It has been a strange year for the music industry, writes Ed Power. Thes are his most significant happenings.
She came, she saw, she slew. Hits were at a premium as Beyoncé brought her Lemonade tour to Ireland in July. And yet she blew us away with a suite of feminist avant-pop and high concept soul-baring.
Here, without question, was one of pop’s greats, at the absolute peak of her powers. On a dreary summer night, Bey knocked it out of the park.
Before the release of his 11th study album, the rapper had declared Pablo the greatest record ever recorded. Such a boast was hyperbolic even by Kanye standards, but in February, West nonetheless packed Madison Square Garden for a listening party.
Yet this was less a launch than an extended teaser as West continued to tinker with the running order of the LP (initially exclusive to Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service). An optimum track-listing was soon the least of Yeezy’s headaches as focus turned to the track ‘Famous’ and its lewd lyrics about another pop star (“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous”).
The controversy rumbled on endlessly — only much later was it possible to recognise Pablo as a work of flawed genius, a cracked mirror held up to Kanye’s ego. Not the best album ever made, obviously — but nonetheless a grand artistic gesture from our most fascinating contemporary pop star.
Kanye would finish the year with another one-two punch of controversy, as he was hospitalised for mental exhaustion and later became one of the few high profile musicians to endorse Donald Trump, going so far as to pay a courtesy call at Trump Tower. He just doesn’t do dull moments.
Glenn Frey, leader of the Eagles, followed just over a week later, while in April, Prince fans mourned the loss of an icon.
Leonard Cohen died in November, though not before he had left us with a final masterpiece with his album You Want It Darker.
The list of surprise band reunions grew by one as Slash and Duff McKagan, G N’ R’s definitive guitarist and bassist pairing, struck a peace accord with lead singer Axl Rose after decades of bad blood.
In April, Guns N’ Roses’ most iconic musicians played at the LA Troubadour, their first time together on stage in 23 years (no invite alas for drummer Steve Adler, while second guitar Izzy Stradlin has opted out of the comeback). A North American jaunt was announced shortly afterwards and in 2017 they’re en route to Europe, with the frolics kicking off at Slane Castle in May.
It wasn’t the only shock comeback as we witnessed the return of Phil Collins — once the naffest man in pop, but now, implausibly, the AOR crooner for whom it is acceptable to admit a fondness. He announced he was ending his retirement and will headline the Aviva Stadium on June 25.
He cited exhaustion and ill health (he has developed acute pancreatitis, caused in part by a party hard lifestyle).
With his departure, the EDM dance scene which has dominated electronic music for the past several years appeared to take a further step towards obsolescence. Once considered the future of dance, with Avicii gone might EDM itself be on the way out? And if so, what will rise up to take its place?
Returning with her first album in four years (and her best, to boot), Rihanna was a pop star reborn. Her risqué persona had been dialled down in favour of comparatively demure lyrics and a gentler image.
When she commenced her European tour at the Aviva Stadium in June, RiRi had an additional surprise as she broke spontaneously into tears. It was an unexpected show of emotion from an artist who had in the past favoured imperiousness over vulnerability.
One of the few post-2000 rock bands with a discernible legacy, LCD Soundsystem staged a glorious return. It was just five or so years since the group split, supposedly for good — and yet their comeback confirmed that, in their absence, their cultural import has grown dramatically.
“Thanks you guys,” singer James Murphy said a few songs in. But the pleasure was all ours.
He controversially packed off Patti Smith to Sweden to receive the award on his behalf and there was a debate over whether his lyrics qualify as literature in the first place.
Nonetheless, in a year in which countless gushing tributes were offered up to rock stars who had just died, it was a novelty to praise an artist still with us.
In September, the great American troubadour stripped away the mythology and showed us the man underneath.
His Born To Run transcended rock biog clichés, with Springsteen writing the book himself and reflecting frankly upon his struggles with depression and his difficult relationship with his father. You came away with your understanding of, and appreciation for, Springsteen enhanced.
The chronicler of post-club angst was the year’s most streamed artist, with his album Views racking up 4.7bn listens on Spotify and single ‘One Dance’ dominating charts through the summer.
His considered response was to look intensely glum through the follow-up North American tour. Perhaps he’ll have cheered up by the time it reaches Dublin in April (we can exclusively reveal that he’ll probably still be miserable).
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