2021 was not quite as strange as 2020 as things started to get back to normal. I got out to see a couple concerts and back to digging in the record stores and even went in to the office a few times. Covid pushed back a lot of albums in 2020 and they finally came out in 2021. Some were worth the wait and well, some weren’t. But there were some great releases and I am sure I missed a number of great albums and if you look around the web, there will be tons of Top Album lists you can get a pretty good idea of what you should check out in case you missed any of these.
This year I am doing things a little different. I am only doing one list post, but that list will be centered around my Favorite Rock Albums of the year. At the end I’ll give you my Top 5 Non-Rock Albums of the year as I didn’t listen to a ton of new releases this year as I was focused so much on my Kiss, Judas Priest, Queen and now Cheap Trick & Aerosmith Series. That took a lot of time.
Also note, these are MY FAVORITES!! These are not the most popular or trendy albums. You won’t find the cool trendy bands, because they are usually here today gone tomorrow. These are the albums that I connected with during the year and I kept coming back to again and again. And without further adieu, here are the Top Rock Albums of 2020:
THE TOP ROCK ALBUMS OF 2021:
#10 – Eclipse – ‘Wired’:
Eclipse is a melodic rock / glam rock /hard rock band out of Sweden and let me tell you Sweden knows how to pump out these bands. I think there are more rock bands in Sweden then there are people. It is just a guess. The two original guys, Erik Martensson and Magnus Henriksson. are back with their 9th album and they keep delivering. Erik’s vocals are killer and Magnus can lay down some riffs. The three opening tracks, “Roses On Your Grave”, “Dying Breed” and “Saturday Night (Hallelujah)” just suck you in and you know you are in good hands and just along for the ride at this point.
#9 – Dennis DeYoung – ’26 East Vol. 2′:
Dennis DeYoung is back with the final of his 26 East Series. Vol. 1 was last year which was good, but Vol. 2 is a step above. The former Styx Singer is taking his final bow and what a freaking great way to go out. You get an album that sounds like Styx at times and yet is all Dennis. From the opening track “Hello Goodbye” to the final song of “The Isle of Misanthrope” you are on a ride that takes you through his career in sound and style. It is Dennis doing what he does best. Another standout for me is “The Last Guitar Hero” with the great Tom Morello on guitar. Thank you Dennis for a lifetime of music!!
Billy Idol is back with his first new music in like 7 years or something like that. Even though it is only a 4 song E.P. It is Billy and Steve Stevens doing what they do best. The first single, “Bitter Taste” might be one of the best songs he has ever done. If you are going to do an E.P., every song must be great and these are. He doesn’t disappoint. The E.P. is a more mature Billy and I think I really like where he is heading with his music. We can’t expect 80’s Billy and we shouldn’t want it. This is him growing as a singer and a writer and really stretching his talents and I am happy with that.
#7 – Dirty Honey – ‘Dirty Honey’:
This California band bring us their first full length album and let me tell you it sounds like it is from California. And that is a good thing. This 70’s inspired band captures the magic of music of old. The high pitched gritty vocals of Marc LaBelle and the killer guitar work of John Notto along with a unmatched rhythm section of Justin Smolian on bass and Corey Coverstone on drums you don’t find new bands with this much talent very often. Songs “California Dreamin'” and “The Wire” are only a couple of the amazing tracks.
#6 – John 5 & The Creatures – ‘Sinner’:
What can you say about John 5. One of the best guitarists out there today whether it is blistering guitar work with Rob Zombie (who is also on this list) or his solo work, the man can do no wrong. He brings us another masterful guitar ridden album called ‘Sinner’. The album even has some guest appearances, most notably, Dave Mustaine on the song “Que Pasa”. A couple other favorites are “Euphoria” with Carla Harvey” and “The Land of the Misfit Toys”. He is one of the best and this is a great showcase.
#5 – Jakob Samuel – ‘CoExist’:
The former The Poodles lead singer is back with another solo album. His prior solo album was nothing like what you have previously heard and that is fine since The Poodles were still active and you wouldn’t want his solo album to sound like that. Well, The Poodles are done now and this album is more in line with that Glam Rock 80’s sound yet still modern. And that is what I want to hear from him. This one hits it out of the park. From “Every Minute Every Hour” to “Hey Brother” I am along for the ride!!
#4 – Jason Bieler And The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra – ‘Songs for the Apocalypse’:
Jason Bieler is best known for his work with Saigon Kick, but he is so much more than that. I saw the cover to the album and saw it was Jason so I was curious and man was I blown away by this journey. The album is part concept and all magical as it showcases everything that is wonderful about Jason. Not only his vocals, but his creative abilities are stretched to their fullest potential as the album is experimental yet inviting, memorable and a masterpiece. It is full of guest like Todd LaTorre and Dave Ellefson and even Bumblefoot. You can’t go wrong with this one.
