2008: The Year In Review

by Jeff Clutterbuck

When I first joined the Daily Vault staff many moons ago, I was charged with the creation of my first “Best Of” list when December rolled around. After one attempt at it, I came to find the idea of ranking my top ten albums to be terribly unappealing. Since that point, I have taken a much more general approach to these yearly retrospectives, making up categories as I go along. Yet even that has grown stale.

This year, I offer up a pseudo-commentary on the music of 2008. These albums may have been personal favorites, works that I felt were not acknowledged nearly enough, or records that I felt were influential as we look towards 2009 and beyond.



Vampire Weekend -- Vampire Weekend

The year started off slowly before gaining momentum with Vampire Weekend delivering their self-titled debut album at the end of the month. Their unique sound and memorable hooks were the talk of the music industry, and they rapidly grew from indie band status to widespread popularity throughout the States and the United Kingdom. They were not the only underground band to hit it big, but they enjoyed the greatest amount of success.



Sheryl Crow -- Detours

A release that I felt was massively underrated, and that has received little recognition as the year has passed. This was not a change in direction from Crow, nor did it represent a makeover in sound. Detours was simply her strongest album since the 1990’s, accurately depicting what Crow has always done well and how she conveys a message. This is just the first of many albums this year that demonstrated a “return to form” for many established and widely popular artists.




Nine Inch Nails -- Ghosts I-IV

While 2008 did not see the death of the music industry as we know it, it offered up multiple visions for the future and how things will change. No man embodied that spirit better than Trent Reznor. With Ghosts I-IV, he gave the consumers choice with regards to how they wanted to listen/experience his music, and they rewarded him handsomely for that privilege. The traditional store-based method of distribution took a major hit upon this record’s release, and although it is far from becoming obsolete, one can see what lies beyond.




Foxboro Hot Tubs -- Stop, Drop & Roll!

Seeing how a band grapples with success is fascinating, particularly in how they follow up the aforementioned success. Green Day scored a major coup in 2004 with the release of their modern classic, American Idiot. Four years later and there was still no follow-up record. Technically there still isn’t because Green Day released this album under an alias. Yet this release, which hearkens back to the 1960’s era of rock ‘n’ roll, was an immense joy to listen to and showed that Green Day has not cracked under the pressure. That bodes well for any future release.




Al Green -- Lay It Down

A brilliant collaboration between artists of the older and newer generation, Lay It Down finds itself in the small grouping of my personal favorites of the year. I’d be hard-pressed to find an album that demonstrates it is possible to update a classic sound for the present day while still retaining the core elements of what made the music so special when it first became popular. Al Green has one of the best voices in the business, and that certainly hasn’t changed with Lay It Down.



Katy Perry -- One Of The Boys

There certainly were better albums to come out during this time period, but Perry has certainly become a rising star, propelled by her two irresistible singles, “I Kissed A Girl” and “Hot N Cold.” In my eyes, the woman is the female complement to The Killers and their streamlined 1980’s sound. Say what you will about the overall quality of her work, but after six months I still catch myself humming a few bars from One Of The Boys.


John Mellencamp -- Life, Death, Love, And Freedom

John Mellencamp has long been seen as an artist playing second fiddle to men like Springsteen or Dylan. Yet with this release, he equaled the quality of the output those men have delivered in recent times. Mellencamp, for all his faults, has delivered a genuine, sincere quality in his work over the years. 2008 saw an album that was brutally honest about life in America, from the highs to the lows. The public may not have latched onto it like previous Mellencamp records, but it deserves to be remembered with his best work.



Brian Wilson -- That Lucky Old Sun

Longtime readers probably expected a mention of the auteur somewhere in this piece, and they were right. That Lucky Old Sun falls short of the quality of SMiLE, and it is weighed down by useless narrative pieces, but the music is some of Wilson’s best. The harmonies sparkle under the guidance of one of pop music’s greatest treasures. Wilson is one of the few remaining artists who changed how society views popular music, and we’re all luckier for it.


Metallica -- Death Magnetic

I have always been of the opinion that September sees the best albums of the year released. It was no different this year, but it was clear which album towered above the rest. Metallica had long lay dormant, buried beneath infighting and a stretch of poor albums that damaged their legacy. With Death Magnetic, they announced who was still at the top of the mountain, delivering a work that stands up to be counted with their best.



The Pretenders -- Break Up The Concrete

The Pretenders have long had the support of the critical establishment, and their early records were quite popular. Yet in 2008, few could argue that their name isn’t as well known as it once was.  The fault for that lies with Chrissie Hynde, but after a listen to their latest work, one feels less inclined to assign blame. Hynde and Co. take their classic sound and meld it with rustic sensibilities to great effect.


Guns N' Roses -- Chinese Democracy

It would have been difficult not to mention Chinese Democracy at some point during this piece. After a decade and a half, millions of dollars spent in the studio, and multiple failed tours/release dates, Axl Rose finally delivered his magnum opus unto the world. While its status as a classic has yet to be determined, the greatest compliment one can pay is that the record is damn good, and to an extent justifies the time Rose put into it. The solo delivered by Buckethead during “There Was A Time” alone warrants the existence of Chinese Democracy.

The word “change” was used prominently throughout 2008, mostly due to the successful presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Yet when one applies it to how the year played within the music industry, it would be an apt descriptor. Moving forward, one can see that how the public view and purchase music is rapidly being altered to include new delivery models and methods. This is seen by some as an assault on tradition, but these trends will continue on. I would argue there has never been a more exciting time to be a lover of music. The sheer amount of what is available, along with the incredible amount of options for how one wishes to listen to their music, is staggering. 2009 is just around the corner; I can’t wait to see what next year holds.

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