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Top 25 studio album releases in 2012

Classic rockers just can't stop recording


I struggled a bit with what order I should put these releases in. Alphabetical by artist name? Chronological by release date? Random? By rank? I finally decided that it would be fun to rank them according to my own reaction to them. But then that raised the question of whether to start with #25 and count down, or with #1 and work up? You can see what I finally decided.

1. Heart - 'Fanatic'

Heart - Fanatic
Sony Legacy

Heart's 14th studio release, Fanatic showcased the variety of musical styles and lyrical themes that we've come to expect during their 36 years of touring and recording. The lyrics are as fresh and the artists as energetic as they were when their first album was released in 1976.

2. Ian Anderson - 'Thick as a Brick 2'

Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson - Thick as a Brick 2
Capitol Records

In our last episode (April 1972) Gerald Bostock was a 10-year-old British lad, pondering the ups and downs of growing up. That was Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick. Now, Gerald has turned 50, and the next chapter in his life story brings us up to date on where his life has taken him. This is Ian Anderson's Thick As A Brick 2. If you knew and appreciated the original, the sequel is a must-have. If you've never heard of Jethro Tull, Gerald Bostock, Ian Anderson or Thick As A Brick, it's still worth a listen.

3. Bruce Springsteen - 'Wrecking Ball'

Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

A Rolling Stone reviewer called it "the most despairing, confrontational and musically turbulent album Bruce Springsteen has ever made." A Chicago Tribune writer opined that Bruce Springsteen had "lost his nerve as a co-producer, going for stadium bombast instead of the unadorned grit these stories of hard times demand." Reviews notwithstanding, Wrecking Ball, Springsteen's 17th studio album debuted at #1 on the US and UK album charts. The album contains some of the final work of Clarence Clemons, the E Street Band's larger-than-life saxophonist who died in June 2011.

4. ZZ Top - 'La Futura'

ZZ Top - La Futura
American Recordings

You might have sensed something was missing from the last few ZZ Top albums. Not a lack of focus or a decline in skills. They just haven't seemed to be having fun like they used to on their '70s albums. Good news. They're having fun again. In style, substance and sound, La Futura, their 15th studio album is very much like the sound that secured them a place on the porch among the big dogs 40 years ago. The fun level is back up there, too.

5. Rush - 'Clockwork Angels'

Rush 'Clockwork Angels'
Roadrunner Records

Progressive rockers Rush released a new, futuristic concept album in 2012. As is typical, a tour followed. As is not so typical, a novel based on the album's lyrics was published. That's not all that's atypical about the album, or about the band. Of all the Rush studio albums (this the 20th) released since 1974, Clockwork Angels was the first full-blown concept album. It might seem odd that a prog rock band that's been active since 1968 is just now releasing their first concept album, but Rush have never been slaves to doing things the conventional way.

6. Santana - 'Shape Shifter'

Santana - Shape Shifter

Carlos Santana has a strong affinity for spiritualism, culture, and (of course) music. Santana's 2012 album, Shape Shifter represents a convergence of the three. Santana has been writing songs for this album for years, waiting for the right place and the right time to use them. For him, the time is now, and it's the right place "to acknowledge the first people" of the land, in this case, Native American Indians. The 36th album in the catalog of Santana, the band, is a very personal one for Santana, the man. And that's what makes it good.

7. Meat Loaf - 'Hell in a Handbasket'

Meat Loaf - Hell in a Handbasket
Sony Legacy

If this title sounds familiar, it's probably because Meat Loaf's Hell in a Hand Basket was released overseas back in 2011. It got its North American debut in 2012. Meat says this album is "the most personal record I've ever made. It's about how I feel the world's gone to hell in a handbasket. It's really the first record that I've ever put out about how I feel about life and how I feel about what's going on at the moment." He has struggled with vocal problems in recent years. This is his 12th studio album since his recording career began in 1971.

8. Lynyrd Skynyrd - 'Last of a Dyin' Breed'

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Last of a Dyin' Breed
Roadrunner / Loud & Proud

Whenever Lynyrd Skynyrd release a new album or go on a concert tour, it's hard not to pause and reflect on how there was a time -- after the band's plane crashed in 1977, resulting in the deaths of three band members and three others -- that nobody expected the band to ever return. But ten years later, they re-formed, and have been recording performing ever since. The release of their 13th studio album, Last of a Dyin' Breed confirmed that the band still has plenty of life left.

9. Aerosmith - 'Music From Another Dimension'

Aerosmith - Music From Another Duimension

We had last heard new music from Aerosmith (Honkin' On Bobo) in 2004. Music From Another Dimension is their 15th studio album, and has been in the works, off and on, for several years. Johnny Depp and Carrie Underwood were tapped as guest vocalists, as the band set out to recapture their '70s sound.

10. Van Halen - 'A Different Kind of Truth'

Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth
Interscope Records

Been waiting long for a new Van Halen studio album? Well, about 14 years, actually, since Van Halen III in 1998. It's been even longer since the last Van Halen studio album with David Lee Roth as lead singer -- 28 years since 1984. A Different Kind of Truth makes it an even dozen studio albums since Van Halen debuted in 1978.

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