Here I sit, pondering just where 2021 sits in my own little slice of history. 2021 began with me wondering whether my 86-year-old father would survive COVID or not. Fortunately, he did. Then, a few months later, my younger son and his wife gave birth to our third grandchild. So, as the news continues to show that humanity continues to lose its collective mind and any grasp on common sense, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will turn further inward to focus on my family and friends. Therein lies a person’s true legacy.
What is sad about 2021? That albums like What’s Going On, There’s a Riot Going On, Tracy Chapman, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, among so many other classics still ring true. WTF?!?! We are in the twenty-first century, yet we seem to be sliding toward a new Dark Ages in which logic and science are evil and the propaganda of the ruling class is heralded by the masses. I weep for society because I am not sure if there is any turning back on this tsunami wave.
Fortunately, we have music. And, for the third straight year, women have been creating the most compelling music. And if we rely on women to carry us in music, maybe we ought to be following their lead in society as well. Just a thought.
Let’s do this countdown!
50. Hiatus Kiayote – Mood Valiant. This avant-guard R&B group released their finest album in 2021.
49. Jon Batiste – We Are. Stephen Colbert’s talented band leader gave us his finest mix of jazz and R&B with winning results.
48. Cheap Trick – In Another World. My favorite band brought the 70s into the 21st century on their latest album.
47. Duran Duran – Future Past. Just when we needed a little fun put back into music, Duran Duran answers the call.
46. Liz Phair – Soberish. This was the comeback that no one expected. Since when did members of my generation become the elder statespeople?
45. Cola Boyy – Prosthetic Boombox. Cola Boyy has burst on the scene with this underground ode to being an outsider (as he is a disabled minority, it doesn’t get more outside than that) dressed up in neo-disco and soft rock. One listening may cause a flashback or two to those who came of age in the late-70s/early-80s.
44. Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost. Tyler has further strengthened his grip as hip hop’s preeminent auteur in the absence of Kendrick Lamar.
43. Måneskin – Teatro d’itra – Volume 1. Could this band from Italy truly be the future of rock music? Time will tell.
42. Lana Del Rey – Blue Bannisters. LDR has cornered the market on rock noir.
41. John Mayer – Sob Rock. The former heart throb of the Aughts released his ode to Yacht Rock.
40. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Angel Dreams (Songs & Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”). This reimaging of the original CD is as magical as the original. This was all part of the very fertile writing period that also produced the classic Wildflowers album.
39. The Black Keys – Delta Kream. The Keys finally released their take on some blues classics. 40 years ago, this album would have been a huge seller.
38. The Killers – Pressure Machine. The Las Vegas band followed one of their best albums since their debut with solid collection of tunes, the highlight being “Quiet Town.”
37. Lorde – Solar Power. Everyone’s favorite alternative teen is now a young woman, and her music continues to reflect those changes.
36. Chvrches – Screen Violence. This one is for the people who miss the Human League and the synthpop brethren of the 80s.
35. Prince – Welcome 2 America. Either this is an example of Prince being his best editor or his own worst critic. If you really think 20Ten is the better album of the two recorded around the same time, you really ought to re-listen to both. I prefer this one. Unfortunately, it is NOT the lost classic many had hoped for either.
34. Weezer – Van Weezer. Originally scheduled to be released in 2020, this is Rivers Cuomo’s ode to the big power chords of 80s hair metal. This could have been an album to convince Gen Z that Weezer continues to be a great band.
33. Carly Pearce – 29: Written in Stone. Divorce albums have been some of rock’s more compelling sub-genre. Pearce’s 29 follows Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Petty’s Echo as examples of true heartache.
32. Coldplay – Music of the Spheres. Is Coldplay a rock or pop band or something in between. Every time I want to write them off, they deliver another catchy batch of tunes. Should I like them, respect them or hate them? IDK.
31. Lake Street Dive – Obviously. LSD have one of the more compelling sounds for a band this side of Fitz & the Tantrums. And much like that band, I keep waiting for them to put all of their influences together (Roberta Flack, Fleetwood Mac, Carly Simon, Donny Hathaway, to name a few). Finally, the wait is over.
