Here we are, still standing during the last week of 2022, with a new year staring us down. Who knows what 2023 has in store for each of us as an individual and collectively as a society, but it will probably be a rollercoaster ride as nearly every year since I graduated from college in 1985 has been. All I can say is to buckle up as, outside of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominations, I have no clear predictions for the upcoming new year.
Now, looking back upon the 2020s thus far, musically speaking, this decade has gotten off to a strange beginning. Those artists who had stockpiled recordings before the pandemic released some very compelling music reflecting the relative ease of life before COVID-19. Then, COVID-19 ran rampant throughout the world, even taking some large rock figures (to me, none bigger than the terrific pop-smith Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and The Wonders fame).
Of course, in 2021, the music released all reflected a collective introspection being made by musical artists of all genres. Over the past two years, we have been blessed by some pretty big musical statements made by Taylor Swift (Four albums, two new acoustic-based albums and two re-recordings of her classic back catalog Fearless and Red.), Halsey (Her treatise on impending motherhood was stellar and her finest piece of work.), HAIM, Paul Weller (Has released at least one album each year thus far at a level as high as his days with The Jam), Fiona Apple, X, Brandi Carlile and Olivia Rodrigo (The best woman-scorned album since the mid-90s heyday of Alanis Morissette.). Much of the work of the 2020s has been both compelling and important. Unfortunately, 2022 did not live up to the high standards of the previous two years.
Now, many may wonder why the creative push of the pandemic years did not carry over into 2022. Personally, I believe it was a simple matter of timing. As the intensity of the pandemic waned as expected with the coming of the vaccines, artists were itching to get out on the road where they can make a huge chunk of their income not just from ticket sales but from merchandising, a cut from concessions and the subsequent bumps in streaming and sales royalties they each will experience in the days leading up to and after their concert in a particular city. Many of these same artists had been scheduled to tour during 2020, but the pandemic pushed those plans back at least a year. And while many artists did successfully hit the road in 2021, the public was truly itching for live music in 2022. Therefore, the creative juices needed for the creation of new material were put on hold while the artists went on tour to rake in some much needed cash in order to get back on the hamster wheel of their careers of creating music, releasing albums and touring, then repeating the process.
So, basically speaking, 2022 was not a stellar year for new music. In fact, in retrospect, the year may never been evaluated as a strong year. Like every other year, there were some great albums released, but it seems to me that this was a much better year for the release of anniversary editions of classic albums, such as John Mellencamp revisiting his 1985 masterpiece Scarecrow by including a remastered album along with discs holding unreleased material and a live concert from the era, or the release of live recordings that have sat on the shelves of the artists like the estates of Prince and Tom Petty both releasing fantastic highlights of past concerts. For me, I count the latter as new material, while the former is just another version of a favorite album that I need in my collection, thus proving that I am something of a completist. Or, my a compulsive-obsessive. Either way, I have a problem.
In sports terms, 2022 was a solid year for the average album. No true time-defying classics were released, but some nice average albums that could stick around for a few years were given to the public. 2022 was the year in which the transcendent sports talent was not drafted, but several long-term role players were taken throughout the draft. That’s how I would describe the popular music of 2022. Nothing really struck me as spectacular, but several albums were pleasant enough that they will stick around in my collection and continue to be played in the upcoming years of what is left of my life.
Now, let’s take a look at my 50 favorite albums. Thank goodness for streaming these days. Then again, streaming has made me a lazy music listener. Let’s start the countdown.
50. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Return of the Dream Canteen. The Chili Peppers are back with their best guitarist John Frusciante back in the fold. So, the guys recorded TWO albums worth of music, so they released TWO LPs this year. They really should have whittled these albums into one strong musical statement.
49. Arcade Fire – WE. When Arcade Fire burst onto the indie rock scene nearly 20 years ago, I had big hopes that they would be taking over for U2 with the big anthemic stadium rockers. At least this album didn’t disappoint me as much as the last one did. But, they may never reach the pinnacle of U2.
