Published Dec 20, 2019In 2019, it seemed like veteran artists existed in service of their fans. Rather than redefining their legacies with new directions, artists made throwback albums that leaned into their roots — and to hell with artistic progress! At best, these releases were a satisfying return to form; at worst, they were hollow retreads that failed to live up to the past. But hey — at least they all tried to give the people what they want. Seriously though, could we please get a proper Missy album next time?
Slipknot - We Are Not Your Kind
As classic acts like Slayer ride off into the sunset, Slipknot have cemented their spot as titans of metal. They rose to the occasion on We Are Not Your Kind — recapturing their old magic by reintroducing some of their signature experimentation into their sound. They've weathered the boom and bust of nu-metal, and in this latest chapter of their career, these masked metal weirdos have proved that they're worthy of their lasting spot at the pinnacle of the genre.
Gang Starr - One of the Best Yet
The end of Gang Starr was marred by personal tension and legal battles in addition to the death of founding MC Guru, but One of the Best Yet has proven to be a fitting curtain call. DJ Premier's beats have been paired with posthumous and previously unreleased Guru verses, as old friends and new faces alike join in paying homage. The album also gave Premier deserved closure, having produced the record while his late collaborator's ashes sat in an urn on the studio's console.
Rammstein - Untitled
Revered for their pyro-packed tours, Rammstein released a pair of live albums in their near-decade of studio inactivity, and sought to bridge the gap between their recorded output and legendary performances on their untitled seventh studio LP. The German outfit put live sound engineer Olsen Involtini in the producer's chair instead of longtime collaborator Jacob Hellner, and while songs like "DEUTSCHLAND" and "ZEIG DICH" sound readymade for the arena, softer moments like "WAS ICH LIEBE" and "DIAMANT" don't speak to that onstage power.
The Raconteurs - Help Us, Stranger
Following 2018's wildly experimental solo album, Jack White revived his '00s band the Raconteurs and made the most Jack White-sounding album imaginable. Help Us, Stranger is a straight-down-the-middle rock record, full of meaty riffs, big choruses, and the occasional dash of acoustic sweetness. For anyone who had been dying for a new album after an 11-year break, the buzzsaw riffs of "Don't Bother Me" and classic garage pop hooks of "Sunday Driver" scratch the itch nicely.
Tool - Fear Inoculum
A 13-year wait between albums doesn't exactly scream "fan service," but Fear Inoculum found Tool offering up more than enough of their expected technical mastery to sate those who had stuck around throughout their studio inactivity. Maynard James Keenan's vocals proved to be less of a commanding presence in comparison to past efforts, but this lateral stylistic change led to greater focus on the work of guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey.
The Black Keys - Let's Rock'
After a five-year gap between albums, rock duo the Black Keys released the rock album 'Let's Rock' — we get it already, you guys like to rock! The title comes from the real-life last words of a murderer on his way to the electric chair, and that's probably the most surprising or intriguing thing about this album. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but there also isn't anything particularly right with it. The fuzzy barroom boogie of "Lo/Hi" and the bluesy stomp of "Get Yourself Together" are aggressively fine, and there's nothing here they haven't done better on past albums like Brothers and El Camino.
Missy Elliott - ICONOLOGY
Released purely as a gimme ahead of Missy Elliott accepting the VMAs' Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award, ICONOLOGY did little to further her icon status. Instead, it finds her in reflection with equally uninspired production and pen. Elliott's 2019 highlight will be her deserved induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame — as the first female rapper, no less — but here's hoping this EP was a tease of something more substantial not long from now.