel music.

Bill Fay - Life Is People

At the opposite extreme from Alabama Shakes, early 1970s troubadour Bill Fay was the year's great rediscovery, this first new release in decades condensing the accumulated wisdom and compassion of a lifetime into a dozen beautiful, heartwrenching songs. But despite devastating moments of quiet emotional turmoil, it's an experience from which one emerges more hopeful and generous towards fellow fallible humans.

Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli Consort & Players - A New Venetian Coronation 1595

Paul McCreesh's latest large-scale endeavour was this extraordinary re-imagining of a 16th-century coronation celebration for a new Doge of Venice. Marshalling his usual grand forces, and re-constituting the programme from contemporary accounts of the music, McCreesh took us from a particularly vivid opening parade around St. Mark's Square, through to the triumphant re-emergence of the new Doge.

Terakaft - Kel Tamasheq

With no new album this year from the mighty Tinariwen, it was left to Terakaft to most potently reflect the traumatic disruption facing the Touareg, their infectious desert-blues stylings offering explicit criticism of the Ansar Dine fundamentalist invaders, alongside celebrations of core cultural values and poetic musings on the turmoil of war: “I am in a world like a blot of ink”.


Gigs of the year

Bruce Springsteen, Pittsburgh Consol Energy Center

I missed the UK shows, but was fortunate enough to witness one of the greatest performances I've ever seen at the Pittsburgh date of Springsteen's Wrecking Ball Tour. In over three hours of high-octane, committed excitement and devastating musical flourishes, it offered both an expression of underclass anger and a celebration of the sustained values of comradeship and family.

The Black Keys, Nottingham Capital FM Arena

Fusing maximum potency with minimum extravagance, The Black Keys' live show was a masterclass in dynamic muscularity, as the most unexpected of 1970s influences – Can, T. Rex, Gary Glitter – were riveted into riffs as strong as girders but as nimble as Jessica Ennis. And like the latter, boasting a surprisingly broad range of applications, as they slipped between blues-rock, glam boogie and outright pop.

Leonard Cohen, Wembley Arena, London

Approaching 78, Leonard Cohen was less the self-proclaimed “lazy bastard living in a suit” than workaholic entertainment dynamo. He served up three hours of wry humour and cutting emotion in that golden voice, while his identically clad band, looking like a legion of Leonards in grey suits and hats, embellished his songs with the subtlest flourishes of oud and violin, little musical raised eyebrows commenting on the lyrics.

Sparks, Bush Hall, London

For their career retrospective, Two Hands, One Mouth, the Mael brothers proved that small forces can score the most striking victories. Using just a single keyboard and Russell Mael's imposingly pitch-perfect tenor, they offered a tour of their back catalogue, whose influences – from German lieder to D'Oyly Carte comic opera, Kurt Weill to Albéniz, demonic waltz to minimal techno – were dispatched with nonchalant grace and the driest of humour.

Sinead O'Connor, Royal Festival Hall, London

Headlining the Southbank's Women of the World festival, Sinead O'Connor furnished the year's most unexpected and powerful comeback, appearing revitalised and fresh on new material reflecting the emotional upsurge of a recent marriage. Engaged as ever, she brought a keenly empathic air to songs about love and death, belief and betrayal. And she still sings like a wounded angel lamenting the fall.

Discovery of the Year: Alabama Shakes

It's been a great year for new folkie girl-groups, such as the likes of First Aid Kit and The Staves, but the year's biggest breakthrough surely has to be Southern soul-rockers Alabama Shakes, who went straight from nowhere (Athens, Alabama) to the top of the UK album charts with the gritty soul-rock of their Boys & Girls debut, buoyed by the acclaim of celebrity fans such as Adele and Jack White. Their music, rooted in the swampy grooves of Stax, Stones and Creedence, proved irresistible, and in the raw-nerve vocals of Brittany Howard, rock'n'roll found a most singular new heroine.

Turkey of the Year:

Modern music's generic Mediocrity Man, and an apparently ubiquitous presence at every public event this year. Who does he think he is – Sir Paul McCartney? There he was, twirling in his chair on the debacle that was The Voice, and inserting himself into every situation where TV cameras were guaranteed to be present, from the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert to the Olympics – and even carrying the Olympic Torch through some poor, benighted part of the British Isles, for heaven's sake! Rarely has such brazen self-importance been so meagrely backed up with actual achievement.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test