#3 – Mammoth WVH – ‘Mammoth WVH’:
Wolfgang Van Halen finally drops his debut album after years of speculation. Did it live up to the hype…Uh…Hell Yeah! Wolfie has a band, but this album is ALL him. He plays every instrument and sings and boy can he sing. This was more than anyone could’ve hoped for. His is immensely talented and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as well know how talented his dad was. His debut single was “The Distance” which was a touching song about his dad, but songs like “Don’t Back Down” and “You’re To Blame” show us this man can kick ass with the best of them.
#2 – Wig Wam – ‘Never Say Die’:
Wig Wam broke up back in 2014 and we thought they were done and dead. But never say die!! They are back and I think they delivered their best album to date. This Norwegian glam rock band delivers the type of music I think I love the most. It is melodic, it is heavy and it sound huge. It is also a fun, good time rock album and I need those albums the most, especially in today’s world. The best songs are “Never Say Die”, “Hypnotized” and “Killimanjaro” but really, they are all great! There was only one album I listened to more than this one and it is up next.
THE #1 ALBUM!!! – Rob Zombie – ‘The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy’:
Rob Zombie delivers what I feel might be my favorite Zombie album ever. And it is not just because John 5 is shredding on guitar. Nope. Zombie can get weird sometimes in his albums, but this time everything is accessible and the songs are catchy and memorable with some great choruses, awesome grooves and all around fantastic songs. He is still as sinister and evil as ever and it works on so many levels. The best are “The Triumph of King Freak”, “Shake Your Ass-Smoke Your Grass”, “Boom Boom Boom” and “The Eternal Struggles of the Howling Man” just to name a few, but they are all amazing.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (no particular order):
Jeff Scott Soto – ‘The Duets Collection, Vol 1’: This might be a compilation, however, they are straight from the albums the songs are from. These are actually re-recorded with some his friends as duets which makes them all new. And he picks songs from almost all the bands he has been in including his solo work. With guests like Eric Martin, Erik Martensson (he is at #10 with Eclipse) and Deen Castronovo to name a few, you are in for a treat. Some of the killer ones are “Coming Home” with Deen and “Don’t Let it End” with Dino Jelusick now with Whitesnake.
Candlebox – ‘Wolves’: The first half of the album is strong with some real heavy tracks and really cool sounds. The back half of the album starts strong but does weaken a little with some of the final tracks although I still like them. The band seems tight, focused and ready to play. I love the variety on the album and they do deliver some really cool tracks that will get played a lot. Some of the best ones are “All Down Hill From Here”, “Riptide” and “My Weakness”.
Daughtry – ‘Dearly Beloved’: Daughtry disappeared for a few years or at least so it seemed. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this new one because Daughtry has a sound that doesn’t change much from album to album and for some bands that is a detriment and some not. For Daughtry, it is what I like about him. You know what you are going to get. Soaring choruses, heavy guitars and all around catchy songs. I really like “World on Fire”, “Heavy is the Crown” and “Evil”.
Limp Bizkit – ‘Still Sucks’: Yes, they still suck…which is a great title by they way…but this is pure throwback to their 90’s / early 2000’s sound and they kill it. Does it all work, no, but what does is fun and enjoyable. The band knows their reputation and they play to it, have fun with it, turn it inside and out and put it on full display and you got to appreciate that. I really like “Dad Vibes”, “Out of Style”, “Snacky Poo” and “Turn it Up, Bitch”. It is a throwback that you shouldn’t throw away.
Cruzh – ‘Tropical Thunder’: Frontiers has a way of finding bands that have that old 80’s Hair Metal sound and Cruzh is one of those bands. All I can say is Hell Yeah Baby!! I love the 80’s sound because those were my formative years in music. I enjoyed this one a lot when I wanted to hear that sound, but new songs for a nice change of pace. Plus, you get guitar solos, who doesn’t love guitar solos!! They delivered the goods nicely. I really like “Tropical Thunder”, “Paralyzed” and “Turn Back Time”.
Creye – ‘II’: Yet another Frontiers release with a big 80’s sound. But this isn’t Hair Metal. This is more Journey and AOR. With modern yet contemporary productions, it is heavy on the keyboard and vocals that will take you back to a time when the music was good and memorable and the ballads made you cry. Another throwback that should be listened to over and over again. “Broken Highway”, “Carry On” and “Lost Without You”.
Ayron Jones – ‘Child of the State’: Do you like Blues Rock? Well, Ayron Jones, delivers an album that will blow you away. The guitar work is gritty, a little distorted and all around fantastic. And he can sing on top of that. It is rock at its finest and someone that came out of the blue for me. His song “Mercy” is one of my favorite tracks of the year along with “Baptized by Muddy Waters” (great title) and “Supercharged”. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Royal Blood – ‘Typhoons’: This garage rock duo from England came on the scene a few years back and their second album, ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ was one of my favorites of 2017. And here we are again with another killer album. This one shakes it a little with a slight disco sound added (not much, but a little) but overall it is dark and full of textures you want to check out. I really like “Trouble’s Coming” as it is one of the best of the year and “Typhoons”.
