The year brought more than its fair share of reunions and comebacks. But our list of the Best Albums of 2018 also makes room for a string of releases that build on sturdy reputations. After all, always-active acts like Paul McCartney, Judas Priest and Joe Satriani haven't exactly been resting on their considerable laurels lately.

Elsewhere in this list of the Best Albums of 2018, we delve into rare solo projects by the likes of Steve Perry, Roger Daltrey and David Byrne, left-turn records by Jack White, the Melvins and Arctic Monkeys, and the grease-popping joys of Van Morrison. Ghost, Corrosion of Conformity and Sleep provide a metal foundation – and that's just the beginning.

Here's a look at the Best Albums of 2018.

Paul McCartney - Egypt Station

Paul McCartney's first album in five years is a lot like his most recent records: a little nostalgia mixed with some forward-thinking music. He knows he's never going to make another Sgt. Pepper's or Band on the Run, so he instead finds a sweet spot afforded to a legend like himself – one that allows him to nod back to his past as he forges ahead. The result is something like a concept record, and one of his strongest outings in years. He gets horny, looks back on his wild past and even finds time for a lengthy jab at Donald Trump. He sounds a little worn at times, but that's to be expected. And that fatigue fits the theme of Egypt Station, which drives from one stop to another with a renewed sense of purpose. Michael Gallucci

Judas Priest - Firepower

In the midst of a season of change, Judas Priest somehow kept going. Rob Halford has lost some of the air-siren power that fired their best albums. Producer Tom Allom, there for the band's breakthrough, returns but with notable, very modern assists from Andy Sneap ... who, in turn, has taken over for guitarist Glenn Tipton, who left everyday service in the band as he continues a decade-long battle with Parkinson's disease. Yet, Judas Priest regained some momentum with the 2011 addition of Richie Faulkner; here, they seem to have taken on the sharp focus of singer Halford's work away from the band in the '90sm too. At 14, there are still too many tracks. Even so, Firepower might just be the heaviest, no-nonsense thing they'd done since 1990's Painkiller. Nick DeRiso

Steve Perry - Traces

As Steve Perry finally returned, it was fair to wonder what might have changed, in him and in us. Did his legendary, and quite essential, wistfulness remain? And would that Journey-era sentimentality transfer in a modern age defined both by fragmentation and online smart-assery? Quite frankly, the worst thing would have been if Perry had tried, almost a quarter century past his last solo album, to stake out some new ground, or to contemporize something that somehow always seemed blissfully out of time. You want Steve Perry to be Steve Perry, if you were ever a fan. And Traces delivers. This album is meditative, soft spoken and vulnerable, as personal a record as a former melodic-rock superstar has perhaps ever released. Nick DeRiso

Elvis Costello & the Imposters - Look Now

Elvis Costello's 30th album – co-credited to the Imposters, basically the Attractions with a different bass player – is his strongest in years. At times it sounds like 1982's baroque-pop masterpiece Imperial Bedroom; other times it sounds like a grown-up version of all the musical experiments he's undertaken over the past four decades. There are songwriting collaborations with Burt Bacharach (with whom Costello made 1998's excellent Painted From Memory) and Carole King, which grounds Look Now with a sense of sophistication. But at times the band's tough execution rolls right over the gloss, giving the album an urgency that's been missing from Costello records lately. Michael Gallucci

Ray Davies - Our Country: Americana Act II

Ray Davies' well-documented thrall with the U.S. continued to deepen, even as it found new complexity on the 2017 U.K. Top 20 album Americana. He keeps digging here, picking at old scabs (including his scary encounter with a mugger in 2004) but also exploring the promise that this country still offers. Like most sequels, it's not quite the equal of what came before. In fact, the album's best lyric – All life we work, but work is bore / If life's for livin', what's livin' for? – comes from a redo of a Kinks song from 1971. Still, that doesn't speak so much to the relative quality of Our Country: Americana Act II as to a towering legacy that he has to wrestle with every day. Nick DeRiso

