2016 might have been an objectively terrible year, with divisive politics taking over the nation, instability worldwide, and the death of just about every musician anyone cared about. But one thing no one can deny about this year is the slew of quality music that has been released. One of the biggest factors that made music so good in 2016 is how many artists who had previously been counted out came back with unexpected, amazing music. Whether these were artists who hadn't released any music in a long time, legends who had faded away, or musicians who had produced a number of subpar releases, 2016 was the year of the comeback for any artist who had been counted out or disregarded. Musicians who we had assumed would never make a commercial or critical hit again came back to prove us wrong with spectacular music that no one expected. Here is a list of some of the greatest comeback stories of 2016.
Probably the group that was least expected to ever release a record this year was The Avalanches. The Australian plunder-phonics group's last album was their debut in 2000, Since I Left You
. This groundbreaking hip hop instrumental album was critically successful, but the group made no indication of ever following it up. To most observers, the album seemed like a unicorn, a one off creation that would never have a sequel. With its eclectic mix of samples, it felt like nothing that had come before or after it, and seemed impossible to recreate. This year, a full sixteen years after their debut, the band released Wildflower,
an out of the blue album that blew any fan of theirs away. Wildflower
sampled the same wide range of genres as their first album, but incorporated them with original music by rappers and singers. The end project felt like the best possible big budget follow up to Since I Left You,
an album that had the same amount of heart but with the ability to collaborate with amazing artists.
A Tribe Called Quest
With two classics under their belt, The Low End Theory
and Midnight Marauders
, it felt like NY hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest had solidified their legacy. This, along with the band's two breakups (once in '98 and then in '13), a couple sub par albums, and reported tensions between the members led people to believe that there would never again be a great ATCQ album. When group member and rapper Phife Dog passed in March 2016, it felt like the end of the ATCQ story. Then, in November of the same year, ATCQ released an album, recorded before Phife's passing. The new album, We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service,
felt like a direct descendent of their first two albums, showing no indication of the turbulent years between those releases and today. The band brought their classic flow to modern beats, and had the same blend of irreverent and political lyrics that they're known for. Their album hearkened back to a time when conscious and mainstream rap were not so divided as they are now, and gave us politically relevant songs for a new era.
Before 2016, long time fans of Frank Ocean, like myself, were worried he would become a "what if?" story who never reached the commercial and critical heights we felt he deserved. In the early 2010s with the prolific releases of nostalgia,ULTRA.,
numerous singles and features, and the classic album Channel Orange,
it felt like Frank Ocean was an unstoppable force headed for stardom. But shortly after his Grammy performance, Frank disappeared from the limelight, only reappearing to post moving posts on his Tumblr in response to tragic events. Rumors abounded about his upcoming album, then thought to be titled Boys Don't Cry
, and release dates were announced and then passed without any comment from the artist or label. The album began to take on the mythical quality of albums like Dr. Dre's Detox
, and people felt that it was doomed to never be released. Then in summer of 2016, a live stream of stairs being built appeared on Oceans blog that eventually became the release of his visual album Endless,
this was immediately followed up by the release of his conventional album Blonde,
an experimental and emotional R&B album that propelled Ocean back to the strata he deserved. He proved everyone who doubted him wrong, and came back with one, if not two, of the best albums of 2016.
Blink-182 is a band firmly of their era. The band emerged out of the SoCal suburbs in the late 90s just as the pop-punk scene was booming. They combined the teenage angst of punk with a more accessible, less aggressive sound that became immensely successful. They created the soundtrack to most people of my generation's teenage years, but were largely left behind as that generation grew older. The worsening relationship between the band members, especially between drummer Travis Barker and lead vocalist Tom DeLonge, accelerated the group's downfall, culminating in a number of unsuccessful albums and breakups. Then, in 2016, Tom DeLonge left the band over disputed circumstances, and Alkaline Trio member Matt Skiba joined to take over his duties on guitar and vocals. The new lineup created the first commercially and critically successful album for the band in a decade, California,
which featured the chart topping single "Bored To Death". Rather than reinventing their sound, the group opted to perfect and mature their classic sound for a generation that grew up with them.