48. Todd Rundgren – Space Force. Rundgren remains one of my favorite artists ever, but even greats like the Stones have seemed tired on their most recent releases. Rundgren’s cranky uncle schtick is still there, but it sounds just a little more like Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair than the brilliant parodist Rundgren can be. Still, I do love that he’s doing some creative collaborations with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and the guys from Sparks.
47. Beach House – Once Twice Melody. Beach House is one of my current hopes for modern music, as the band seems to be edging more closely to power pop and pure pop as they release material.
46. Lake Street Dive – Fun Machine: The Sequel. LSD is a great band who flirt with becoming a blue-eyed soul band. This EP of covers creeping closer to that classic sound along the lines of Hall & Oates.
45. The Regrettes – Further Joy. My buddy Mark Kline turned me onto this female-led pop punk band, while their version of “A Marshmallow World” has quickly become the definitive version of the song to my ears. This band picks up where The Go-Go’s and The Bangles each left off, threw in some Cheap Trick and cranked up their Marshall amps to 11 without ever losing the pop melody. The Regrettes and Charly Bliss are currently battling it out to become my favorite power pop band of the 2020s.
44. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Unlimited Love. Here’s the first album released from the RHCP studio reunion of their most successful lineup. This album is a little bit better than the other but not by that much.
43. Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever. Soccer Mommy has forged a nice little path along the indie rock scene, the one traveled by Courtney Barnett and Phoebe Bridgers without stepping on the other’s more famous toes. I think Soccer Mommy is on the verge of overtaking these others.
42. Angel Olsen – Big Time. Angel Olsen has been doing her folkish, country-tinged classic rock thing for nearly 20 years without the big financial payoff. She’s at the same stage in her career as Brandi Carlile was just a year or so ago. Olsen just needs an SNL-like push that Carlile got for her to blast off. She’s that good.
41. The Black Keys – Dropout Boogie. My older son used to call The Black Keys the Lite Beer version of The White Stripes, as both bands hailed from Rust Belt towns, consisted of a guitar hero with a drummer and played blues-based garage punk rock. Yet, The Keys have continued to release consistent rock-based boogie that can melt faces. They are no longer anyone’s Lite Beer version. They are the keepers of the rock flame.
40. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems. Hardcore is alive and well thanks to Soul Glo. If you have a hankering for the hard punk sound of the 80s, ala Hüsker Dü, Dead Kennedys or Germs, Soul Glo is your band. I had some flashbacks induced by this album.
39. Turnstile – Glow On. Is Turnstile hardcore or metal? Actually, they are a combo of the two, with a little Rage Against the Machine thrown in for good measure. What Turnstile is NOT is a band pandering for pop success. They are outcasts in the truest sense of the word as they carry the torch of Metallica from their underground days more that Black Album-era Metallica. In other words, Turnstile is a breath of fresh air in this day of 20 writers and 5 producers working on a track.
38. Arctic Monkeys – The Car. Everybody’s favorite British indie band from the Aughts is back with another blast of indie rock like only the Brits can do. This is just a solid Arctic Monkeys LP showing what the Monkeys do best, rock.
37. Miranda Lambert – Palomino. My family had the chance to go to a recording of the Aughts music competition show called Nashville Star. One of our friends’ daughter’s roommate, Amy Chappell, was a contestant on the show so that’s how we scored tickets. Anyway, there was a young lady around the same age of our older son who was also a contestant. My older son, the music genius he is (he truly has a keen ear for talent), pointed out that only one of the contestants would become a star, but she wouldn’t win the show. That young lady was Miranda Lambert. And, my son was correct (He said she had great songwriting skills, the voice and the looks to become a star.). Oh, and Miranda has released yet another strong album, making her THE country star of the past couple of decades.
36. Noah Cyrus – The Hardest Part. It’s got to suck being the younger sibling trying to break into an industry in which your older sibling has become an icon. But, Noah is not following Miley through the whole pop/rock jungle. Instead, she’s traveling down the singer/songwriter path that weaves through folk, country and rock. And, she’s making a name for herself. And more albums like this one, Noah will no longer be referred to as Miley’s sister. The young lady has some chops.
