20. The Eagles – Long Road Out Of Eden
It’s been 28 years since their last studio album, The Long Run, but according to this album it’s still 1979 — which suits The Eagles’ music just fine. Full of the country rock they helped pioneer in the 70’s, the lyrics are not those of meeting woman randomly on the roads traveled in a pick-up truck. The band is 28 years older so the songs also include some politically-charged songs like “Frail Grasp On The Big Picture” where Henley utters some slams against many American beliefs and slams those Christians living hypocritical lives, “We have faith in the Lord/Unless there’s money or sex involved.” What’s ironic is that, for a full year, the album is only being sold at Wal-Mart. Who knew The Eagles were subversive?
Favorite songs: “How Long”, “Busy Being Fabulous”
(I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, so bought the album from The Eagles’ website.)
19. Rufus Wainwright – Release The Stars
Rufus Wainwright’s first outing as a producer allows him off the lease. This is his most over-the-top, dense and orchestrated album. Having Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys over see the entire project just makes it that much more gay. No, gay in a fabulous way. Rufus’ love for opera truly shows in each mini-epic on the album including the honest disappointment in America that is “Going To A Town”. The only oddball here is the wonderful pop song, “Between My Legs”, which is also his most rock and most sexually charged. It should’ve been his biggest single.
You can’t can’t get much much better than this fun fun album this year – in North America anyway. Their follow-up to their 2003 “D-D-Don’t Stop The Beat” was released in Japan and Europe back in 2005 and finally our shores back in August. It was worth the wait. Feeling down? Put on “Itch You Can’t Skratch” or the incredible “Can I Get Get Get” and you’ll be up and dancing in no time. I would recommend getting the deluxe edition which includes an EP with some great gems like “I Can’t Rap, I Can’t Sing But I Would Do Anything…”
Yes, I’ve complained that he borrows too heavily from Scissor Sisters and Queen and at times sounds just like Robbie Williams, but there is no denying the man can write a catchy-as-hell song. Songs like “Gracy Kelly” and “Love Today” are power house pop hits, but he really shows his depth in the ballad “My Interpretation” which proves he can plumb complex emotions. This is a happy, goofy and sparkling debut by a man with talent but who needs time to find his own voice.
16. Mandy Moore – Wild Hope
Guilty Pleasure Of The Year. Being tired of your pop princess persona can be so tiring that you drop two labels just to make an album you want. That’s what Mandy has done here. Recruiting some very talented songwriters including Michelle Branch, Lori McKenna and the band that was #1 on this list last year — The Weepies, the album is an attempt to garner a more serious sound than Mandy has ever tried. While not completely escaping her pop past, Wild Hope does find Mandy sounding more confident and more honestly emotionally especially on “Looking Forward”.
James Murphy does more than just make music to shake yo’ rump to. He creates dance music that makes you think because — at heart — he is a punk much like The Sex Pistols. When he screams, “I know you wouldn’t touch us with a ten-foot pole/’cause we’re North Americans,” he is not only chastising his fellow citizens, he is calling on us to raise above the pettiness that has gotten Americans such a shallow reputation in the rest of the world. Pretty heady stuff for a dance album, but definitely something that needs to be said. The rest of the album is more of the same — high-minded calls to action set to a beat that drags you to the dance floor.
Here is the strangest album I’ve heard all year. Noah Lennox is the only member of the band and he uses samples, loops and plenty of reverb in this seven-track album which includes a couple of epic 12-minute tracks. The feel here is very 60’s — psychedelic and experimental but also subtle. The tracks creep up on you slowly after several listens and grab a hold on you. This is a collection of music that demands you grab a pair of headphones, get into a relaxed position and just travel. In other words, this is definitely for the adventurous.
Patience is the key word here. Give it time and the rewards of Tracey’s second solo album (her first was way back in 1982) come through in spades. She keeps the electronics that Everything But The Girl dabbled in going strong, but her natural warmth radiates through even the most cold of synthesized chord progressions. She knows how to have fun, too. The album is firmly planted in the 80’s especially in the first single “It’s All True”. This a most-have simply to hear the docile tones of Tracey’s voice. It still hasn’t lost any of its heartbreaking goodness.
There were several new albums by the matriarchs of pop music including Deborah Harry and Annie Lennox, but none were more interesting than the first solo album by the Queen of Goth herself, Siouxsie Sioux. Mantaray follows in the pop vein of the last few Banshees album, but being solo allows her to experiment with different sounds. “Here Comes That Day” could have been a James Bond theme while “About To Happen” could have been a huge hit in the ’80’s. While her peers are disappearing into adult-fare, Siouxsie is still playing around and having a blast.
A return back to more basics for the boys, We Are The Night is a less heavy on guest stars and more focused on atmosphere much like their fourth album Come With Us. The tone is dark even with the hilarious “The Salmon Dance” with its nature lesson including how salmon die. This makes sense as ‘night’ is part of the title. An exception to this is the first single, “Do It Again”. Happy and bouncy, the song at times sounds too much like “Sexyback”, but that doesn’t detract from it’s overall groovitude. Nevertheless, the album is a great ‘headphones’ chill-out collection.
Going for a harder-edge this time around, Icky Thump sounds like it could have been released in the 70’s on 8-track. The title track has the most intensity and most delicious guitar lick of anything I’ve heard this year. Yet with all this crunchy guitar, Jack and Meg haven’t forgotten rock’s roots and kept things very bluesy as well. In fact, two of the songs on the album have the word ‘blues’ in their title. They have also continued their genre-mixing and the track that stands out here is the Ennio Morricone-inspired remake, “Conquest” — so much so that you expect Clint Eastwood’s Blondie character to show up in the video.