Though Solange Knowles never reached near the echelon of fame achieved by her now mononymous sister Beyonce, she had modest success in the mid-2000s with her album Solo Star
, her work on theme songs, and her acting career. However, the R&B singer never achieved great success, and stayed in the shadow of her sister throughout most of her career. In 2016, that changed with the release of her third studio album A Seat At The Table
. Although it seems the younger Knowles took some cues from her sister in terms of themes on this album, she came through with a unique sound that diverged wildly from Beyonce's music. Solange was one of the most unlikely characters to release on of the most praised albums of the year, an artist who languished at the edges of the mainstream, seemingly unable to connect with an audience despite her obvious skill. Nevertheless, her mix of psychedelic funk and soul, paired with socially conscious and compelling lyrics created an unforgettable album that finally gained her the accolades and respect she deserves.
David Bowie didn't need to have a comeback. The British art rock pioneer was undoubtedly one of the greatest rock stars of all time. The mark he left on both music and popular culture is immense, from his iconography and visual trademarks, to his spectacular music. He was a man who reinvented himself countless times, never allowing his art to become stale or commercial. He reinvented the rock star, and inspired countless people to be themselves in ways they did not know they could be. In the last couple years, it felt as though Bowie's legacy was complete. His last album, in 2013, felt like more of a retrospective, building on his prior ideas, but not a major step in any new direction. Then, a mere couple of days before his passing, Bowie released Blackstar,
a dark swan song of an album that eschewed his pop past to create something completely new. His album drew more acclaim from its proximity to the passing of this musical legend, but even without that context the album stands on its own as a masterpiece. It's a deeply moving album that's a fitting bookend to a spectacular career.
Wyclef Jean started his career with the amazing 90s hip hop group The Fugees with Lauryn Hill and Pras Michel. Their two albums were huge, with their sophomore LP The Score
going multi-platinum and winning the group two Grammys. In his solo career, Wyclef continued to have success with his solo career, but his relevance fizzled in the late 2000s as he became more involved in political activism, and less invested in his music. For a couple years it felt like Wyclef had permanently left the realm of popular rap music, and that his career was on the path of a legend like Ice Cube, where one is respected as an OG, but whose new music is no longer listened to by most fans. Then in 2016 Wyclef began his resurgence into the mainstream of the genre. This started with the release of "Hendrix" a song that uses modern elements like a booming 808 trap beat and a chorus evoking the drug lord El Chapo, to tell a story of poverty and struggle. He then was featured on the critically acclaimed album by up and coming rapper Young Thug, both as the name of one of the songs on the album, and as a feature on another song, alternately called "Pop Man" and "Kanye West", one of the most popular tracks on the album. He then collaborated once more with Young Thug on his own dancehall inspired song "I Swear". Though he has not fully come back, with these tracks he has proved he has the chops to create hits for a modern Hip Hop audience.
Third Eye Blind
Like Blink-182, Third Eye Blind is a band rooted in the early 2000s. Their breakout songs like "Jumper" and "Simple Kind Of Life" shone a bright light on deeply disturbing circumstances, to make accessible songs about hardship. In the political climate of 2016, it seems like these type of songs are more in demand than ever, and the band proved that with their 2016 release "Cop Vs. Phone Girl", an unsubtle song about police brutality and race. In a year in which political dialogue became coarser and louder, it felt like this brand of blunt, unabashedly political song was necessary. They contributed to this when, during a concert attended by attendees of the Republican National Convention, they refused to play any of their hits, and instead admonished the crowd for their bigoted views. In another year, this may have been seen as immature, but in the midst of the Donald Trump campaign, it felt like an appropriate reaction. Though none of this translated to much commercial or critical success for their EP, but they proved that their specific brand of songwriting and attitude are still relevant today.
