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
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
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.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?