When Imperial Teen released Seasick in 1996 to almost universal acclaim, you would think that their brand of 50’s-inspired girl/boy rock pop would be a hit. As much as wildfire success as eluded them, it hasn’t stopped them making some incredibly fun and catchy tunes. The title of this album comes from the history of what the four members did between albums, but that hiatus did nothing to detract from their ability to come up with simple ditties that stick in the head. Just give “Do It Better” a listen and you’ll see why. This is a must for anyone who loves good guitar pop.
In the battle of the British songstresses, I found Lily’s album the most enjoyable. Her ability to take a relationship or a situation and completely skewer it with some of the most hilariously bitter lyrics of the year makes Alright, Still the best choice among the anti-Valentine set. I enjoyed Amy Winehouse, but her problems are ones I can’t identify with. Having my heart broken and finally standing up for myself is something I can get behind. “Smile”, “Not Big”, and “Shame On You” are great dedications to the ones you hate. Lily Allen sees to the heart and rips it out to show you the pain as it bleeds on the ground, but in an entertaining way.
Even though Jarvis proclaimed his band Pulp defunct, he continues to write some of the most profound music about the state of the world and the state of the heart. He’s always been one to put life under a microscope, but his first solo album seems to zoom out a bit. There is the wake-up call “Running The World”, but this time Jarvis has concentrated on an examination of that feeling called love. He has even tried his hand at sampling. “Black Magic” makes heavy use of Tommy James and the Shondells’s “Crimson And Clover” to great effect. Here is a Brit who has no qualms about saying what he feels and those who enjoy great music should take the time to listen.
When Elijah Wood decided to start his own record label, he signed as his first band his favorite. And so Apples in Stereo started a new chapter in their career. Steeped deeply in the 60’s for most of their albums (their name is from The Beatles’ record label), the band has kept their roots, but have grown into the 70’s when many odes to Electric Light Orchestra. Just like ELO’s Jeff Lynne, Robert Schneider can write the hell out of catchy song; however, he doesn’t have Lynne’s flare for the dramatic as a producer. No matter. New Magnetic Wonder is a collection filled with ditties that stay with you no matter what decade you’re currently existing in.
This woman continually amazes me 21 years later. Beauty & Crime is an amazing song cycle about her beloved New York City and her best since ’92’s 99.9F°. Vega is still one of the best songwriting treasures that America has with your observational albeit heartfelt songs. Kicking off the album is her most poppy of songs in years — “Zephyr & I” — and includes some of her most humorous songs like “New York Is A Woman” and “Pornographer’s Dream”. Don’t let that fool you though. She still has the mirror held up to the darker side of life especially “Angel’s Doorway” about a 9/11 rescue worker and the stunningly beautiful “Anniversary” which is a song about the one-year anniversary of 9/11. Yes, it’s quite obvious she *hearts* NY, but with any love affair there is pain and that pain makes for some great music.
Here is the first of two outstanding debuts this year. The Bird And The Bee are two “jazz nerds” who decided to make a pop album which turned out to be the best 60’s album of 2007 — with electronic flare, of course. You know you’ve hit about something fun when “Fucking Boyfriend” rockets to #1 on the dance charts. Someone noticed because The Bee (Greg Kurstin) co-wrote two songs for Kylie Minogue’s new album. Here though Greg works with the beautifully wispy and ethereal voice of Inara George whose instrument floats in and out of the recording like a beautiful tree nymph. The Bird And The Bee is simply the most lovely album this year.
Here is the other stunning debut of the year and — like The Bird And The Bee — is steeped in the 60’s. This is plain old, good-fashioned pop music: catchy melodies, mostly guitar/bass/drum arrangements, lyrics about lost loves, etc. And for a double album it is overflowing with excellent material. Songs like “Remember To Forget”, “We’ve Become Ghosts” and “The Sleepwalker” reminded me how great it is to discover new artists. Distant Star is a memento to music lovers about the strength of being a hungry artist willing to put their best efforts out to the scrutiny of a fickle music-buying public in hopes that they’ll find a connection. Bill Majoros connects, but are you listening yet?
Hat tip to Absolute Powerpop for introducing me to this.
Favorite songs: “Remember To Forget”, “We’ve Become Ghosts”, “The Sleepwalker”, “Lonely #1”, “Cinema Light”
Here is Kevin Barnes’ glam rock album: so melodic, so fun, so over-the-top. Of Montreal has been making oddball pop music since 1997, but nothing as consistent as Hissing Fauna, which, by the way, wins for Best Album Title of the Year. Kicking off with “Suffer For Fashion”, you are immediately hit with lyrics that seem too smart for their own good. Barnes says this is a concept album, but does an incredible job of hiding the thread to follow. One thing that is quite obvious is that the character of the album has had his heart shattered. One listen to “She’s A Rejecter” confirms this: “There’s the girl that left me bitter/Want to pay some other girl to just walk right up to her and hit her”. Full of artistic and cerebral references, Hissing Fauna is both weird and wonderful.
From the most over-the-top to the most sublime. Andrew Bird’s subtle song styling takes a few listens, but the rewards are ten-fold. The mix of violin, whistling, intelligent phrasing and melodies that cuddle up to you like a warm lover are his specialty. From the opening yumminess of “Fiery Crash” to the beautiful closing instrumental “Yawny at the Apocalypse”, Armchair… is just that. A comfy, cushy song cycle that floats in your head like a daydream — traveling in and out of phase with the rest of the world. It is truly inspiring that an artist who has 7+ albums under his belt can continue to create music of substance and relativity.