I spent a lot of time watching music documentaries in 2007, as VH-1 Classic became my new favorite channel. (I highly recommend the great 7 part series done by the BBC called 7 Ages of Rock, if you want to learn about the greatest bands in music history and how they fit into different genres). It was on the Sundance Channel’s Live at Abbey Road documentary that I figured out the best way to describe my approach for what constitutes the reason a band/artist would make my list. On this show, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers discussed how music works for him. He offered up that The Clash’s Sandinista record was one of his favorites, as its political message moved him. He added, though, that a record like Van Halen II was just as important to him, even though it had no such intellectual message. While for me using London Calling and Women and Children First would have been better examples, I really dug the sentiment. I’m not Clive Davis, but I highly respect the hook element of songs, as it is a lot easier to write a critically acclaimed record than it is to write one that is a big seller. The ultimate for me is when these 2 factors merge and you get a White Album, Who’s Next, or, Nevermind.. My music guide prefers the Replacements Tim to Let It Be or Bob Mould’s work with Sugar over Husker Du. My favorite artists are the one’s who sell-out and still make artistically rich records. I ‘m more Rick Rubin than Pitchfork.
1. Fall Out Boy- Infinity on High
The Emo genre is filled with more crap than any rock genre of all-time and that includes rap-rock and hair metal. Outside of Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American, I can’t think of one Emo record that I think would have been in any of my Top 10 year end lists. After making the only other Emo recording I really liked, From Under the Cork Tree, its follow-up shows Fall Out Boy pointing to center field, swinging from their heels and damned if they don’t hit it out of the park. (This last sentence qualifies this piece as a baseball piece.) The singing of Patrick Stump is what truly makes this a special record. The guy can funk it up, rock out with his c–k out (well, that image fits Pete Wentz better), and even do the new romantic 80’s style ballad (Golden recalls early Depeche Mode).. I compare him to Elton John in his prime, as he doesn’t look the part, but he can sing about any type of genre and make it a standout. Who would have guessed that Babyface would produce 2 of the best pop/rock songs of 2007, but both This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race and Thnks fr th Mmrs livened up a really lousy year on the radio. While the rest of the releases on my list would give me more cool points at Pitchfork, Infinity on High was the only one that managed to be a great record from beginning to finish, while at the same time entertain the masses. It ain’t American Idiot, but it is the best overall record of 2007.
2. Against Me!- New Wave
It is always fun when an indie punk band decides to try to reach a larger audience. Sure you are risking alienating your audience, but do you want to spend the rest of your lives in a van going from gig to gig just barely surviving? The best case scenario in this situation is to write some great message songs, while having Butch Vig put a slick gloss of production on the finished product. Bad Religion meets Cheap Trick, as Against Me should move up to a tour bus after this great rock record. Unlike his obvious rock heroes like Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg, singer Tom Gabel shows a sense of humor with his message, as White People for Peace demonstrates. Against Me! rocks power-punk here like the Hoodoo Gurus did during their prime.
3.Radiohead- In Rainbows
Welcome back Pt. 2. For quite awhile now, I’ve been lamenting the loss of Radiohead, the rock band. While many see them as imitators, I have been trumpeting Muse, as they have taken the Radiohead formula and moved it to its most bombastic extremes, making for superior records than Kid A, Kid B, or Kid C. In Rainbows shows Radiohead going the opposite direction, with the band exploring a quiet, almost trip-hop sound. It works great, as the band has written some of its best songs since OK Computer and has kept out much of the space rock that has limited theimselves from connecting with a larger audience. Much like Pearl Jam, Radiohead seemed to recoil away from the spotlight, as they had no interest in being the biggest Rock band in the world. Becoming another U-2 seemed to be Radiohead’s birthright after their classic records, The Bends and OK Computer, but they instead decided to explore soundscapes and focus on a connection with their most rabid fans. Many touted Hail to the Thief as their return, but it lacked the beauty that was so much a major component in their best music. In Rainbow finds the band someplace between their classic releases and Thom Yorke’s fine solo record, Eraser. Taking a step back is not always bad, as sometimes it helps you connect with what you do best. I look forward to seeing what Radiohead’s next move will be as I’m excited that they are truly back making music with some stong song-writing principles.
