2010: A New Decade
When I came up with my list of "best albums of the decade" last year, I was surprised at the number of albums that came out in 2000. The biggest cause for surprise was that in 2000, I didn't remember the year being all that noteworthy with the exception of Outkast's Stankonia and Radiohead's Kid A. It just goes to show you how much the element of time plays in these "best of" lists.
Nine years from now, I'm not projecting the same phenomenon. Looking at my Top 10, I'm seeing nearly eight albums that would be my number one or number two choice during any other year. If there was a unifying theme that most of the best albums of this year shared, it was ambition. There was Kanye West's six-minute song stretches in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an R&B newcomer whose first album does nothing less than structure a concept album using time travel and the film Metropolis as inspiration, or an indie artist whose voice is a hurdle for even the most open-minded of listeners releasing a TRIPLE CD, with each CD surpassing the length of some full-length albums. Album sales may have dropped again this year, but thankfully, quality was not lacking.
Honorable mentions: LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening and Titus Andronicus - The Monitor.
5 Singles of the Year (Plus One)
1. "Power" – Kanye West
Years ago, I hated Deion Sanders for his cockiness and arrogance. I hated him even more on Monday mornings after watching him back up everything he boasted about on the field. “Power” is West’s equivalent of someone who you want to see fail publically boast they’re going to make the best song of the year and do just that. Opening with a tribal-like chant, sampling King Crimson, and veering between overblown ego and painful self-reflection, “Power” perfectly sums up how much Kanye West’s presence is needed in today’s fractured music world.
2. "Fuck You" – Cee Lo
Like “Crazy,” “Fuck You” was able to bridge gaps between nerds and hipsters, housewives and art majors, Conan fans and Leno fans. Sure, the title gave people a giddy thrill, but the song itself pays off long after its shock has waned. Despite the joyful early 70s-era soul sound of “Fuck You,” it’s a pained, sarcastic kiss-off to a loved one. This is hip-hop’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
3. "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" – The New Pornographers
Together marks the second time The New Pornographers has not achieved the same heights as their first three albums. But “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” represents one of the finest three minutes in the band’s cannon. The song starts off with a poppy piano chord, then goes into a sort of tennis match between the key players. The chorus raises “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” to the stratosphere. The rest of Together couldn’t quite match the brilliance of this song. How could it?
4. “Silver Soul” – Beach House
A few years ago, I put on Cat Power’s The Greatest and I was a tad disoriented during the second song, “Living Proof.” The song was so complete, it seemed like it should be placed at the “peak” of an album’s track listings. Instead, it was only track two, and more peaks were on the way. With “Silver Soul,” Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally create a soundscape that sounds like an oceanic musical wave rolling in and out. “It is happening again” is the refrain that sticks in your head. “Silver Soul” should disarm even the most hardened Beach House skeptic, readying them for an album’s worth of such wonderful sonic moments.
5. "This Fucking Job" – Drive-By Truckers
Look at the title of my number two single and you can pretty much gauge the mood of our culture today. If The Big To-Do is the soundtrack for our Great Recession, “This Fucking Job” is the exhausted, weary song for the 99’ers out there who are unemployed or underemployed. Patterson Hood’s guitar chugs along with an angry urgency while he sings “It ain’t getting me further.” Sadly, this song will likely continue to resonate so long as the economy continues to grow without the jobs needed to make such a rally count as a recovery.
"One Life Stand" – Hot Chip
A few years ago, Hot Chip was part of an indistinguishable crop of indie electronic acts. Their album The Warning was by no means a failure, but like Iron Man 2, you’d be hard pressed to remember any details about it after a single listen. No such problem exists on their follow-up. The electronic elements are very much in the here and now, but the guitar riff could have come from Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time.” As cerebral as it is fun, “One Life Stand” is a guilt-free pop gem.
Reissues of the Year
1. David Bowie - Station to Station
David Bowie sings “No, it’s not the side effects of the cocaine” on the leadoff track to Station To Station. He could have fooled us. The album, which gave listeners the Bowie incarnation of the Thin White Duke, has been a lost favorite for many Bowie fans. This rerelease, complete with a great live concert at Nassau Coliseum, will no doubt win a whole new generation of converts.
2. Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.
The songs sung by the Stones of today may slightly mar the rerelease of their 1972 classic. But any true fan of arguably the best double-album in rock will want to pick up this up, if only because their version is scratched to hell. “So Divine” and “Pass The Wine” are the highlights of the tracks that didn’t make the cut the first time around.
3. Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos (1962-1964)
One of the greatest marketing feats of Dylan’s “bootleg” demos is how they are able to make the purchase of almost all of his bootlegs justified for even casual Dylan fans. It started with the release of his infamous 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert, then it went to his earnest live performance before going electric, and two years ago, it was a collection of unreleased tracks from his late-career resurgence. With The Witmark Demos, listeners are taken back to the very beginning, where Dylan, stripped of his mythology and “voice of a generation” expectations, was armed only with a pen and a flood of inspiration.
4. Bruce Springsteen - The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story
A slight dock for confusion’s sake. Some folks may have been led to believe that buying The Promise meant Springsteen’s classic album that constituted the main source of all of this unreleased material was also included. That’s only if you get the deluxe box set edition. Still, The Promise is well worth the purchase as it shows Springsteen at his frustrated best, following up a classic album that won him millions of followers, only to have his follow-up mired in legal woes. The Promise, along with Darkness, represents that halfway point that almost any Springsteen fan, be it his anathematic Born In The USA followers, or his acoustic Nebraska lovers, can agree on.
5. Iggy & The Stooges - Raw Power
OK, so Raw Power is the rerelease of Iggy & The Stooges' punk classic. But it’s the rerelease of the original edition that David Bowie helped mix. If you want the remastered version that features the final mix that was approved by Iggy Pop, you’ll still have to track down the 1997 version. Got that? Oh, fuck it, just buy this version, which features a live Atlanta performance that sounds like it was recorded in a warehouse basement, complete with Iggy threatening to punch an audience member’s face in.
Disappointment Of The Year
My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
In my high school DECA club, our teacher taught us that if a jingle stuck in your head, it was a success, no matter how awful that jingle was. If that is the case, “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” would be seen as being every bit as successful as Cee Lo’s “Fuck You” or Kanye West’s “Power” or even Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Like Green Day, My Chemical Romance is coming off of a triumphant critical and commercially successful album. And like Green Day, MCR fell into the exact same trappings that sank Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown. Saddled with overglossy production and lame radio skits, Danger Days was the equivalent of a Michael Bay remake of Repo Man.
Given that it was hard enough narrowing my ‘best of’ down to 20, yet alone 10, 2011 has a lot to live up to. However, it promises to be a memorable year with something for everyone. Metal fans can hope for a new Baroness album, pop fans can count the months before the new Lady Gaga drops. For older fans, Dr. Dre plans to release his final album and The Cars have reunited and plan to release a new album. Lil Wayne has a likely lock for bestselling album of 2011 (unless Susan Boyle comes up with a Valentine’s Day-themed album) and newcomer James Blake has generated some serious buzz. As for early “album of the year” favorites, after his iconic debut and even his contribution to Kanye West’s latest, the honor is Bon Iver’s for the taking.
On The Horizon: 2011