30. ABBA – Voyage. Personally, I am glad that ABBA reunited to make this album. It reminds the world that they are so much more than the soundtrack to the Mama Mia franchise.
29. Kings of Leon – When You See Yourself. Back in the late Aughts, KoL were making a stand for rock music on pop radio with “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody.” Then, they traveled the rock wilderness attempting to figure out how to accept success. So, when no one really cared about them anymore, they found their muse again. Plus, “The Bandit” is one helluva song.
28. Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club. Of the two LPs LDR released in 2021, this one is the stronger one as she continues to mine the seedier side of LA.
27. My Morning Jacket – My Morning Jacket. Perhaps my favorite 21st century rock band, MMJ released their long-anticipated follow-up to The Waterfall 2, and it did not disappointed.
26. Elton John – The Lockdown Sessions. What does one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century do when the pandemic interrupts his farewell tour? Grab a bunch of his favorite artists of past and present to create of his most fun albums since the 70s. And his duet with Dua Lipa on the club-afied mashup of four of his songs on “Cold Heart” is sublime.
25. Mickey Guyton – Remember Her Name. I hate doing this to such a talented country artist, but if you listen to her music you hear pure country. Then, when you see her, you see a beautiful black woman. Why is that so shocking?!?! I thought we had outgrown this when we all discovered that Rick Astley was really white. Regardless, and I am not a big country fan, this is a great album by a great artist. Cheers!
24. Matthew Sweet – Catspaw. Everyone’s favorite 90s power popster is back with another terrific set of tunes. This album got me through a rough January.
23. Bleachers – Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night. Former fun. member and current producer über alles Jack Antonoff put his band back together to give us a solid LP of 21st century pop-rock.
22. Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic. This album answers the question, “What would an album sound like if Anderson. Paak and Bruno Mars ever got together?” What surprised me was the duo truly dove in headfirst into early-70s soul for their inspiration.
21. Tom Petty – Finding Wildflowers (Alternate Versions). What if Tom Petty’s record company had simply left him alone to create the double album that he wanted to make instead of his classic Wildflowers? Here is our answer. This is without question Tom’s best batch of songwriting of his career and all of it needed to be heard. I just wish he were still around to enjoy a tour in support of this masterpiece.
20. Weezer – OK Human. This was actually the first album Weezer released in 2021, but it ended up being the one that was the more compelling. This is Cuomo’s Pet Sounds, in that it will grow in stature over time.
19. Los Lobos – Native Sons. Los Lobos is so much more than their cover version hit of the 80s “La Bamba.” This coterie of East L.A. musicians can play anything from Tex Mex party music and challenging space age alternative music to traditional Hispanic tunes and, now, covering the music of their contemporaries from the L.A. punk scene. And, once again, the boys prove their brilliance.
18. Foo Fighters – Medicine at Midnight. My older son calls Dave Grohl the last true rock star, and he may be right. Still, the Foos had a helluva 2021. This studio album was yet another feather in the band’s reputation.
17. Lindsey Buckingham – Lindsey Buckingham. The musical visionary of the successful version of Fleetwood Mac can do no wrong in my book. And he makes a great comeback from his throat surgery that jeopardized his career.
16. The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore. These guys prove that they might be the best rock band on the planet with this winner. Oh, and of course they would have been huge in the 80s. What’s not to love according to this old man writing?
15. Snail Mail – Valentine. Just when you were missing some alternative music like in the 90s, Snail Mail comebacks with a more clean version of her Lush-influenced music.
14. Leon Bridges – Gold- Diggers Sound. The world’s favorite throwback soul singer is back with another set of Southern-fried, Memphis-barbequed, Stax-battered soul music much like his heroes of the 70s. Bridges is one for the ages.
13. Kacey Musgraves – Star-Crossed. This album chronicles Musgraves divorce while also pushing the boundaries of country music. Much like Taylor Swift before her, Musgraves has continued to push the limits musically while maintaining her lyrical integrity.