Roger Daltrey - As Long As I Have You

At 74, Roger Daltrey's voice has predictably aged. Unleashing that CSI: Miami scream for a few decades will do that. But the kind of songs he sang when the Who were first starting out – or, in the case of Garnet Mimms' title track for As Long as I Have You, during his pre-Who days in the High Numbers – are actually perfectly suited for his vocal instrument right now. That gives this first solo album in a quarter century an unexpected gravitas. Bonus for Who fans: Pete Townshend joins in on guitar for six of this project's 11 songs. Nick DeRiso

Neil Young - Paradox

Forget the film, this half-baked mess that followed an out-West road trip with Promise of the Real. To be honest, Neil Young's Paradox album often feels just as ephemeral, but that somehow works when you're using only a mind's eye. There's a sense of mystery, something almost lysergic, and that simply doesn't translate onscreen. Meanwhile, Promise of the Real provide a limber new counterweight to Young's reliably creaky whine, showing once again that they get the part of Young that the more muscular Crazy Horse rarely could: his old hippie side. Nick DeRiso

Van Morrison - You're Driving Me Crazy

Van Morrison's third album in a matter of months – following the bluesy Roll With the Punches and the jazz-focused Versatile – seemed to have been sparked by musical camaraderie as much as by any overt creative impulse. Both of those 2017 projects featured Morrison band regulars, while You're Driving Me Crazy found him working with organist Joey DeFrancesco and his sizzling soul-jazz combo. The pair shares an enduring desire to preserve mid-century music – but also to extend its reach. Like Morrison, DeFrancesco is no staunch traditionalist. They fiddle with the genre, revel in it. The results can't exactly be called ground breaking, but You're Driving Me Crazy crackles with wit and verve. That's contagious. Nick DeRiso

Joe Satriani - What Happens Next

It wouldn't have surprised anyone if Joe Satriani stayed in space-themed heavy-prog mode again with this album, but its title hints at something new afoot – then delivers. What Happens Next finds Satriani returning to Earth for a delightfully straight-ahead trio recording, ably assisted by drummer Chad Smith, his old Chickenfoot bandmate and bassist Glenn Hughes, a Deep Purple vet. They smartly mix things up, playing fast and loud then downshifting into long cool lines, but make no mistake: This is a complete return to hard-rock form for Satriani. After years of inhabiting alien alter-egos (see 2015's Supernova Shockwave, etc.), he's perhaps never sounded more grounded. Nick DeRiso

Joe Perry - Sweetzerland Manifesto

Joe Perry is your classic Band Guy. When Aerosmith took a break, he joined Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp in the Hollywood Vampires. Similarly, Sweetzerland Manifesto is ostensibly a solo project, but a cover of "Eve of Destruction" (with Perry on vocals) and two instrumentals (the album-opening "Rumble in the Jungle" and "Spanish Sushi," recorded with his sons Tony and Roman) are among the few times when Perry steps definitively forward. Luckily, he's chosen like-minded friends, including Cheap Trick's Robin Zander ("Aye, Aye, Aye"), David Johansen and Terry Reid (three songs each), and they handle the rest of the material with ease. That allows Perry to be what he's always been: the Band Guy. Nick DeRiso

David Crosby - Here If You Listen

David Crosby has been building toward the quiet revelations found on Here If You Listen for years. His 2016 album Lighthouse was produced by Michael League, of Snarky Puppy fame. The title track from 2017's Sky Trails was co-written with singer-songwriter Becca Stevens. In between, he toured with League, Stevens and fellow singer-songwriter Michelle Willis. Something clicked, as the four then worked on this new studio project. And, make no mistake, they've become a real band: Eight of the 11 songs here are co-written by the quartet, and lead vocals are shared in the tradition of Crosby's legendary earlier groups. He finds similar successes, too, in a truly collaborative setting that always seems to spark Crosby's muse. Nick DeRiso