4. White Stripes- Icky Thump
The only group that has put out more great records than Spoon this decade is Jack and Meg White’s band. When you add the top-notch work he did with The Raconteurs and Loretta Lynn, Jack White has become the most important figure in music today. Every time I wonder how they will be able to tweak their basic sound enough to keep things fresh, the Stripes add bagpipes and some flamenco horns and bam they sound just as fresh as ever. Jack White knows how to make music sound like it was recorded in the 60’s, but with all the dynamics of today. Like Spoon, Icky Thump isn’t their best work, but it still charts highly in 2007.
5. Spoon- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Back in the 90’s, when Spoon was seen as a second-rate Pavement, it would have been hard to imagine they would be the the big deal and Stephen Malkmus would be kicking around an up and down solo career. Their previous release, Gimme FIction, put them on the map, but I think it is my least favorite of the excellent past 4 albums they have put out since 2001. If you are unfamiliar with them, British falsetto and the clap heavy percussion brings funk to their unique sound. This is the formula for Spoon and while I don’t like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga as much as 2002’s Kill the Moonlight, it still demands attention on any list of the best of 2007. `
6. 1990’s- Cookies
If you want to hear the greatest Kinks record since State of Confusion, look no further than the 1990’s. I’m a fan of Louis XIV, but they are more of singles band, where the 1990’s made a complete recording of 60’s Brit-pop of the Kinks done with the arena rock polish of the Kinks of the 80’s. I really dig the Scottish music scene with bands like Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand, The Fratelli’s, Mogwai, Paolo Nutini, and The View all making interesting music. The 1990’s might have a retro sound, but it is the most infectious record I heard all year.
7. The National- Boxer
The lo-fi record of the year, Matt Beringer’s low register voice brings a weariness to these passionate songs like if Leonard Cohen could really sing. I hear flourishes that remind me of the best work of Mark Eitzel and the Joy Division/Bauhaus instrumentation on most of it makes the Boxer a gloom rock classic.
8. New Pornographers- Challengers
This Canadian group has always been more of a singles act to me. Their previous release, Twin Cinema, was lauded by many critics, but it was a big disappointment to me, as the hooks didn’t hook me. I actually had liked band members Neko Case and A.C. Newman’s solo works better. Not anymore, as the great indie pop record they always had in them finally came together with Challengers. The harmonies, the hooks, the strings, it has song after song that makes me wish I had the money to buy an AM radio station and play these 70’s singles right next to 10cc, Stealers Wheel, Big Star, and The Raspberries.
9. Dan Wilson- Free Life
I will start my review of this record using a quote by Wilson on who his influences are.”
I’m heavily influenced by Joni Mitchell, Eddie Money, Beatles, Radiohead, Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Neil Young. I’m lightly but happily influenced by Smashing Pumpkins, Elliot Smith, Bryan Adams, Pat Metheny, REM, Sigur Ros.
Any artist that puts Eddie Money, Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Miles Davis in his list of major influences is someone I’m guessing I’m going to dig. In Dan Wilson’s case, I have since his days fronting the cirminally underrated band, Semisonic. While Free Life is not quite on the level of his work with Semisonic, it has a trancendent quality that few artists can manage. While many think of him as the guy that did Closing Time, Wilson won a Grammy last year for song of the year for Not Ready to Make Nice, which he wrote with the Dixie Chicks. One of the other great songs he wrote for their album, Easy Silence, he covers on Free Life. In a year that was weak for singer/songwriter types, Free Life is a dreamy gem you should take a listen to.
10a. James Blunt- All the Lost Souls
I was really surprised how much I liked this recording, considering that I thought Blunt’s blockbuster debut was pretty much crap. Of course, this was a financial flop, but it is a great pop record and huge leap forward artistically. Reminds me of the best elements of the Bee Gees, if they had never done Saturday Night Fever and were fronted by Leo Sayer.
10b. Rooney- Calling the World
Have you been looking for Weezer’s version of Night at the Opera? Well, here is the closest thing you are going to find. Really fun powerpop.
It is sad to me what is happening in music, as artists are becoming singles machines. Similar to the 50’s, when 45’s were king, now downloads have left the long playing release a second class citizen. I was really disappointed by hip hop in 2007, as my list denotes. The biggest disappointment was Bruce Springsteen’s Magic, which was so overproduced it destroyed the orgainc feel that makes the E Street Band, Sure, Springsteen has used the Wall of Sound approach on a lot of his records, but this time Brendan O’Brien has recorded the thing so loudly that all the instruments blend into each other. A few songs are so good that they transcend this overproduction, but not many. By the way, I’m only giving partial blame to O’Brien, as I figure the Boss ididn’t just sit by quietly and let him make all the decisions on how the record sounds.