2020: Live From Your Living Room

If Willie Hutch was right and you can’t miss something that you never had, then the lack of social interaction during the cultural clusterfuck known as 2020 hasn’t affected my life all that much. I write a lot, I haven’t had a consistent circle of friends in 15 years, and I spend the majority of my spare time reading or listening to music with my son. In other words, I can’t really relate to the idea that the sky is falling simply because you have to spend a little more time away from other people.

That said, the absence of live music this year has been difficult and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the company of 500-65,000 total strangers on a semi-nightly basis. There’s something about the untethered nature of a public performance that can’t be conveyed through a screen regardless of how many $100 livestreams they try to sell you.

With venues shuttered and likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future, records, CDs, and any other physical format said to have gone the way of the dinosaurs around the dawn of the iPod have assumed an even greater significance within the confines of the Hens household. We needed a light in a world dominated by darkness and we were grateful for every artist that made the decision to release new music during a pandemic.

While I bought and heard a lot this year, here are the 10 albums that spoke to me more deeply than the rest:

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Bruce Springsteen – “Letter to You

Even as a Springsteen lifer, I’ll admit that he hasn’t crafted anything this moving since “The Rising.”

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Bob Dylan – “Rough and Rowdy Ways”

Dylan hasn’t been this invested in his own material in years and we’re all better off for having heard it.

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AC/DC – “Power Up”

Their most hook-heavy album in 30 years serves as the perfect tribute to the late, great Malcolm Young.

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Fiona Apple – “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”

Trying to explain just how magnificent every second of this album is doesn’t do it justice. Just listen and decide for yourself.

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Gord Downie – “Away is Mine”

Everything that has been released since Downie died in 2017 has been brilliant and this one is no different.

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Marilyn Manson – “We Are Chaos”

As a 10-year-old fan of Manson’s 1998 masterpiece, “Mechanical Animals,” I used to have adults tell me that his art would never last. They were wrong.

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The Chicks – “Gaslighter”

If you look past the acquiescence to cancel culture, no one unleashes a lyrical firestorm quite like Natalie Maines.

Pearl Jam – “Gigaton”

You’ll hear a lot of blowhards say that everything after “Vitalogy” sucks, but PJ has never been a band concerned with making sure that the hive gets what it wants.

Halsey – “Manic”

The spine reads “Manic,” but the title could have easily been “Portrait of the Artist as a Hot Mess.”

Run the Jewels – “RTJ4”

One of the many crimes of 2020 is that we were deprived of hearing them perform this stuff live on Rage Against the Machine’s reunion tour.

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