Time absolutely flies. I cannot believe it has been four months since my last post (sorry to any of the few who may read this). Being the crazed music fan that I am, I thought it was time to take stock of some of the highs and lows in pop music this year, and what a great year it has been for music while simultaneously being a shit year for the music business (see past and future posts). When will people see fit to actually purchase what they listen to again? Haven't they ripped off artists and those who make their living through the transfer of music in the past decade enough? But I digress. Music has really had a split personality in 2007, what with expensive production values given to those who can seemingly produce hits, while indie and up-and-coming artists get crappy production and poor record deals because of lacking funds. Radiohead received such praise for offering their album "In Rainbows" early for a fan-determined price, yet came under intense fire from not only business people, but other artists as well, calling them arrogant asses for doing something only a band filled with millionaires could do. 2007 was a year of major changes, as well as a year of celebrity meltdowns ala Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears. C'mon girls...get your acts together! YOU DESERVE BETTER and so do we! That being said, you both released albums that were pretty darn good. OK, enough with the lecturing. Here is a quick list of my top CDs of 2007 (and why):
All I can say is Roisin surpassed all others in 2007. She is utterly original and a major talent. Overpowered saw her harness what she learned from the critically-praised-but-commercially-ignored Ruby Blue, and take control of things by globe-trotting to put together an electronic dance album with a warm, beating heart at the center. She writes, she sings, she dances (see her "unhinged" style in the "Let Me Know" video). She knows what she wants. From the ultra-classy title track, to the disco jewel of "You Know Me Better", to the electro stomp of "Movie Star", to the slamming "Cry Baby", there is not one wasted track on this album, including the bonus cuts. In addition, there were several more excellent tracks floating around the net and as B-Sides. I struggle to think of another artist who has really updated the 80's in such a way without succumbing to some kind of retro kitsch. This is the record Annie Lennox should have made in 2007.
I know this shouldn't really count as it originally came out in 2005, but now that it has finally been issued in England in remixed form with some additions, the definitive statement has been made, and hopefully Robyn is busy working on the next one. Seriously, there is very little here to dislike. "With Every Heartbeat" was an electro masterstroke of a song to break her in the UK, and there are so many other gems here: "Be Mine!", "Who's That Girl"(produced by fellow Swedes the Knife), "Crash and Burn Girl", "Handle Me", "Konichiwa Bitches", "Cobrastyle", and a remixed "Bum Like You" being highlights. More please...
Favourite Worst Nightmare
Funnily enough, this album has ascended in my opinion during the year, even though it failed to match the sales heights and hype of album their first. Not only are there some great singles here ("Brianstorm", "Fluorescent Adolescent", "505"), but AM really create a distinctive mood of disconnect in the British underbelly reminiscent of bands from way back like the Specials and the Smiths. There is something with these guys that's difficult to put my finger on, and sometimes they push the aggressive side a bit too hard, but overall they are very strong and distinctive, and it's nice to know there is a band out there that makes me still care about Britpop.
Out of the Woods
What can I say about this I haven't said before? While this album didn't really have that completely killer single, there were many fantastic songs throughout, and the shifting moods helped show Tracey's versatility and vulnerability in almost any great style of music. Sample for instance, "A-Z" (poignant electro with a message), "Get Around to It" (horny housewife disco with a DFA sound), "Hands Up to the Ceiling" (bedroom nostalgicoustica), and "Grand Canyon" (Everything But the Girl house with heart). And that doesn't even include "By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept", "It's All True", or "Raise the Roof". A welcome return.
This Delicate Thing We've Made
I must admit I was new to the Darren party this year. I was never much of a Savage Garden fan, and his first solo album left me completely cold. This, however, was something special, and while it is probably too long and indulgent to be perfect, there is so much to like and admire. Standouts for me are the as-good-as-Depeche Mode "Who Would Have Thought", the cathartic "Step Into the Light", and the inspiring "On the Verge of Something Wonderful". Influences from Kate Bush to Prince are apparant, and the fact that Darren has such an interesting personal story doesn't hurt either. While you may not like it all, there is something here for almost everybody.
Maybe I'm just a big fan and others cannot see the fascination, but in my opinion, very few artists do pop music better than Kylie. She has a buoyant personality, even in the face of a deadly disease, and that shows in her music. While she could have recorded an album of confessional soapboxing best left to Melissa Etheridge, Kylie comes up with one of the most optimistic mission statements of her life. It's not all perfect, but it is hard to discount the glee found in "Wow", "In My Arms", "No More Rain", "2 Hearts" and "The One". Full of potential hit singles, X is the album that should have followed Fever instead of the overly self-conscious Body Language. So when's the US tour???