35. Wilco – Cruel Country. Back in the 90s, Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy was in a seminal country-ish punk band called Uncle Tupelo. The trio released a classic record then broke up. Tweedy went on to form his own band called Wilco, who have traveled from their Americana beginnings into a sound similar in its experimental sound to Radiohead without ever leaving their country roots. This year, Tweedy traveled full circle back to the band’s country sound without ever loosing sight of his avant garde vision for his music. Now, the twang is back in Wilco’s sound completing Tweedy’s 25-year journey. It will be interesting to hear how Wilco develops over the next 25 years.
34. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down. Twenty years ago, there was something of a new wave revival happening with the arrival of bands like The Strokes, The Killers, The Hives, Franz Ferdinand and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Then, as quickly as the sound was beginning to reignite, the whole thing was over, leaving me to pick up the pieces of my favorite era of music, 80s new wave. So, I continued to listen to the 80s stylings of these band even as they were leaving that all behind. Then, nearly 20 years after their debut, back from the dead arises New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs with their classic sound intact, giving me reason to hope that maybe music scenes will begin to pop up again in the clubs of the major cities. At least this album whets my appetite for the days of my youth as I knock on the door of my 60s.
33. Pusha T – It’s Almost Day. Many critics are saying this album could be in the running for album of the year. While I have enjoyed the album, I don’t find Pusha’s rhymes as compelling as Kendrick Lamar’s. Still, the beats on this album are second-to-none. Overall, this is a really good album.
32. Muna – Muna. Much like The Regrettes Muna is a female-dominated pop/rock band with much the same influences and sound. Only difference is that Muna has some hooks that become earworms, in a good way. I can’t wait to hear how they develop their sound in the future.
31. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti. Ladies and gentlemen, the times, they are a-changing. And, it’s a good thing! This album was one of the biggest selling albums of the year, and it’s a totally non-English album. 20 years, a hip hop album won the Grammy for Album of the Year (OutKast). Could we be witnessing history with this excellent album? It’s a great time to be alive in the USA.
30. Rosalía – Motomami. Bad Bunny may be the biggest seller of 2022, but Rosalía is a pretty close second. She had one of the best SNL performances last season, as well as the best Latin album of 2022. This young lady is a force to be reckoned with in the future.
29. Jack White – Entering Heaven Alive. Jack White had a big year in 2022. Was it as big as his gravy train years back in the Aughts? Not really, but it was noteworthy from an artistic point of view. First, he released two great albums. Entering Heaven Alive is the second album of the year and is more acoustic and introspective of the two. Next, White set the country ablaze with his tour of smaller venues. Finally, Jack proposed to his long-time girlfriend and backup singer onstage. Not a bad year.
28. Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights. My younger son may be right when he said that Steve Lacy might be the Stevie Wonder of this generation. Those are some huge shoes to fill, but doggone it, he may be right. No one else has made such great soul/pop hits sound so easy since I was a kid in the 70s listening to Songs in the Key of Life.
27. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention. What happens when Radiohead’s lead singer and guitar strike out on together. Much like Arcadia sounds very similar to Duran Duran, so does The Smile take obvious sounds from Radiohead. Sure, The Smile has a different rhythm section from the mothership, but the sound is very much classic Radiohead. So, it’s not a big experiment, but The Smile does allow Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood to be a little looser in the studio.
26. Jack White – Fear of the Dawn. On the first of two Jack White albums released in 2022, White unleashes his inner Zeppelin concocting this brilliant blues-based punk rock album. This is an album worthy of a 21st century guitar hero.
25. Empath – Visitor. Anyone else miss the punk-based free-form jazz of Minutemen? Now, 40 years later, in walks Empath to fill the void. This music is equally as challenging as it is enjoyable, much like Minutemen on their classic Double Nickels on the Dime. Does Empath have an album like that in their future? Time will tell.
24. FKA Twigs – Caprisongs. FKA Twigs is a one-woman indie dance floor wrecking crew. She takes Lady Gaga’s dance/pop and turns it on its head. This is how the club SHOULD sound.
23. Alvvays – Blue Rev. Indie pop is in good hands when Alvvays is providing it to us. The band is now hitting its stride and is flexing its Teenage Fanclub-influenced muscles as the third generation Big Star they have become. This is how pop/rock is SUPPOSED to sound.