David Byrne - American Utopia

Credit David Byrne with plenty of risk-taking on an album that started out in the familiar environs of a collaboration with Brian Eno. A lot of it works, some of it doesn't. If there is a principal complaint to be made, it's that Byrne occasionally out-thinks himself, and those moments risk weighing down the smart observations that drive American Utopia along. (Byrne sort of cops to it on his closing song, titled "Here," when he sings, "Here is something we call elucidation / Is it the truth? Or merely a description?") But when American Utopia clicks, as in the delightfully angular, determinedly optimistic "Everybody's Coming to My House," it's everything you'd like a David Byrne album to be. Nick DeRiso

Corrosion of Conformity - No Cross No Crown

Pepper Kennan is back after years of focusing on Down, and Corrosion of Conformity revert to the gothic grooves of 1996's Wiseblood and 1994's Deliverance. Maybe that's no surprise, but this is: Rather than sticking with the often-thematic, overtly political approach of old, Corrosion of Conformity instead tend toward more universal themes that seek to unite, rather than divide us. (That, Kennan has said, it what sparked the album title.) The result is both a respectable return to form, and an interesting new direction, for the standard bearers of Southern metal. Nick DeRiso

Dean Ween - Rock2

Dean Ween seems to have set a creative blaze since the brief demise of Ween. He quickly formed the Dean Ween Group, and set about writing as many as two songs a day, he said. Rock2 bears that out. Not only is this Dean's second studio project in as many years, the album is comprised of thoughts and songs from a single season in the fall of 2016. He's also opened up some, musically: The Deaner Album tended to feel like a true solo debut, while Rock2 benefits from a having a more lived-in, group-focused feel. What remains: Dean Ween's winking, perverse sense of humor and his eye-popping, Zappa-esque approach to the guitar. That led to an album with a raggedy, funky, funny sound that draws a far more direct line back to Ween. Nick DeRiso

Boz Scaggs - Out of the Blues

If your last intersection was his silky-smooth '70s stuff, Boz Scaggs' most recent albums may have come as a surprise. Out of the Blues completes a trilogy that traced back to a pre-Silk Degrees passion for roots music first heard during an earlier stint as a sideman with Steve Miller. This time, as the title suggests, he's focusing on the blues, after delving into R&B, soul and Deep South influences – and Scaggs simply comes alive. He's shed the cool detachment that helped "Lido Shuffle," "Lowdown" and "Miss Sun" come to personify yacht rock for something deeper, more real. In fact, he's never sounded more present emotionally or in control of his vocal instrument. At the same time, he's still trying things – as heard on the album's centerpiece exploration of Neil Young's "On the Beach." Nick DeRiso

Ghost - Prequelle

Part Catholic-themed cosplay, part Tobias Forge solo project, Ghost have quickly become known for their one-of-a-kind mixture of rock opera-style theatrics, hair metal-esque riffage, proggy pretensions and goofball psychedelia. Then came a weird period of identity-revealing legal issues. That didn't exactly set the stage for a happy-go-lucky studio project, but Forge hinted at what was to come when he shifted from the character of Papa Emeritus to Cardinal Copia. An invitingly dark brand of humor runs through Prequelle, much of which is set during the Black Plague era, and that ends up giving Ghost a refreshing new depth. Nick DeRiso

Melvins - Pinkus Abortion Technician

Melvins haven't changed their slab-heavy musical focus; instead, more recently, they've brought in a series of intriguing collaborators to add new wrinkles to Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover's reliably pulverizing sounds. Here, Melvins bassist Steve McDonald is joined by Jeff Pinkus, who rose to fame with the Butthole Surfers. That informs everything from the song selection to the album title, which references Pinkus' first album with the Surfers. The bassist wrote or co-wrote four of the songs on Pinkus Abortion Technician; two other songs are Butthole Surfers covers. The results tend to feel more like a one-off jam session – there's a Beatles cover too, for some reason – rather than a proper album. But that doesn't mean it's not a whole lot of fun. Nick DeRiso

