Who will rule pop in 2014?
From U2's anticipated comeback attempt to Beyoncé's new album, the months ahead are set to be sweet music to the ears, writes Ed Power
If 2013 was the year pop got its twerk on -- and this was assuredly the case -- the 12 months ahead are likely to be altogether more straightforward. Whether it's U2's mooted comeback, a new Springsteen album or the return of Adele, 2014 is set to be the season of the blockbuster. As never before, size will matter in music.
For U2, a new album offers both a risk and a shot at redemption. Even Bono has tacitly admitted 2009's No Line On The Horizon was a disappointment: it sounded like like it was recorded while the band was in the throes of a sulk, it was bleary, and boring -- an argument that four middle-aged multimillionaires really ought not be in the business of making rock and roll.
Now, with vaguely hip producer Danger Mouse at the mixing desk (in all honesty, the zeitgeist bypassed him circa 2008 and hasn't looked back), U2 have to demonstrate their relevance all over again. 'Ordinary Love', their gloopy contribution to the soundtrack of Nelson Mandela biopic Long Walk To Freedom, did not exactly fill you with hope.
Still, U2 have surprised us before -- as is often the case with Irish people, they are at their strongest when required to occupy the role of underdogs.
Whether U2 pop or flop, 2014 will be the year stadium rock brooks no resistance. Rumours are swirling of fresh product from Coldplay and Radiohead, outfits inhabiting opposite sides of the artistic divide and yet, weirdly, not sounding a zillion miles removed.
Already confirmed is a new LP by Elbow, a sort of likeable north of England riposte to Coldplay -- their music is every bit as overwrought and annoying, but their singer is chubby, deprecating and not married to Gwyneth Paltrow, so they are apparently entitled to a free pass.
In addition, Ireland can look forward to a summer date tour by The National, a stadium band who appear deeply embarrassed about their prominence. Mumbly and under-cooked, their music is, at face value, an unlikely object of mass devotion -- live singer Matt Berninger tries to make up for the profound absence of oomph by thwacking his forehead with the mic until blood sluices down his brow.
Amid all the arena-scale bleating, the obsession with new talent will continue. Taste-makers anticipate a big 12 months for Los Angeles singer Banks, whose beat-infused electro pop is as minimalist as her moniker.
From an Irish perspective, the major breakthrough will, in all likelihood, be Wicklow's Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a perma-stubbled confessional singer who might be charitably described as a slick twist on existential folkie Bon Iver.
At the fizzier end of the spectrum, there will be new releases from Rihanna, Emeli Sandé and Lily Allen (our prediction is that she will do or say something 'controversial' in the lead up to the album).
Miley Cyrus's Wrecking Ball tour reaches Dublin in May and One Direction will build on the mega-success of their Midnight Memories (the biggest selling long player of 2013) with their largest jaunt yet, including a three-night stop-over at Croke Park (also in May).
However, the dominant story will be the continued roll-out of Beyoncé's new album, which has already broke through the controversy stratosphere by sampling the doomed Challenger Space Shuttle mission. You can let Bey know what you think in person when she arrives at The O2 for three nights in March, by which point we should know whether Lady Gaga is going to put her underperforming PopArt LP behind her and go out on the road again.
On the subject of inveterate outrage chasers, if we are lucky, Kanye West will consider a European extension of his extraordinary Yeezus tour -- in the US he rapped behind a scary mask and sold Confederate Flag branded tees at his merch stall.
Kanye's ego is so vast it may well interrupt the view from the International Space Station. Nonetheless, he's the closest thing in commercial music to a stone cold genius so, if you have a chance to see him live, seize it with both hands.
For those who can live without contentious sampling and S&M-flavoured booty shaking, the outstanding hope will be that Adele emerges from her JK Rowling-esque reclusiveness. It's all of three years since she single-handedly rescued the recording industry -- or appeared to do so at any rate -- with her 26-million-selling album 21.
A new record is said to be close to completion -- but will mega wealth and media intrusion leech some of that transcendental sob from her voice? Who can say? Adele is going to make us wait until she is good and ready.
In an era when music is often at pains to offer instant gratification, there is something oddly encouraging about that.