2016 has been an interesting year. We’ve heard hundreds of albums and we’ve heard lots of good ones, but in comparison to the previous couple of years there has been a paucity of great ones. Nevertheless, there’s always gold to be mined and here are Real Gone’s top ten albums of the year.
[As always, in the interest of fairness, the choices are limited to those actually reviewed on the website]
STRANGE MAJIK – Raised On Rock ‘n’ Roll
Strange Majik’s first album, ‘Lights On‘, was a mixed bag in every sense. There were some great, funky tunes, always well arranged, but as good as that album was in places, in others, it was hampered by average rappers. For 2016’s ‘Raised On Rock ‘n’ Roll’, head honcho David Pattillo had a rethink. As well as being the creative mind behind the material, he also took on all vocals. The result is a retro album full of superb funk and rock. The fact that he retooled a few old Dead Exs numbers for good measure was a very welcome bonus. [Read the full review here]
DAVID BOWIE – Blackstar
A lot has been said about the legendary David Bowie over the years, but few would have predicted how his final album would sound. ‘Blackstar’ was by turns atmospheric, dark and uncompromising, with many of its songs suggesting finality. The cloud of death over the album only added to its overall poignancy. ‘Blackstar’ is the kind of inventive record that many of Bowie’s peers couldn’t have imagined making…let alone actually made. Always the chameleon, Bowie left us in 2016 with a final album we’d never forget. [Read the full review here]
STUART MASTERS – Mystic Blue and The Black Balloon
Instrumental guitar works are a rarity at Real Gone, but one listen was all it took for us to fall in love with Stuart’s ‘Mystic Blue and The Black Balloon’, a complex hybrid of British folk, world music and jazz. Streets ahead of any of the artist’s previous works, the album really set Masters on the road to being an artist to watch, in every sense. [Read the full review here]
NIGHTMEN – Fifteen Minutes of Pain
There’s a lot of DIY garage rock and punk out there. Some of it isn’t worth more than a cursory listen, but for every ten forgettable records there’s a corker…and Nightmen’s ‘Fifteen Minutes of Pain’ is one of them. Imagine what would happen if the Ramones, The Stooges, Dead Boys and New York Dolls decamped to Sweden and got loaded, cranked their amps and let rip. We hope this album isn’t just a one-shot deal. [Read the full review here]
BACKDAWN – I Shall Burn Your Empire
A lot of metal got covered at Real Gone in ’16, but this second offering from France’s Backdawn was head and shoulders over most of the competition. Taking hefty cues from ‘Ashes of the Wake’ era Lamb of God and classic Pantera, ‘I Shall Burn Your Empire’ just brought riff after riff after riff of skull-crushing goodness. It may have worked to a formula rather than striving for originality, but when the result sounded better than most of the last actual Lamb of God album, who cares?! Unmissable metal. [Read the full review here]
JACK BROADBENT – Portrait
Yer blues. Far too many artists claiming to play the blues in ’16 just recycled stodgy rock music with bluesy leanings. Broadbent is the real deal. ‘Portrait’ tackled blues from a more purist perspective, with Broadbent absolutely cooking in the slide guitar stakes. Retro of another kind, this was a record that sounded absolutely thrilling on every play… [Read the full review here]
PALACE – Master of the Universe
It’s hideously unfashionable, but AOR and melodic rock has always been an important part of Real Gone’s coverage. Sadly, ninety percent of the records released in 2016 just didn’t capture the spirit of the style’s late 80s heyday. Here’s a record that ticked all the right boxes. Huge choruses, big guitar solos and even bigger hair. Michael Palace waved two fingers at fashion and showed pretty much all of their peers how it should be done. [Read the full review here]
MASON SUMMIT – Gunpowder Tracks
Mason’s third album was a welcome surprise, to say the very least. Mixing influences from Josh Rouse, Elliot Smith and more, ‘Gunpowder Tracks’ took a personal journey through retro sounds. Well played and well produced, this album really has a heart that’s far older than Mason’s own. [Read the full review here]
PEARL HANDLED REVOLVER – If The Devil Cast His Net
Taking cues from Screaming Trees, The Doors and various elements of hard rock, Pearl Handled Revolver took dark rock music into great places on their 2016 release. Heavy in atmosphere without resorting to heavy riffs, this album is gold standard from end to end, but the swirling, ominous and almost circus-like title track is a must hear. An album of this calibre means the future of underground British rock sounds a fair bit safer. [Read the full review here]
IAN HUNTER & THE RANT BAND – Fingers Crossed
Unbelievable but true: in 2016, Ian Hunter was 77. At the point where most have retired, Hunter not only released a new studio album but embarked on a full tour. That album ‘Fingers Crossed’ was a varied effort, taking in pub rock, a bit of blues and even dark psychedelia (as per the earliest Mott). That alone would have made a good record in itself, but Hunter’s tribute to Bowie – a smart and lyrical piece with musical echoes of ‘All The Young Dudes’ – ensured that it would remain memorable against an onslaught of new music throughout the following months. [Read the full review here]
Outside of our top picks, there were a handful of other notable releases, of course. It was good to hear Watts cooking on all four burners throughout most of ‘Black Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll’; Nine-Eighteen showed there was life left in punk-pop and Lasers Lasers Birmingham explored alt-country and folk with some lovely results on ‘Royal Blue’. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year, though, came from Patrick Boutwell, an alt-rock performer who showed that sometimes spontaneity pays off. His ‘Hi, Heaviness‘ was recorded in just one day and, as such, there’s a real energy to his 90s infused stylings.
We’ve heard a couple of bits from 2017 already and can already tell you that the January-released EP from punk-poppers As The Sun Sleeps is absolutely amazing, but we’re hoping the year will be better as a whole creatively and socially. In the words of Ian Hunter…fingers crossed.