Tom Morello, B-Real, and Chuck D
Another group of artists brought back into the forefront by the insane political climate of 2016 was the members of the newly formed Prophets of Rage. The band consists of three members of Rage Against The Machine (Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk), two from Public Enemy (Brad Wilk), and one from Cypress Hill (B-Real). All these artists made most of their popular music in the late 80s and early 90s, railing against the conservative government of the time, especially during the Reagan era. As conservative identity politics reemerged in 2016, these artists quickly gained relevancy, and formed together as a supergroup in order to play for the protesters at the Republican National Convention. As those on the left became more enraged at the Donald Trump campaign and election, Prophets of Rage channeled this anger into powerful and angry political music.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Weezer rose into prominence, incorporating a lot of the different sounds of the alt-rock scene of the time. Mixing emo, pop punk and indie sounds the band created three back to back critically and commercially successful albums. The band then slowly underwent a process of losing relevancy, starting with the moderately well-received Maladroit,
and then continuing with a series of albums in which they experimented with sounds that ended up alienating much of their fanbase, and failing to draw in a new crowd. They misguidedly chased after pop and electronic sounds that failed to complement their talents, and created a series of unappealing albums. Then in 2014, the band decided to go back to basics and worked with the producer of their first two albums to create Everything Will Be Alright in the End.
This was a return to style, but Weezer's true comeback came this year with The White Album.
It was on this album that they truly approached, and possibly even surpassed, the greatness of their original three albums. Rather than adapting to a new sound, the band decided to go back to an earlier style, and instead devote their time to quality songwriting, and it paid off.
Neo-soul singer Erykah Badu has had an illustrious career. She rose to prominence through her ability to meld hip hop, R&B, and soul together into a unique sound. The singer soon became a fixture in all of these scenes, collaborating with rappers and singers in equal measure. She created a number of classic albums and continued to have commercial success into the mid-2000s. She also appeared in a number of films and television shows. Although her talent didn't falter, as the popularity of neo-soul began to fizzle in the late 2000s, she moved further out of the spotlight. Her last full length release in 2010 garnered critical acclaim, but failed to sell as well as past ventures, and past there her influence and popularity waned. She then went on a five year hiatus where she traveled Africa looking for inspiration, apparently to no success. Then this year, after hearing Drake's hit single "Hotline Bling", Badu decided to remix and rewrite the song, and the sessions devoted to doing this eventually morphed into the creation of a mixtape: But You Caint Use My Phone
. The new mixtape quickly garnered fans and critical accolades for its incorporation of more modern hip hop and R&B styles with Badu's trademark sounds.
Panic! At The Disco
Pop rock band Panic! At The Disco burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s with A Fever You Can't Sweat Out,
that integrated a pop electronic style with classical elements. Their fresh sound as well as their realist themes drew in a huge number of listeners and devoted fans. They then followed the album up with Pretty. Odd.
an album that diverged heavily into more psychedelic and baroque sounds, but was nonetheless another critical and commercial success. The band's popularity then continued to dip, and they were plagued with lineup changes and a couple of mediocre albums. They continued to tour, but due to personal and creative difficulties it seemed they were unlikely to create any music reaching the heights of their early releases. Then in 2014, the band released Too Weird To Live...Too Strange To Die,
an album that did well commercially, but could not compete with their early releases. Their 2016 release Death of a Bachelor
is their true return to form. An experimental danceable pop album that has both been their biggest commercial performance ever, and their best reviewed album since their first two.
Of course we all know who Radiohead is, and when the veterans of rock came back this year with a surprise album, A Moon Shaped Pool,
the world lost its sh*t. It had been 5 years since the release of their last official record, The King of Limbs
and we were curious: would they continue on with their experimental synth machines or go back to their OK Computer
roots? Well, we were pleasantly surprised with a mellow indie rock album filled with atmospheric flourishes - a breath of fresh air. Radiohead were officially back, and possibly better than ever.
2007's For Emma, Forever Ago
made a massive impact on listeners. Even today people still talk about it. And just like Radiohead, it had been 5 years since Bon Iver's last release in 2011. But he wasn't completely stagnant during his silence - during this time he collaborated with artists like James Blake, Kanye West, Francis and the Lights, and more. When we finally got 22, A Million,
we weren't expecting an experimental electro-coustic record with avant-garde song titles, but that's what we got and it worked.