Kaleo – ‘Surface Sounds’: An Icelandic Blues Band…yep…there is one and this is the best out there…might be the only. Either way, they are awesome. Deep, rich songs that border blues, garage rock and Americana but it is all still rock and these guys bring something new to the table. It is hard for me to get in to “newer” bands due to my age, but I’ve grown to really dig their sound and style. They have an old soul. I really like “Break My Baby” and “I Want More”.
Greta Van Fleet – ‘The Battle of the Garden’s Gate’: I have to admit, I didn’t like this at first. They did change it up. They swung for the fences and at first I thought they came up short. But they didn’t. They really pushed themselves, their sound and made really interesting songs. They still bow at the alter of Led Zeppelin, but pushed beyond that comparison. My daughter says they are still huge with her friends…I mean huge! Good for them. I really like “Heat Above”, “Light My Love” and the epic “The Weight of Dreams”.
BEST COVER ALBUM:
Inglorious – ‘Heroine’: I am usually not a fan of cover albums. The artist can’t make every song sound new and refreshing and it is always the same old classics. But Inglorious went in a different direction. With a male singer, Nathan James, at the helm, they picked all the songs from artist with women lead singers. And it is awesome. Nathan’s voice can hit those high notes and he is an amazing singer and this highlights that to the nth degree. You get a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Midnight Sky” a cover of “Bring Me To Life” with Jeff Scott Soto helping out and “Barracuda” by Heart is totally awesome. This is one to check out.
TOP NON-ROCK ALBUMS
Ida Mae – ‘Click Click Domino’: This duo from England moved to Nashville and have developed an Americana, Blues, Folk, Country sound all their own. I saw them open for Greta Van Fleet a few years back and was blown away. When their second album dropped, I was all over it. Songs like “Click, Click Boom” and “Deep River” with Marcus King have to be heard and I also dig “Road to Avalon”. If you want something different, here it is.
Lake Street Drive – ‘Obviously’: This Boston based band is a mixture of many things. They are jazzy, soul, pop and a little indie all rolled in to one. I love the texture of Rachel Price’s voice as that was what sucked me in, but it was the music that kept me there. Give “Hypothetical” a listen and tell me she isn’t awesome. I also dig “Hush Money” and “Lackluster Lover”, but honestly it is all great.
Needtobreathe – ‘Into The Mystery’: During Covid, the NTB boys quarantined in a house for three weeks and did a whole album and a documentary. I just saw the tour and the new songs fit nicely. Now, I’ll be honest, not my favorite NTB album but even an album that isn’t there best is still better than everything else out there. I do have high expectations for them. “I Am Yours” is one of the best on the album and even “I Wanna Remember” with Carrie Underwood. Another favorite is “Sittin’ in the Backseat. I could go on, but I’ll spare you.
Anderson East – ‘Maybe We Never Die’: This singer/songwriter does write some amazing songs, but for me it is that voice. Damn. He has this little grit that is soulful and bluesy. The album sees him push himself further taking that soulful sound and adding dance beats to it. I never expected this direction and it is not unwelcome. He keeps changing it up and definitely makes it interesting. “Madelyn”, “Drugs” and “If You Really Love” are some of the many standouts.
The Wild Feathers – ‘Alvarado’: A cross between Southern Rock and Country (more country), The Wild Feathers deliver their own brand of music that causes me to take notice and buy everything they put out. The opening track, ‘Alvarado’ takes you down one style and “Side Street Shakedown” a totally different. They are able to blend the country and rock into something wonderful. A couple more favorites are “Get Out of My Own Way” and “Midway Motel”. Their music just calms me and lets me unwind enjoying the layers of their music and those windswept sounding vocals.
THE WORST ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Maroon 5 – ‘Jordi’:
I didn’t think they could keep going backwards, but they have done just that. ‘Jordi’ is another example of a band that feels they have to have a “Featured” artists to get played on the radio. They have Megan Thee Stallion, H.E.R., blackbear, Nipsey Hussle to name only a few. Out of the 14 songs on the Deluxe Edition, 9 have a guest artist featured on the song. NINE!!! That is INSANE!! The songs have more electronic effects on them than should be allowed by law. Hell, the guitar player must be going insane as I can’t even hear any real guitar on these songs. Heck, I don’t think there are actually any real instruments on here PERIOD!!. There was a time, they played as a band with real instruments and made real music. This is total pop garbage and an absolute embarrassment in my book. Adam Levine has lost his way. They say Rock is Dead (I totally disagree) and if it is then kill me now because Rock is still way better than this load of garbage. Are there any good songs on here…not in my book. “Memories” is decent, but I wouldn’t say it is good. I think I am finally done with Maroon 5. I think it is their music that is DEAD!!!
And there you have it. 2021 in Music. I hope you enjoyed my walk through the past year.