It was a year filled with great escapes. Here are Newsday music critic Glenn Gambo's picks for the best albums of 2012.
12. Bob Dylan, "Tempest" (Columbia): Yet another impressive collection of fine writing ("Soon After Midnight") and a stunning 14-minute example of storytelling in the title track. Is he talking about the Titanic? Of course. Is he also talking about America? Hmm.
11. Green Day, "Uno!"/"Dos!"/"Tre!" (Reprise): The ambitious trilogy meant to chronicle a wild night out and its aftermath is packed with winners, from "Oh Love" to "Dirty Rotten Bastards." Unfortunately, it may not immediately get its due, with singer Billie Joe Armstrong in rehab, recovering from the trilogy's making and promotion, but it will eventually.
10. Leonard Cohen, "Old Ideas" (Columbia): The lyrics to the opening "Going Home" were seen as so moving and substantive that the New Yorker printed them as a poem. The melody of the lovely "Lullaby" sticks with you long after the song fades away. But it's "Crazy to Love You," a gorgeous, poignant tale, that will last as long as Cohen's other masterworks, including "Hallelujah" and "Bird on the Wire."
9. Alabama Shakes, "Boys and Girls" (ATO): Brittany Howard's gorgeous singing -- the stunning midpoint between Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse -- is the star here, and the spare, rootsy arrangements in this album let her shine, especially in "Rise to the Sun" and "I Ain't the Same."
8. Bob Mould, "Silver Age" (Merge): Bob Mould has long combined heavy guitars with memorable pop melodies, as a solo artist and in his bands Husker Dü and Sugar. On "Silver Age," that continues, but Mould adds more intense emotions and, often, a much-needed feeling of hope.
7. Usher, "Looking 4 Myself" (RCA): Look, I'm as surprised as the next person that Usher had this kind of album in him -- one that bristles with innovation, artistry and ambition. He injects EDM beats with '60s soul on "Twisted," crafts a new sort of R&B ballad in "Climax" and keeps us dancing with "Numb" and "Scream."
6. Taylor Swift, "Red" (Big Machine): T. Swizzle comes out as a full-fledged pop superstar, complete with a dubstep breakdown and some dance floor hooks, and she's not looking back. Like, ever.
5. Japandroids, "Celebration Rock" (Polyvinyl): The most accurately titled album of the year. Everything about the Vancouver duo's sophomore album says Pacific Northwest indie-rock party -- nods to Nirvana, fuzzy guitars, circle pits and big grins while you scream along with "The House That Heaven Built."
4. The Vaccines, "Come of Age" (Columbia): "I'm not magnetic or mythical," Justin Young lets us know in "Teenage Icon." "I'm suburban and typical." Nothing wrong with that, especially when it's clear he's also a talented student of Brit rock from the past half-century, fashioning his own take on punk, Merseybeat and Two Tone.
3. Bruce Springsteen, "Wrecking Ball" (Columbia): It's a testament to Springsteen's skill that he can make an accurate portrayal of America's economic struggles still sound fiery and uplifting, especially in the title track and "Death to My Hometown."
2. fun., "Some Nights" (Fueled by Ramen): Nate Ruess wears his insecurities on his sleeve, right next to his heart. His style of rock, in "We Are Young," especially, is so earnest and unjaded that he practically invites the criticism. Yet the New York band also knows that the well-crafted, Queen-like arena dreams they built will sound even bigger with their army of fans singing along.
1. Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange" (Def Jam): A different kind of soul man, he can rap tough or sing in the sweetest falsetto. He is equally at home using warm, live instrumentation or icy synths to make his points. While so much of hip-hop is concerned with wealth yielding happiness, he shows its lonelier side in "Super Rich Kids." Sure, he made headlines by declaring his attraction to a man, but the real attention should go to the craft he puts into epic social commentary ("Pyramids") and complicated questions ("Bad Religion").