Rock music may be about to break out of the groove it’s been stuck in for too long.
If things just carried on as they were, 2012 would go down as the year that Madonna returned to reclaim her crown from Lady Gaga and as the year that the Beach Boys, Stone Roses and just maybe Pink Floyd got back together amid another flood of reissues.
Fortunately, things look set to move forward as new acts break through. Take Lana Del Rey. The New Yorker’s “Born to Die” will be released on Jan. 31. Based on samples so far, it will live up to the hype generated by her moody single “Video Games.” Emili Sande, a U.K.-based singer, follows with a debut out on Feb. 21. Her soulful sound may make her a big star.
“Given to the Wild” by British rockers the Maccabees, is a fine poppy way to start 2012.
Skrillex, from California, is a remixer and producer whose new EP “Bangarang” reinterprets everyone from the Doors to Ellie Goulding. For him, the way forward is backward: refreshing the past, layering unlikely sounds to make something new. Think again if you say this was all done in the 1980s by the KLF and other samplers, or by many fans making personal compilations of favorite tracks. Mixtapes are being taken to a new level.
Mixtapes are back, celebrated by books, magazines and now whole records. Some widely downloaded mixtapes of 2011 included two brilliant ones, “House of Balloons” and “Nostalgia, Ultra.” Their respective creators, the Weeknd and Frank Ocean, are set for mainstream success.
Among female singers returning in 2012, I’m looking forward to hearing U.S. songwriter Cat Power, who mixes her bluesy voice with Memphis horns; U.K. electropop star Alison Goldfrapp, whose last, “Seventh Tree,” was uncharacteristically ambient; and New York’s Santigold, who combines hip-hop and reggae. They will be more challenging than Madonna, whose album, slated for March, is bound to be expensively produced and catchy.
Leonard Cohen’s “Old Ideas” is due on Jan. 31 and is sure to be as deadpan excellent as ever. Paul McCartney’s album, with the cheeky title “Kisses on the Bottom,” arrives a week later (Feb. 7) and highlights cover versions as well as two originals, including “Valentine’s Day” with Eric Clapton’s guitar.
It will be an important year for British rock as the U.K. showcases talent for the London Olympics and marks Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Fans are hoping Elton John and McCartney will join big concerts in the British capital -- maybe with Pink Floyd reuniting, though there’s no official word on that. The year opened with fireworks to the soundtrack of Britpop from the Kinks to Adele, who stands to scoop Grammy awards on Feb. 12.
We still await news on what has happened to U2’s “Songs of Ascent,” which was on the roster even before Bono's men played at Glastonbury last year. (Glasto is taking a break this year; the festival season starts with Coachella in April, where the lineup announced yesterday includes Radiohead, Black Keys, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and the Weeknd.)
Two groups have confirmed release of likely impressive seventh albums: Spiritualized’s “Sweet Heart Sweet Light ” on March 19 and French duo Air’s “Le Voyage Dans La Lune.” Both may be trumped by the xx, whose minimalism manages to say more than the symphonic rock of the trio in Muse, who also return.
U.S. rockers aren’t left out. Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan is promising his group’s best album in years. Pearl Jam and Queens of the Stone Age crank out new material. Metallica moves on from its “Lulu” mess with Lou Reed. Word on the street is that rapper Kanye West plans two CDs; word from West’s penthouse is that they’ll be brilliant. We’ll be the judge of that.
The year in indie rock may still be dominated by the Black Keys, who slipped out the outstanding “El Camino’ in December. The band is the inheritor by default of the White Stripes crown (or should that be battered Stetson?)
The slow death of the CD and rise of downloads/piracy is forcing a radical rethink by musicians and record companies. We are overdue for a shakeup. It may be too much to hope for.
Still, think back to Sam Cooke’s best song, usually seen as a civil rights anthem, but it might mean something else, too. Otis Redding’s version says it all with the anguished words: “It’s been a long, long time comin’, but I know …" and then the title, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Download fees vary across services. The CDs are priced from about $12 in the U.S. and 9 pounds in the U.K. Release dates are for the U.S.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)