22. The 1975 – Being Funny in a Foreign Language. The 1975 is a pop/rock band that will give you early-80s MTV video flashbacks. And I mean that in the very best sense. Since Franz Ferdinand abdicated the Duran Duran throne, The 1975 has risen to the point where they are ready to ascend to the spot. This is dance pop/rock at its finest.
21. Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B. Once again, we have yet another new wave revivalist on the countdown. What can I say? These bands are not stuck in the 80s, they are expanding upon them. And, no one did it as well as Jockstrap, a man/woman London duo, who takes a little post-punk jaggedness and integrates pop/rock into the mix to create a compelling sound that makes me reminisce while pushing me into the 2020s.
20. King Princess – Hold on Baby. Hold on Baby is a great sophomore album. King Princess is one of the great alternative dance/pop/rock queens that are creatively dominating music these days. She is held in the same high regard as Billie Eilish, Halsey, Charli XCX and Dua Lipa, though KP is more rock than the other four ladies.
19. Willow – Coping Mechanism. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s daughter is slowly moving toward a Goth dance mix, not unlike Halsey’s sound on her most recent album. It’s not a bad move for Willow as she seems better suited for a Paramore-styled niche of the dance/pop/rock arena.
18. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. While this is a very high quality album, it is a slight letdown for Mr. Lamar whose last three albums were three for the ages. This is still a great album, with Lamar’s innovative rhymes and pacing continuing to amaze listeners. Unfortunately, there will be no Pulitzers and Peabodies, still this album will be blasted from speakers all over America.
17. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – The Boy Named If. Elvis has been on a little creative roll the past decade or so, at least ever since he teamed up with The Roots a while back. Now, he is tackling a rock opera of sorts on this outing, which seems to suit him well.
16. Panic! At the Disco – Viva Las Vengeance. I thought Panic! was great when they released “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” I thought that maybe they’d develop into something of a new Queen or, at the very least, MIKA. Then, they went totally pop. So, I gave up on them. But, finally, they got their mojo back and started writing campy pop/rock songs again. This album is easily the band’s best since their debut 17 years ago.
15. Maggie Rogers – Surrender. Maggie Rogers has seemed destined for stardom since she was discovered in one of ?uestlove’s college classes. Her debut was awesome, and Surrender is a great step forward in her development as an artist. If she hasn’t her stride as an artist, I certainly can’t wait until she does.
14. John Mellencamp – Strictly a One-Eyed Jack. Mellencamp has been moving toward a Hoosier version of Bob Dylan, and now the transformation is complete. Mellencamp has become a country bluesman and spends his creative time contemplating his mortality. Mellencamp has become a great voice in the rock realm.
13. Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa. Spoon has been around for about 30 years. In the meantime, they’ve created a classic (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga) and several great albums along the way. Then, people kind of forgot about them. Fast forward to 2022 and this terrific alternative rock album called Lucifer on the Sofa. And, once again, we have rock music alive and well in the 2020s.
12. The Weeknd – Dawn FM. I have never given The Weeknd his due. This man has single-handedly reinvented R&B into some robotic, new wave influenced 80s affected soul music. And, this just happens to be the man’s best studio album to date. I am late to the bandwagon, but I am here.
11. Charli XCX – Crash. I bought this album when we were in San Diego in the spring. Charli XCX seems to be eternally on the verge of a big break out. And, honestly, I don’t understand why she is not on the same level as Dua Lipa and Halsey. She really is that good. Charli XCX is master of the dance floor, the rock club AND pop radio. That’s why she is one brilliant song away from total world domination.
10. Lizzo – Special. Lizzo has changed the landscape of popular music based on her sheer talent and her larger-than-life personality. How else does a large woman who is a classically-trained flutist becomes a dance floor sex symbol? Lizzo is a force of nature who has more talent in her pinkie than most of this era’s pixie-sized divas.
9. Amy Winehouse – Live at Glastonbury 2007. Back in 2007, Winehouse had just released her seminal Back in Black album. Then she arrived at Glastonbury as a fresh-faced soul revivalist diva, hell-bent on changing history. Amy took the stage and changed the history of modern music with this set while being backed by Sharon Jones’ terrific Dap-Kings. This is the document of that remarkable set that truly lives up to the hype.
8. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Live at the Fillmore 1997. In early 1997, Tom and his Heartbreakers played 20 consecutive shows at San Francisco’s Fillmore. Personally, being the completist that I am, I prefer the big six-album vinyl box set for the whole Petty experience of covers and originals. This is one of America’s all-time greatest bands showing the whole range of their prowess as a band while acknowledging their influences. This is more than the flexing of their collective muscles as musicians, it is a tribute the music that influenced them. This document shows the power of rock and roll to save six guys like it did these guys.
7. Prince & the Revolution – Prince & the Revolution: Live. In 1985, Prince & the Revolution were riding high behind their career-making Purple Rain album and tour, when the tour stopped in Syracuse, New York, for a show on the University of Syracuse’s Carrier Dome that was recorded for a special on MTV and subsequent release on VHS (remember those?). Now, after nearly 40 years of the audio tapes just languishing in fabled Vault, the show gets the box set remaster treatment and release on vinyl AND Blu ray making this set a must-have document of this fantastic band at the peak of its power.
6. Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point. Did anyone expect this band to ever reunite, let alone create a great album that only proves their greatness as a band. All of the hallmarks of their greatness remain, while not falling into their slick 80s production values. This album is definitely one of Tears for Fears’ finest. This is the comeback of the year.
5. Bruce Springsteen – Only the Strong Survive. I don’t care what the yunguns say about this album, it was necessary AND needed. You see, music has evolved so far away from its roots that this is a refreshing reminder of the greatness of some artist’s heroes. When Springsteen revives some of the great gospel-influenced soul songs of the 60s, 70s and 80s in his patented heartland rock setting, you hear exactly where Springsteen standards from “Thunder Road” to “Hungry Heart” through “Bobby Jean” and “One Step Up, Two Steps Back” all the way up to “The Girls of Summer” and “Queen of the Supermarket” are all based. The greats all are able to accomplish this.
4. Wet Leg – Wet Leg. Ever since I was a kid, I have been attracted to music that is pop/rock-based with a heavy dose of camp, like Queen or Sparks. So, when someone recommended Wet Leg’s debut album, I was excited but tempered by previous bad experiences of artists described in the same manner, like Måneskin a year ago or MIKA’s second album a decade ago. Honestly, Wet Leg has given me hope that my type of music is NOT a relic from the past but a vibrant vein to pursue. I cannot wait to hear the development of this exciting band.
3. Beyoncé – Renaissance. Beyoncé has been on a creative roll ever since Jay-Z strayed from their marriage vows. First, she quietly dropped a self-titled masterpiece describing her betrayal, followed a couple of years later by the redemption of the couple’s marriage on Lemonade. With Renaissance, Beyoncé is back to her fearless diva self creating great R&B/dance/pop music with confidence.
2. Taylor Swift – Midnights. What can I possibly say about the maturation of Ms. Swift’s songwriting that hasn’t been said before? Honestly, nothing. Sure, she does rely on a few chord progressions a little too much, but that is minor to me because she is no Nickelback or Dave Matthews Band. Where those two have whole catalogs of songs that sound exactly the same with only the lyrics being different, Taylor’s music gives nods to her musical heroes and her own musical past while forging a whole new sound. Her music and lyrics continues to mature as she grows. Taylor never rests on her laurels while continuing to grow as an artist. And, Midnights documents another step in her making pop music that reflects her age. This is music for wine drinking, not Red Bull mixers.
1. Harry Styles – Harry’s House. It’s not that I want to hate Harry’s music, like I really kinda do Justin Bieber’s. Rather, I believe that I am too mature to appreciate his music. Then, he releases another new album in which he shows more growth in his songwriting while incorporating the sounds of MY youth in his sound. He is a talented artist who is only beginning to tap the rich vein of pop/rock influences of the 70s and 80s. Harry Styles is really going to be a Hall of Famer one day if he continues his winning streak he began on his previous album. Harry’s House is easily the best album of 2022 in my book.
And, that my friends, is the way I see the albums of 2022.