With a year overshadowed by the loss of several titans, 2016 was a funny old 12 months for the music world. But there was still plenty to be cheerful about says Andy Welch.
At the tail of 1992, the Queen delivered a speech reflecting on the previous 12 months, declaring that she wouldn’t be looking back on that “annus horribilis”.
Anyone even remotely interested in music could say the same of 2016. In January, the musical year looked as if it was going to get off to a flyer when David Bowie released Blackstar. Despite being the elusive artist’s 25th album, it found him as ambitious, and untouchable as ever. Just two days later came the tragic news he’d died. Damn it, he was human after all, not the mysterious, genderless sex alien we’d all wanted to believe he was.
Since then, it feels as if there hasn’t been a week pass by without the death of another big-name musician. Glenn Frey of Eagles, Jimmy Bain of Rainbow and Paul Kantner and Signe Toly Anderson of Jefferson Airplane all died within three weeks of Bowie.
Before spring kicked in, we’d also lost Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince protege Vanity, Beatles producer George Martin, Keith Emerson and A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg.
April was once again the cruellest month, with country outlaw Merle Haggard, Calypso king Lord Tanamo, Steeleye Span’s Pete Zorn, Congolese star Papa Wemba, Billy Paul and, most notably, Prince slipping from this mortal coil. Then there was Fairport Convention’s Dave Swarbrick, reggae pioneer Prince Buster and Leonard Cohen.
When newspapers, websites and magazines are full of obituaries, it does leave an awful lot of new music undiscovered and 2016 really has been a fantastic year for upcoming talent. For persuasion on that point, look to any end-of-year albums lists compiled by the big music publications. Few feature the same titles, and all have very different-looking top 10s.
Beyonce’s Lemonade was released in April, accompanied by a 60-minute film of the same name and sees the artist move further in her own field. While 2013’s self-titled Beyonce saw her redefine what R&B could be in the 21st century, Lemonade is her boldest work to date, incorporating race, politics and female empowerment.
In August, Frank Ocean released his brilliant, long-awaited second album Blonde. It came after a couple of years of teasing work on his Channel Orange follow-up, and even a cryptic live feed of him doing some woodwork. Eventually, it was released and showed Ocean had built on the promise of his excellent debut.
For another slice of fresh innovation, look no further than Christine And The Queens’ Chaleur Humaine. Originally released in her native French, it was reworked for release in the UK and US. Despite the language shift, it’s still a glorious collection of sultry synthpop.
British talent wasn’t in short supply, either. Skepta’s fourth album Konnichiwa won the Mercury Prize in September, and wholly deserved it was too. For a prize often criticised for awarding the wrong, or safest album, it was a brave choice, but the correct one.
If timeless is what you’re after, how about Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, which was released, as is their way, with no build-up, in May.It was up there with their best, packed with intense atmospherics, but also tender acoustic tracks that tip a hat to Nick Drake and John Martyn. Few saw that coming, but it’s a brilliant, brilliant album.
If you’re looking for music that you might have missed, try Badbadnotgood’s IV, The End Of Comedy by Drugdealer, Do Hollywood by The Lemon Twigs, Good Times! by The Monkees, New View by Eleanor Friedberger and Solange’s A Seat At The Table.
While some won’t be with us as we enter 2017, their music will stay with us forever. For everyone else, there’s still plenty to be excited about as we head into another year. Onwards and upwards.