The albums that came from nowhere, ordered by greatness
Ben Butler

11:13 20th May 2016

From Bowie to Beyonce to Bjork, seemingly everyone is now intent on releasing their albums completely out of the blue. And, it's a tactic that has fared well for some more than others.

Millennials never quite got the experience of not listening to anything from an album before it's release - and the flood of emotions, and bewilderment it can produce is something truly special. So, here are the the best ever surprise releases, ranked in order of greatness.

  • 10. David Bowie - The Next Day: Though the album did receive an official release date, and accompanying video, the fact that Bowie kept this brilliant collection of songs under wraps is pretty incredible. Released just two months after the announcement, on the surface it's a pretty straightforward rock-album, but it continues to deliver just the most beautiful songs nonetheless.

  • 9. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange: This now-masterpiece got every hard-working critic in the music business scrawling an ode to Frank Ocean's impressive feats. The rapper's album came out a week before its scheduled release, to the delight of everyone.

  • 8. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience: Some seven years after FutureSex/LoveSounds JT gave us just a month to process that we were getting a new album. And, it went on to be one of the most significant pop-releases in recent times.

  • 7. U2 - Songs of Innocence: Probably the only surprise release that did not go quite according to plan - the reason why it can't be any higher on this list. U2's latest arrived immediately on every ipod and phone in the world. And, then everyone freaked out, completely. In retrospect the album is pretty exceptional, U2 could have gone on autopilot, but instead they created a deeply personal work - with a few real gems.

  • 6. Bjork - Vulnicura: Bjork released Biophilia with about as much fanfare as she could possibly manage. The album's 10 tracks were each released with a corresponding interactive app, which crossed the very boundaries of art. It was inherently brilliant. But, it didn't come close to the heart-wrenching Vulnicura, that came out of nowhere. And, its immediacy and aching sounds were exactly what Biophilia didn't quite muster.

  • 5. Drake - If You're Reading This Its Too Late: This 17-song project was dropped on iTunes without any warning. Preceding, Drake's official fourth full-length If You're Reading This It's Too late was a vivid injection of new work featuring artists like Lil Wayne and Travi$ Scott. It's an educated and intense collection of songs that cemented Drake's status as one of the greatest working rapper.

  • 4. Jay Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail: Mysterious trailers for Magna Carta Holy Grail album started happening during the 2013 NBA Finals. Two weeks later, fans could download the album with a Samsung app. And, what a snarling, hit-packed, powerful album it is.

  • 3. My Bloody Valentine - mbv: Loveless is rightfully adored as one of the best of all time in indie music, so it's no surprise we were clamouring to get anything from My Bloody Valentine since 1997. And, when mbv finally saw the light of day - it was gratefully appreciated to say the least.

  • 2. Beyonce - Beyonce: It was pretty crazy when news flooded through that Beyonce's self-titled record had suddenly been released. 'Drunk in Love' and 'Flawless' became classics, and it marked a significant sea-change in Beyonce's career, and in the trajectory of pop music.

  • 1. Radiohead - In Rainbows: Arguably, the biggest alternative music group in the world announced that they'd be making their first album in four years, In Rainbows, available online. What's more, fans could choose any price they wanted to pay for it. They only gave 10 days notice. It felt truly exciting, not least because it came completely out of nowhere. Bands of Radiohead's stature simply didn't do things like this. And, then everyone started to. So you can thank Radiohead for this trend - and they're still the best at it.

Issue Two of the Gigwise Print magazine is on sale now! Buy it here.


Photo: Artwork