From surprise comebacks to celebrity spats and unfortunate deaths, pop stars were never far from the headlines in 2017, writes Ed Power.
1: Concert of the year
Guns N’ Rose at Slane in May, U2 at Croke Park in July, and Coldplay at the same venue the same month rated among the year’s highest profile concerts.
Nostalgia was a recurring theme, with the first Irish performances in 21 years by Steely Dan garnering raves in October (notwithstanding the passing shortly beforehand of founder member Walter Becker) and Black Sabbath’s last ever concert here ominously taking place, again at 3Arena, on the day Donald Trump was sworn into office.
On the festival side, Electric Picnic at Stradbally at the tail-end of summer was a success, despite the absence of a knockout headliner.
The year’s hidden gem, meanwhile, was the second Sounds From A Safe Harbour in September. Curated by Bryce Dessner of The National, it saw his band play Cork Opera House alongside Bon Iver — an impressive coup for the event.
2: Albums of the year
The National’s Sleep Well Beast topped many end of year polls, pushed all the way by Kendrick Lamar’s Damn and Lorde’s by turns dreamy and nightmarish Melodrama.
Top Irish albums including Wild Alee by Talos and Here Comes The Night from New Jackson — aka songwriter David Kitt in electro mode. Under the radar, the nuanced r’n’b of SZA’s Ctrl, Fever Ray’s nightmarish Plunge and Vince Staples beat-infused Big Fish Theory all had fans.
Deluxe has a beautiful hand drawn vinyl sleeve, 180 gram JUICY BLUE WAX, and SIX double-sided photo pages for ur walls/life!!! pic.twitter.com/599SHYQSDb— Lorde (@lorde) December 18, 2017
3: Surprise of the year
The rollicking return of Guns and Roses with three fifths of the classic Appetite for Destruction line-up rated as a mild eye-brow raiser — while Taylor Swift’s high-kicking Look What You Made Me Do showcased a spikey new sound from the one-time American Sweetheart (the follow-up LP, Reputation, had further shocks in store in the form of a three-way hook-up with rapper Future and singing milk bottle Ed Sheeran).
The emergence of Eminem as a trenchant critic of Donald Trump was no less unexpected — though his Revival LP was alas a turgid calamity. In Ireland, U2’s surprisingly artful new album, Songs of Experience, will have restored the faith of fans put of by its bloated predecessor.
4: Feud of the year
The estranged Gallagher brothers continued to trade insults (actually the traffic was mostly one way, with Liam enjoying heaping derision on Noel).
Oh hi I wrote about the Gallagher brothers' longstanding feud for Rolling Stone, aka my dream assignment https://t.co/tVL3cW9KZP— plitter (@plitter) July 19, 2017
A rumoured romantic rivalry between Justin Bieber and The Weeknd meanwhile saw Biebs declare his fellow Canadian’s music “s*** whack”.
And the Katy Perry v Taylor Swift fall-out rumbled on, with Perry declaring on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, “She [Swift] started it, and it’s time for her to finish it.”
You should probably give Katy back that Harry Potter novel you borrowed Taylor.
5: Newcomer of the year
Julien Baker’s second album Turn Out The Lights was simultaneously sugar-coated and devastating – like listening to Avril Lavigne from the bottom of a well.
The long-awaited debut from Missouri r’n b singer SZA – previously a songwriter for Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna – was another reason to be cheerful (and a bit sad at the time time) while Sampha’s Process was a deserved Mercury Music Prize victor.
In the mainstream Dua Lupa conquered all with her self-titled first record and little known up and comer Liam Gallagher topped the charts with his solo debut. If he learns to speak
up a bit, who knows how far he might go?
6: Irish artist of the year
U2 cemented their position as one of the biggest brands in heritage rock, with their Joshua Tree tour grossing $317 million.
Back home, Talos, aka Cork songwriter Eoin French, put out a lush, Bon Iver-influenced debut, Seamus Fogarty’s The Curious Hand drew deserved acclaim, and angry trad group Lankum, having changed their name from the culturally insensitive Lynched, became the toast of the tastemakers.
7: Music book of the year
Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom was a hilarious/ coruscating chronicling of the early 2000s New York rock scene and the rise — and occasionally flatlining — of bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem and The Strokes. “We were all chasing New York City,” she writes. “And for a few magical years, we caught it”.
Just as juicy was Joe Hagan’s biography of Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner.
Fans of Joni Mitchell will have elsewhere been entranced by Reckless Daughter, an authorised profile of the enigmatic singer while Cyrus Bozorgmerh’s Once Upon A Time in Shao-Lin recounted the bizarre case of rap group Wu Tang Clan and their decision to press a single copy of an album and auction it to the highest bidder. So over the top you couldn’t make it up.
8 : News story of the year
Rockers continued to shuffle into the great beyond, with Tom Petty, rapper Lip Peep, rock pioneer Fats Domino, Lincoln Park’s Chester Bennington, Malcolm Young, Chris Cornell and Chuck Berry among those passing away.
9: Comeback of the year
The return of Guns N’ Roses, as referred to above, demonstrated that sometimes the old dogs really have the best tricks.
Jay Z’s 4:44, his first album in four years, was unusually soul-baring by rapper standards, though it suffered for being exclusive to his Tidal streaming service.
And Kesha’s Rainbow, her first since splitting from producer Dr Luke, was widely regarded as a revelation, as the previously Auto-Tuned artist moved into confessional pop and homespun country.
10: Disappointment of the year
Katy Perry’s tune-free anti-Trump record Witness was one of the year’s biggest question marks and evidence that artists don’t always benefit from skewing political.
Also leaving us underwhelmed was LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream: the wishy washy album sleeve spoke volumes regarding the microwaved electro-punk within.
In the live realm, Justin Bieber’s dead-eyed RDS concert was one of the most underwhelming two hours a pop fan is likely to have to sit through. We couldn’t belieb how bland it was.
Finally ... Here’s Ed’s albums of the year
1: Julien Baker, Turn Out The Lights
2: SZA, Ctrl
3: Syd, Fin
4: Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper
5: Lorde, Melodrama
6: Kendrick Lamar, Damn
7: Jay Som, Everybody Works
8: Laura Marling, Semper Femina
9: The National, Sleep Well Beast
10: The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir
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