Predicting the big albums of the year to come could leave me with egg on my face, given the way musicians like to catch us on the hop these days. This time last year David Bowie, who had otherwise only been in the news for rumours of ill health, was on the verge of springing his best album in years upon us. One morning last month we were just rolling over and pressing the snooze button again when up popped Beyoncé with 14 new songs and accompanying videos.
So, with the proviso that Madonna might leap from behind a bush with a new release in her claws when we least expect it, here’s what we know about 2014’s big comebacks.
Bruce Springsteen is first to rejoin the fray in 10 days’ time with High Hopes, which isn’t quite a new album. Instead it’s Springsteen’s early spring clean — songs he’s had kicking around for the past decade, newly recorded with the guitar of the man he calls his new “muse”, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. The newcomer’s snazzy effects may jar with fans of the Boss’s unfussy bar-room style, especially when the folk ballad The Ghost of Tom Joad turns into a nearly eight-minute hard-rock monster. However some of the oddities, such as his hypnotic cover of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream, show intriguing new sides to a man unafraid to try new things at 64.
Next month Beck is back with his first proper album since 2008, leaving behind the gimmickry of recent releases (the song sheets, the covers of entire albums by others) for music that harks back to the strings and sadness of his 2002 beauty, Sea Change. Morning Phase uses the same band that played on that album, as well as Beck’s string arranger father, David Campbell. “The songs are coming out of a California tradition. I’m hearing the Byrds, Crosby Stills and Nash, Gram Parsons, Neil Young,” the songwriter has said, enticingly.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Katy B returns around the same time with Little Red, the follow-up to a fabulous debut album that took her from pirate radio land to the top of the charts and a Mercury nomination. Continuing to work with her producer Geeneus, she’s still skipping through the varied strains of dance music, from the skittering garage of Blue Eyes to the stabbing Nineties synths of Next Thing. There’s more depth now, though. “I can listen to it and cry on a good four songs,” she’s said. The centrepiece ballad, Crying for No Reason, might just be her Adele moment.
In indie rock, Wild Beasts release their as yet untitled fourth album at the end of February. This increasingly acclaimed quartet from Kendal haven’t yet crossed into the mainstream, and the electronic textures and gloomy beauty of their new music probably won’t do it. But Hayden Thorpe’s voice remains a thing of strange wonder to be treasured by those who join their cult.
More likely to make a bigger splash are Elbow, who are back in March, three years after their last album. The Take Off and Landing of Everything was partly inspired by the six-week stint that singer Guy Garvey spent in New York, and also tackles immigration and worries about ageing just as he turns 40. “I don’t think the new album sounds remotely New York-influenced, but a couple of tunes on the record have that hypnotic, repetitive element that we love, the kind that builds to a climax, Talking Heads-style,” he has said. There’s talk of a prog rock influence too.
More big guitar acts arriving later in the year include Kasabian, who should have songs from their fifth album ready for their giant homecoming gig in Leicester in June. Songwriter Serge Pizzorno has been producing alone for the first time, in the new Leicester studio he calls The Sergery. When I spoke to him recently he told me that the new music is “distilled Kasabian, really direct. It sits alone, it doesn’t sound like the last album. It’s very electronic and really empowering. It’s got an incredibly uplifting and euphoric vibe.”
Like his buddies, Noel Gallagher may be back in action, too, towards the end of the year. Last month he said that he spent a lot of 2013 writing new songs, and plans to “spend most of next year  in the studio,” possibly in New York. He won’t be feeling much pressure to match the double platinum success of his solo debut — he’s been in this situation before with Oasis.
Someone else with a lot to live up to is Paolo Nutini, who’s taken almost five years to follow up his smash second album Sunny Side Up, which sold almost two million in the UK. Its rich soul was a huge departure from the bland singer-songwriter fare of the Scot’s debut, so who knows what he’ll come up with when Caustic Love is released in April.
Among the girls, Paloma Faith is back in March and may also be doing something radical with her showgirl sound, given that she’s been writing songs with Pharrell Williams and Plan B. But all ears will be turned in the direction of Lily Allen when she returns at an as-yet-unspecified date with her third album. We’ve all heard the single, Hard Out Here (though most of us preferred to buy her dull John Lewis cover song) and twerked ironically to its outrageous video, so we know that motherhood has made her no more cosy. It has changed her songwriting outlook, though.
“I want to sing about different things now,” she said recently. “Before I was married, my songs were directed at significant others. Now I couldn’t be happier, so it’s opened me up to write about more general stuff.”
So there you have it: a happy Lily Allen, a euphoric Kasabian, a caustic Paolo Nutini and a crying Katy B. The music year will have its ups and downs as ever. With a few surprises sure to be thrown in, it sounds like a good one.
More rumoured returns
Ed’s people say that we’ll probably have to wait until the summer to hear his second album. He’s been in LA recording with production legend Rick Rubin, but it’s unclear whether he’ll broaden his solo acoustic sound.
An album in 2014 would carry on their one-every-three-years rhythm. There was one new song last year on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack, but no firm info on anything more substantial.
Despite being in the middle of taking her fourth album around the world, Swift, below, is still writing and her people say there’ll be a fifth album in 2014. She’s using pop collaborators again, but also says: “I never want to make the same record twice.”
The indie rock quintet have made huge leaps with each of their three albums, so the fourth should be quite something. They’re self-producing it in their Elephant & Castle studio with plans for a September release.
Christine McVie appeared briefly on stage with them last year and has publicly expressed a desire to rejoin properly. There’s talk from their camp of an album in late summer, which would be their first in more than a decade, but it’s all very vague at the moment.
Never as big in the US as she is elsewhere, Kylie is now working with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management team and recording with Pharrell Williams and R&B producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, which suggests that her 12th album might rectify the situation.
Heavily hyped since late 2011, the temperamental rapper is big enough to headline Brixton Academy but still hasn’t released a debut album. It should finally appear in the first quarter of this year but don’t bet on it.
No confirmation on whether the biggest follow-up in years will arrive in 2014, but William Orbit has said he’s writing with her, and songwriter Ryan Tedder has claimed Adele “sounds even better than before”.
Lana Del Rey
Two years after her Born to Die album was a UK number one, Del Rey has confirmed the title of the follow up, Ultra-Violence, but not much more. Expect plenty more smouldering, cinematic torch songs.
After working with so many different bands, Albarn’s first proper solo album will arrive in 2014. Richard Russell, who made Bobby Womack’s latest album with the Blur singer, is producing. So far an online video has revealed just 20 seconds of piano and electronic beats.