ROLL OVER 2023 AND ROCK ON ´24
by Norman Warwick
What constitutes a “rock” album in 2023 has never been more unclear. I’ve long been under the impression that it has something to do with guitar-driven, strong-beat arrangements. But even then, with the addition of new subgenres every passing year, the line gets more and more blurred. Luckily, Paste has quite a few more genre lists to put out this year, so narrowing down what’s this and what’s that is a much simpler task around these parts. For this ranking, we are looking at our definition of “rock music,” and our criteria is likely going to be inconsistent in some places.
And even then, narrowing this down to just 30 “rock” entries was a nearly impossible task. But we’ve assembled a list of more than two-dozen of the best guitar-driven, face-melting projects we could think of without stepping too far into the orbits of country, punk and pop—which means you’ll see familiar faces like Geese, Bully, The Rolling Stones and more in here. So, without further ado, here are details of 2 of Paste’s best rock albums of 2023.
Guided By Voices: Nowhere To Go But Up
With their third album from this year (and 39th overall), Nowhere To Go But Up, Pollard takes a lyric from an older song in the repertoire, “Fine To See You” (from the band’s Who’s Next-sized 2001 opus Isolation Drills). It’s interesting to consider the source, as the completion of that line in the song is: “You know that for I tell you.” In context with the absolutely unprecedented winning streak Pollard and the current version of Guided By Voices have been on, he wouldn’t be wrong in feeling that way with the strength of this collection of songs. It’s like he pointed to left field and launched a home run that connected with a U.F.O. trying to get closer to all of the beautiful commotion. The album is an unabashed, bombastic and unapologetic statement of purpose from one of America’s greatest living songwriters. Songs like “Puncher’s Parade” and “For The Home” are small triumphs in melody that provide sleight of hand over the building arrangements underneath. Before you know it, you’re humming along to the tune and pumping your fist rather than noticing just how many complex parts are moving all at once. —Pat King
The Rolling Stones: Hackney Diamonds
If you’re tapping into Hackney Diamonds and expecting the Stones to reinvent the wheel, you’re not going to be satisfied. If you’re tapping into Hackney Diamonds hoping to hear something on par with Sticky Fingers, you’re wasting your time. The treasure trove of this record resides in the fact that it emblazons what The Rolling Stones do best while resisting the temptation to turn the band into something they aren’t. “Get Close” employs the same percussion as something like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” but the construction of the arrangements taps into a funkified bravado that you might hear on “Tops” or “Start Me Up.” James King’s sax solo on the track is gorgeous and sensual, and it melts into a delicious watermark guitar lick from Richards. Oh, and that piano part? It’s played by the great Sir Elton John—a generous and subtle inclusion that helps parts of the song flirt with power-ballad status, that is until Richards and Wood obliterate it with their six-strings, respectively.
Hackney Diamonds is worth returning to because of how confident Jagger seems to be throughout—a great shift from A Bigger Bang, where it felt like he was mostly phoning the whole thing in. Here, he’s not shying away from throwing the word “bitch” around like it’s 1971 (“Bite My Head Off”); he’s also pretty vulnerable about his own mortality, singing about still being too young to die and feeling hardened in the wake of his own interpersonal dependency (“Depending On You”). More than anything, Hackney Diamonds gets mad when it needs to, soft whenever it pleases. Sure, who would ever expect the Rolling Stones to sugarcoat anything? But, it is refreshing to hear these guys sing like they’re 30 years old again and sleeping with all of England—with the added, mature flavor of then, the next morning, still feeling a tad bit morose about how much closer they are to kicking the bucket. Imagine Exile on Main St. if its protagonists truly bought into the last days of their own destinies.
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