6:00am Saturday 4th January 2014
As another year draws to a close, Andy Welch looks back on the musical highs and lows that helped shape it.
Bowing down to a legend
When 2013 started, no one saw a new David Bowie album coming. He hadn't released anything in 10 years, had barely been seen and had all but withdrawn from public life.
Nevertheless, and despite the fact it was two years in the making, the Thin White Duke's first album in a decade arrived completely by surprise. After the event, it was revealed the staggering lengths those involved had gone to - namely signing hefty non-disclosure agreements and using good old-fashioned discretion - to keep the cat in the bag. In an age where most artists document their every recording via Twitter and Instagram, it seems even more impressive that only a handful people knew it was coming before lead single Where Are We Now? popped up on iTunes. No wonder everyone from Radio 4's Today programme to Heat magazine covered the event. Even more impressive still was the quality of the music, up there with the very best of his virtually untouchable back catalogue.
Surprise albums are nothing new - Radiohead 'dropped' King Of Limbs on us in 2011 with a few days' notice, for example - and Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z did similar things this year, but no artist quite as big as Bowie had tried it before. Even in his sixties he's blazing a trail.
Getting lucky with the song of 2013
While Bowie and his band were working on The Next Day, French dance duo Daft Punk and a veritable raft of guest stars were also busy on their fourth album, Random Access Memories, which perhaps provided the song of the year in Get Lucky.
More secret success
If Bowie's album kicked off the year with a secret, Beyonce managed to bookend 2013 with another, seemingly from nowhere. No lengthy build-up for Queen B, just an announcement that her 'visual album' was available to buy that same morning, featuring 14 tracks and 17 accompanying videos.
Regardless of the album's pedigree - and as it happens, it's brilliant - just think how many make-up artists, designers, producers and other assorted creative are involved in making 17 videos for Beyonce.
The trick worked, with her self-titled album breaking iTunes sales records on its first day of release.
Top of the scots
The biggest-selling artist of the year wasn't an American superstar or an icon making a comeback, but a British singer whose debut was released the previous year. For the second-year running, the biggest selling album in the UK was Emeli Sande's Our Version Of Events, which sold around 640,000 copies, taking the total to just over two million since its release in February 2012. It was a strong year for homegrown talent in general, the Top 10 featuring six British acts alongside Michael Buble, Bruno Mars, Daft Punk and the soundtrack of Les Mis.
All gone Gaga
If there were surprise releases, one album we've known was coming for a couple of years was Lady Gaga's ARTPOP. And things didn't quite go to plan. The album immediately went to No 1 in the US, but in its second week, recorded an unprecedented 82% sales drop, causing many commentators to brand it a failure. So much so, there have been rumours of redundancies at her American record label as a result of its relatively poor commercial performance.
Gaga's always been an eccentric character with a complete vision of her creative output - that's mainly why she's so interesting - but prior to ARTPOP, she'd always had the songs to back up that eccentricity. But it was never going to live up to her own hype, proving you can't go round telling everyone you're creating era-defining art and behaving in such an outlandish manner when the music you actually release sounds like something that might be heard in the first few weeks of The X Factor live finals.
The comeback kid
Lily Allen's comeback got under way too, firstly with the song from the John Lewis Christmas advert, and a week later with Hard Out Here, branded by some as a feminist anthem, controversial and misguided by others. Nevertheless, if Allen's goal was to get people talking, she accomplished it and more.
A final farewell
There were a number of musicians who passed away in 2013. The underrated JJ Cale was among them, as was The Charlatans' drummer Jon Brookes, who died of a brain tumour at the terribly young age of 44, The Doors' Ray Manzarek died in May and, of course, Lou Reed, who passed away from liver disease in October.
Hitting the headlines
While Lou Reed's death was reported the world over, few earned as many headlines as Miley Cyrus this year. Her 'twerking' at the MTV Video Music Awards and very public moves to shed the wholesome Disney princess image she once had as Hannah Montana deemed 2013's biggest talking point.
Unfortunate that something so negative, and ultimately inconsequential - she's not the first former child star to rebel - should dominate headlines in a year that features such genuinely exciting music and personalities.
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