If there were ever a year in rock 'n' roll that made The Who's "Hope I die before I get old" wish look foolish, it was 2012. Exactly why so many vintage rockers coughed up outstanding albums this year is anybody's guess. Outside of random happenstance, the only possible reason I can come up with has to do with oldies-but-moldies cranking up their Metamucil and Adderall intakes. But hell, I already dropped those jokes in my Top Rock Albums of 2012 list.
Actually, I shouldn't say this trend is totally inexplicable. After all, several titles listed below are direct outgrowths of the hip-dude-producing-the-American-icon phenomenon, which has grown stronger and stronger over the last two decades. The hip dudes behind said phenomenon are (as you probably can guess) Rick Rubin, Jeff Tweedy, Jack White and Dan Auerbach. The Nostalgia Mafia, so to speak. Between them, they've helped revive the careers of everybody from Johnny Cash and Mavis Staples to Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson. This year saw two of their very best titles to date: La Futura (ZZ Top connecting with Rubin) and Locked Down (Dr. John aided by Auerbach). The latter is particularly fabulous and would appeal to those Rebennack fans who prefer his earliest albums (Gris-Gris, Babylon, In the Right Place).
But here's what I've lately been wondering: Has this phenomenon trickled down? For example: Neil Young and Crazy Horse's sprawling Psychedelic Pill wasn't produced by a member of the Nostalgia Mafia, yet the album exudes all the telltale signs of their work (i.e. legendary artist reconnecting with the classic touchstones upon which his or her legacy rests). The same can be said of both Leonard Cohen's vintage-soaked Old Ideas and, believe it or not, Little Feat's Rooster Rag (their overlooked collaboration with longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter). Were Young or Cohen or even the Feats inspired by the Mafia's collective vision? I have no concrete evidence to prove it, yet I certainly be wouldn't be surprised.
Then again, 2012 also saw the release of numerous albums that have nothing at all to do with this trend, yet were killer nonetheless. Van Halen, for example, rose from the dead and regaled us with A Different Kind of Truth. Granted, a good chunk of it consists of half-finished songs that had been knocking around since the '70s. But so what? The album swings harder than just about anything retro-rockers a quarter their age could ever commit to tape. Possibly following in Van Halen's footsteps, Aerosmith dusted off a few long-lost jams for Music from Another Dimension! Admittedly, the record is wildly uneven (are they teen pop stars or veteran rockers?). Nevertheless, it does boast a few cuts -- namely "Street Jesus" and the Joe Perry numbers "Freedom Fighter" and "Something" -- that make me think the band, if it really wanted, could make a throwback-style album that would be pretty damn sold.
Speaking of old-school hard rock, you know what records I enjoyed far more than Music from Another Dimension!? Heart's Fanatic and Rush's Clockwork Angels. Neither outfit has a chance in hell of denting the pop charts these days, yet both continue to pump out quality rock for their respective fan bases (both of which are doggedly faithful). As a matter of fact, I also rather enjoyed KISS' back-to-basics Monster. It's far and away the best full-length I've heard from them since 1982's Creatures of the Night.
Of course, no such discussion is complete without touching on Bob Dylan's Tempest. It snagged an awful lot of headlines in 2012, with several critics even declaring it one of his greatest albums ever. That, in all honesty, is going way too far. Engaging, meaningful and ambitious, it definitely shows the rock world that the guy's still "got it." But Blood on the Tracks it most certainly is not. On the other hand, if you dig top-notch singer-songwriter fare, don't sleep on Donald Fagen's Sunken Condos. Though it didn't make a media splash quite like Tempest, it contains a superb set of compositions soaked in the classic Steely Dan sound.
And now on to all the rock 'n' roll geezers who made 2012 so memorable.