Sleep - The Sciences

Reunions can be fraught affairs, filled with worries that old heroes can't reach old heights again. Then there are times when bands get back together and use received knowledge gained in the meantime to leverage new momentum: That's Sleep, whose 2018 album The Sciences clearly regains confidence, focus and drive from interim successes with High on Fire (Matt Pike), OM (Al Cisneros) and Neurosis (Jason Roeder). This is still a band that wears its influences on their sleeves – in a particularly delicious moment, they mention entering the "Iommisphere" – but in no small way, Sleep have claimed a spot on the metal compass for themselves. They were, and now are again, the essential stoner-doom band. Nick DeRiso

Jack White - Boarding House Reach

They don't make records like this anymore. Boarding House Reach recalls an era when bands closed themselves up in studios, let their imaginations wander and emerged with double albums – heck, triple albums. This is the sound of bygone freedom, of patient studio bosses and piles of imagination-sparking drugs and very real arguments being made for spoken-word interludes, sound collages and drum solos. Similarly, Boarding House Reach is revealed in the end as an admirable mess, capturing in a snapshot every element of an artist's restless muse – including the ones that don't work. See, there's a reason they don't make albums like this anymore: They're all over the place. Nick DeRiso

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats - Wasteland

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats' excellent fifth album is set in a (somewhat) fictional wasteland full of people staring at their "propaganda screens" instead of enjoying the world around them. This thinly veiled critique of modern culture makes perfect sense when you consider how much energy the band has put into making each of their records sound like it was recorded the moment the Summer of Love gave way to early psychedelic heavy metal. Frustrated with the monotone vocal delivery of today's popular music, bandleader Kevin Starrs decided to put even more emphasis on melodies and vocals this time out. "Somebody has to do it, so I just thought I'd ramp it up and go crazy on the melodies and harmonies," he told Revolver. "It'll piss a lot of people off, I'm sure, but I think a lot of people will quite like it." Matthew Wilkening

Blackberry Smoke - Find a Light

There was always a little – okay, a lot – of Lynyrd Skynyrd embedded in the DNA of this band, so when Blackberry Smoke galloped into an overt tribute like "I'll Keep Ramblin'," it did more than make perfect sense. It completed a circle. Of course, there's more to Blackberry Smoke. Find a Light stirs in a little Allman Brothers Band, maybe some Crosby, Stills and Nash, certainly some Tom Petty. They make it all their own by turning up the country influences those classic-rock greats always boasted, then complete things with a modern album-length theme relating to perseverance through hard times. Nick DeRiso

Monster Magnet - Mindfucker

Monster Magnet's determinedly big-sounding Mindfucker is light years away from the melancholic feel of 2013's Last Patrol, which had many wondering if Dave Wyndorf was preparing to call it quits. It also makes good on his more recent backward glances, including 2014's Milking the Stars (which re-imagined Last Patrol) and 2015's Cobras and Fire (which did the same for Mastermind). Monster Magnet was clearly going for a crowd-pleasing stoner-rock homecoming, something clearly linked to earlier glories, and they succeeded. Nick DeRiso

High on Fire - Electric Messiah

Although he respectfully bristles at the notion of being labeled "the next Lemmy," it's impossible not to consider Matt Pike one of the leading standard bearers for all things heavy metal nowadays. Especially after a 2018 that saw him not only successfully reunite with his influential first band (Sleep, mentioned above), but also deliver another forward-thinking effort from his main band of the last two decades, High on Fire. The title track is a dream-inspired tribute to the departed Motorhead frontman. But unlike his hero's stripped-down approach, throughout Electric Messiah Pike continues to successfully blend metal, punk and thrash influences in thrillingly complex ways.  Matthew Wilkening

Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Even before it was released, Arctic Monkeys guitarist Jamie Cook revealed that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was "not typically what we'd do." He wasn't kidding. The band's first release since 2013 made good on the title of their celebrated 2006 debut (Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not), utterly subverting every indie-rock expectation that's grown up around them. Frontman Alex Turner admitted, at one point, that he didn't think he could make another Arctic Monkeys album, turning instead to a side project, the Last Shadow Puppets. Cook convinced him to return, and they completed one of the most divisive – but ultimately intriguing – albums of the year. Nick DeRiso

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