12. Dee Gees (aka Foo Fighters) – Hail Satin! So, Foo Fighters decided to have a little fun and cover songs from the Bee Gees’ catalog, along with an Andy Gibb song, for release on Record Store Day. Who knew that those covers would be so fun and satisfying?
11. Doja Cat – Planet Her. Doja Cat’s career is off and running as the world’s newest entry in the female R&B/pop singer/dancer/rapper sweepstakes. Hopefully, this album represents a jumping-off point and not the beginning of the end of another Nicki Minaj-clone with a career trajectory that peaked early.
10. St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home. Of all the current artists, St. Vincent is the one most likely to have fit in perfectly with the CBGB crowd of the 70s. This time, Annie Clark digs through her father’s 70s album collection to find inspiration for this brilliant album. St. Vincent captures all the things you loved about Patti Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson into one excellent 21st century artist.
9. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever. Nope! Billie Eilish is NOT a one-hit wonder. And, yes, her music is growing as she continues to grow older. I truly cannot wait to watch her growth over the next decade.
8. Adele – 30. Yes, this is another divorce record in my countdown, but it is also Adele who transcends everything. What else can I possibly say?
7. Girl in Red – If I Could Make It Go Quiet. Last year, it was Phoebe Bridgers. Two years ago, it was Billie Eilish. In 2021, it is Girl in Red who has moved into the sensitive alterna-chick label. The only thing is that we might get to see GiR transcend the label as the other two have. Now, if Joni Mitchell had been born as Gen Z-er and a lesbian, she might sound like this young lady.
6. Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days. If you were missing Tom Petty or simply pining for a John Mellencamp album, Brandi Carlile has delivered your fix. This excellent mix of country, folk and record is an outstanding album. Plus, no artist has seemed as excited to play SNL as Ms. Carlile did when she did back in October.
5. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts. This was stuff of legend, with only one song ever officially released on the compilation record. Now, here it is in all of its glory. This is the moment when The Boss truly became The Boss, as he joined other musicians to take a stance against Nuclear Power and War. After that, The Boss wore his liberal leanings as a badge of honor.
4. Paul Weller – Fat Pop (Volume 1). This album is the loosest Weller has sounded in ages. This is actually a fun album to spin on the turntable. No real surprises here, just great Paul Weller writing and music.
3. Taylor Swift – Red (Taylor’s Version). I am really becoming a Swift fan these days. I love how when she did not great the masters to her first set albums, that she has decided to re-record all of those albums. Her first attempt this year, Fearless, gave us mixed results. But, what Taylor found in herself with this classic album is absolutely stunning. Obviously, the hurt of that 20-something Taylor who wrote the lyrics is still in touch with the 30-something young lady of today. This is transcendent stuff.
2. Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. You gotta give it Halsey, she’s got balls. Her emo chick schtick has matured into something greater without sacrificing her pop/rock instincts. And, she made arguably the move of the years by having Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross produce this album, which only made the darkness thicker and the album more human. Plus, is this rock’s first album about childbirth and impending motherhood? In any other year, this album might have been at #1, but…
1. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour. First, Rodrigo is another one of those child actors turning to pop music for a career move. Then, she released a song that had teenaged girls swooning all over as she was winning over young adults with “Driver’s License” (evidence is the SNL sketch in which the men in the cast sing the chorus while in a pool hall). Then, you see her perform on SNL and realize this young lady is in pain. So, the old man buys the album, and, low and behold, this is the biggest kiss-off album by a woman since Alanis Morissette was going down on some dude in a theater in the 90s. Who cares if Rodrigo will never be able to follow this up? She hit the zeitgeist perfectly on this one. God, I’d hate to have been a guy to have raised up so much bile in a woman. Then, again, maybe I did, and that’s what scares me.
And there you have it! That’s my Top 50 Albums for 2021. The started off slowly but picked up as it progressed (and the vaccines kicked in?). I have a feeling that some anger is building in those who are vaccinated toward the unvaccinated, which might make for some compelling music in the upcoming months. Things just might get interesting. Unless there is censorship.
Food for thought. Peace. And, Happy New Year!