So much for concerts.
Last year, I indicated a desire to review more albums in my post “Top 10 Albums Reviewed in 2019” which covered those released in 2019 and older records. That’s how few albums I generally reviewed during any given year. Little did I know, a virus would prevent attending live events giving me time (and energy) to focus on new releases.
For 2020, not only did a number of older albums get a re-examination but more than enough new releases were covered to produce a genuine Top Albums of 2020. Of course, I didn’t get to all the new releases this year, a considerable number despite the pandemic, as many bands and artists bucked the trends by dropping their latest without plans, or at least delayed plans, to follow with the usual tour.
This Best Albums of 2020 focuses on true studio albums thus eliminating re-releases and live albums thereby leaving Rush, Def Leppard and Metallica on the sidelines. Old school rockers remain, however, along with a slew of veteran bands who continue to hone their craft and give the masses something worthy of their hard earned dollars.
Best Albums of 2020
10. Semisonic – You’re Not Alone
Semisonic showed no rust in releasing their first new material in nearly 20 years with the EP You’re Not Alone. The only reason this record slots in 10th for the year is the short track list. A full album to go along with the five delivered easily would have bumped this one into the Top 5.
From the review: “A mostly power pop trio, with some songs coming in a step or two below, this threesome boasts a unique bond and similar musical vision that gives Semisonic a unique endearing influence on the music landscape.”
Read the review: Semisonic – You’re Not Alone
9. Erasure – The Neon
It wasn’t a new Erasure album that surprised me, but their 18th studio album in The Neon. These 80s synth pioneers continue to defy expectations and move right along in their music career embracing their past while expanding on the present. Overall Erasure sounds great and added a few more songs that deserve a spot on a “Best Of” album.
From the review: “The 10-track 37 minute album relies heavily on synths, drum machines, Bell’s flowing vocals and sometimes pretty addictive arrangements combined with quintessential pop chords.”
Read the review: Erasure – The Neon
8. Brothers Osborne – Skeletons
Knowing nothing about Brothers Osborne and trying my hand at reviewing a new album without any preconceived notions introduced me to some fine country rock music in Skeletons.I have developed a taste for today’s country tunes and Brothers Osborne has helped broadened my palate.
From the review: “Brothers Osborne has fully embraced country rock with Skeletons but retain their country roots as the first half offers some honest rock music with a country influence while the second half pulls more of old school Nashville into their songwriting and the overall tone.”
Read the review: Brothers Osborne – Skeletons
7. Neon Trees – I Can Feel You Forgetting About Me
One of today’s better modern alternative rock bands returned from a six year absence with their fourth studio album in I Can Feel You Forgetting About Me. A fun, upbeat pop record all around, Neon Trees have what it takes to go the distance in carving out a solidly long career.
From the review: “Neon Trees have a gift in would-be writing droopy goopy lyrics that could mire you in depression but instead lift you up. Rather than take the woe-is-me route in their song writing they implement a brush it off my shoulders and embrace life beat that allows the listener to sing or tap along with a smile.”
Read the review: Neon Trees – I Can Feel You Forgetting About Me
6. Smashing Pumpkins – Cyr
An immense double-album in Cyr, Smashing Pumpkins embraced some different approaches to their writing and recording and released something a bit different without losing their identity. A number of good songs helped fill out the 20 song Cyr but too many head-scratchers kept this one from placing higher.
From the review: “Regardless, don’t expect to breeze through Cyr. Anticipate more than a few listens through this 72 minute album before you not only get used to the full embodiment of synthesizers but also the various structures, arrangements and somewhat idiosyncratic approach to songwriting.”
Read the review: Smashing Pumpkins – Cyr
5. Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot
Pet Shop Boys returned to their roots after embracing dance and electronic the last few albums and gave fans their best album in 20 years. On their 14th studio album, Hotspot flourishes with classic Pet Shop Boys beats and tempos bringing them back to the forefront of synthesizer laden pop music.
From the review: “Though the imprint of those classic smash hits from the 80s might rule our inner playlist, Pet Shop Boys continue doing what they do best – finding new musical patterns and flow, trying different approaches to song writing all the while keeping their nucleus intact.”
Read the review: Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot
4. Kansas – The Absence of Presence
Kansas continues their path forward despite numerous line-up changes over the years. Kansas dropped The Absence of Presence, their 16th studio album, in July giving fans something to appreciate without recycling the same old sound but still sounding like Kansas.
From the review: “The Absence of Presence delivers some hard rocking adventures, a bit of direction for the future and the standard methodical approaches to songwriting that has defined the band’s career.”
Read the review: Kansas – The Absence of Presence
3. AC/DC – Power Up
AC/DC came back from the dead with a somewhat surprise album last month in Power Up that showed the old school hard rockers from Australia with quite a bit left in the tank. They successfully tried their hand at a ballad but mostly stuck to the gritty chords that have symbolized their sound for 40 years.
From the review: “The 12 song, 41 minute Power Up sounds just like what you would expect from AC/DC. The band never deviates from the tried and true and that remains the case here for AC/DC’s 16th studio album.”
Read the review: AC/DC – Power Up
2. Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man
Ozzy Osbourne was never my flavor of the month but sure was nice seeing this aging rocker release another album that showed him alive and kicking. A solid record in Ordinary Man despite a questionable collaboration with Post Malone.
From the review: “With the exception of the final two songs, I enjoyed Ordinary Man and if Ozzy somehow figures out a health treatment that gets him back on the road, more than a handful of songs off Ordinary Man better make the live cut.”
Read the review: Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man
#1 Album of 2020
1. Bush – The Kingdom
Bush didn’t fully capture my attention until I saw them live a few years ago as part of a 90s line-up opening for Alice in Chains. Then I saw them again as headliners. Both times Bush proved they belong in the hard rock arena. I welcomed The Kingdom in July with an open mind and was mind-blown. A great album, featuring one of their best songs ever recorded. Bush’s album The Kingdom is the #1 album of 2020.
From the review: “The Kingdom rises Bush to the level of a first-class metal band as they drop some of the hardest and heaviest riffs ever recorded by these post-grunge stalwarts that rocks the opening half before dialing back, ever so slightly, as the second half retains the strength of hard rock infused with softer pop melodies that help round out Bush’s best album since…”
Read the review: Bush – The Kingdom