The 10 best rock albums of the year were a heady collection of breakthrough bands, artists looking for a comeback, and a guy who hadn't put out a record in 17 years. These albums covered politics, lost love, suicide, second chances and rockin' on the dance floor. In other words, 2008's best rock albums had a little something for everyone.
Combining acoustic drinking songs and rap-rock party-starters, Rehab's Graffiti the World was full of lively Southern shenanigans. But Danny Boone's candid lyrics offered more than just laughs, fondly recalling his childhood, remembering a neighbor's suicide, and dealing with his up-and-down love life. Graffiti the World has all the warmth and camaraderie of a family cookout, albeit the sort where a couple relatives get a little too drunk and cause a commotion, but, hey, it's all good.
After waiting so long to hear Chinese Democracy, it may take years for this layered, complicated record to fully sink in. But what's clear now is that, far from the disaster some had predicted, Chinese Democracy is a confident, angry extension of the soul-searching songs Axl Rose contributed to the Use Your Illusion records way back in 1991. The Guns N' Roses that fans knew and loved might be a thing of the past, but this album argues that Rose still has a lot of life left in him.
Think of Light It Up as musical Red Bull -- the album is all about providing an immediate jolt of energy. Though he mostly snarls and growls through these 10 high-impact songs, Rev Theory frontman Rich Luzzi also displays a more vulnerable side on the ballad "Broken Bones." Light It Up is unquestionably treadmill-rock, but the album's consistent pleasures make it a good listen even when you're not trying to break a sweat.
The Sound of Madness does nothing subtly. The band's hooks, lead singer Brent Smith's impassioned vocals, the screaming guitars, and the emphatic songs all contribute to the album's headlong rush. But despite its demonstrative nature, The Sound of Madness is an affecting, emotional ride as well, whether decrying the Iraq war on "Devour" or hoping for reconciliation with an ex on "Second Chance." Shinedown brought their game to a new level with this album and set expectations high for their next effort.
The title may be a horrible pun, but it's the only moment when Heart On stoops to a lame joke. Lovingly sending up rock's sex-and-drugs extremes while simultaneously getting off on them, Eagles of Death Metal deliver one stomping garage-rock tune after another. References to the Stones and Led Zeppelin abound, but head Eagle Jesse Hughes makes sure that he's not a slave to his record collection, juicing sexy numbers like "Cheap Thrills" and "Anything 'Cept the Truth" with head-banging delight.
Most unexpected comeback of the year? How about Toadies, the forgotten '90s alt-rockers who returned with a seething, misanthropic blast of rancor pessimistically called No Deliverance? Frontman Vaden Todd Lewis rewrote his 13-year-old breakthrough single "Possum Kingdom" as a series of creepy love songs about codependent couples and unfaithful partners. There's no good news for the characters of No Deliverance, but the album's taut blues-based rock songs are bracing delights for the listener.
Black Stone Cherry were one of the great discoveries of 2008, and the Southern rock of Folklore and Superstition is a great place to get acquainted with this band. Lead singer Chris Robertson captures a sense of longing in "Please Come In" and "Things My Father Said," and the band's confidence with '70s-style ballads ("You") and Lynyrd Skynyrd swamp-rock ("Soulcreek") suggest that these guys feel pretty comfortable with several different genres.
At just over 20 minutes, the One Day as a Lion EP is more of a snack than a feast, but former Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha and Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore make those minutes count. Rage fans who longed for Tom Morello's distinctive guitar missed the point: One Day as a Lion offered de la Rocha a new sonic environment to let fly with his political invective. The buzzing, funky soundscapes felt like distress signals sent from two angry men trying to wake up a slumbering nation to the hypocrisy eating away at its soul.
On a seemingly uneventful morning in early May, Trent Reznor decided to do something very unusual: He made his next album, The Slip, available for free online. Nine Inch Nails fans were thrilled, but not as thrilled as when they actually got to hear the record. Rather than a throwaway, The Slip represents a consolidation of everything Reznor has been attempting since 1999's The Fragile: spooky instrumentals, furious political commentary, danceable hard rock, a gorgeous flow from one song into the next. The Slip might have been free, but that's not why some fans think it's a priceless record.
Part antiwar commentary, part plea for the survival of the human race, Filter's Anthems for the Damned failed to make much of an impact on the charts, but that shouldn't diminish the achievement of singer-songwriter Richard Patrick. In an election year when "hope" and "change" were the most popular buzzwords, Anthems for the Damned boldly asked audiences to question the state of the world and their role in it. But Patrick isn't just interested in making political statements, as the album also is a candid examination of his personal failings and fears. With Anthems for the Damned, he has produced a lasting document to the confusion of our times, which we can only hope will be changing sometime soon.