Trip the Light Fantastic
I seem to have chosen lots of imports this year. Another pop diamond the US missed was Sophie Ellis-Bextor. While some have claimed this to be somewhat of a disappointment commercially, the music more than makes up for that. Almost every album track is great in one way or another, and her voice is so unique when compared to the faceless crap that gets pushed on a daily basis. The fact that she worked with her husband from UK hitmakers the Feeling AND Fred Schneider of the B-52's on the same album is crazy alone! Here, she gives us the best of several worlds: Pop, rock, dance, disco, electronic, balladry, 60's retro. A great album that deserves more attention and sales.
Speaking of faceless crap, it took me a long time to accept the girls for what they really are...pop geniuses. Originally I thought they were OK, but my opinion sank a bit when cover songs kept popping up. A couple years on, and they have come back with a truly stunning project that is frontloaded with lots of sass and attitude with little room for balladry. Their songs are incredibly complex, with choruses juxtaposed with verses, and chained together in the most maddening of ways. This ingenuity keeps the listener constantly on their toes, with song lyrics delievered in ways all other contest winners would kill for. Girls Aloud are this generations Bananarama. Additionally, they have made such an impression that Franz Ferdinand are now working with their producer.
Ah, the little heard Ghosts. If Kate Bush were young again and had a pop twist, this would be it. Such a shame this album sold poorly and Siobhan had to join the cast of Rent in the UK instead of doing a full tour, but a girl's gotta eat. All kidding aside, this album was a messy joy from start to finish, with her testing the limits of her vocal range and including a title track with lots of backwards singing. Highlights (and they were very high) remain the transcendental "Don't Give it Up", the unshakeable "Sometimes", the sparkly "Goldfish", and the driving "Medevac". Most singers dream of having this kind of personal control and writing input on a project, and if this ex-Sugababe never gets it again, at least she got it once. Here's hoping...
I mentioned this album previously in my mid-year faves, and it is still there at the end of the year. Justice did what Daft Punk hasn't been able to do in almost a decade, and that is to make a cohesive electronic record steeped in American electro-funk and industrial stadium rock with variety and soul. Of course, we got the obligatory pop single in "D.A.N.C.E.", but overall this album was much darker and experimental, from "Genesis" to "Waters of Nazareth". And while some may find the compression a bit much, I think it adds to the general air of claustrophobia they are trying to achieve. Plus you can dance your ass off to it.
Love it, love her. Like the soul of Kirsty MacColl came back and inhabitied the frame of this cute and kooky troublemaker with a gift for bubbly tunes with aid of superproducer Mark Ronson. And so very English. "Smile" was an anthem. Don't stop now...
Wow, what a record. Parts are kinda hard to grasp on the first couple listens, and while I wasn't sure it was as good as Arular at first, now I think it may be better. "Bird Flu", "Boyz", "Jimmy", "Paper Planes". Ain't no denying.
Emerging from what seemed like a deep sleep, Siouxsie proved that she could come up with something utterly compelling without her Banshee cohorts, and what a record. "If it doesn't kill you" may be her best lyric and vocal ever, and there's more where that came from. And the album cover is amazing.
The Magic Position
Coming out of nowhere for me this year, this guy was much more successful for me at what he did than that kook Mika. Shades of a male Kate Bush are here, but Patrick is an original, which is definitely hard to come by today (unless you are M.I.A. who is nothing but original). A very pleasing album with lots of great songs and a creepy moment from Marianne Faithfull.
I feel like the outcast talking about this album which hardly anybody else seems to be mentioning, but this is the best Nick Cave has made in years! No, seriously, Finn Andrews is the very talented son of Shriekback guru Barry Andrews, but his sound is completely different. A different set of backing musicians was used here as well than from his first album a few years ago. The best thing to come out of New Zealand in 07, his voice has a worn quality that can be very tender, and yet very agitated when necessary. More people need to hear this NOW.
The Great Unwanted
Albums of this style that are this good are few and far between. Bringing that Beautiful South feel back to pop, Lucky Soul came up with some really great songs and have a great singer in Ali Howard. It is also great to hear a band that actually plays instruments and can write and arrange catchy pop songs without the aid of much machinery (if any). Another underrated and underselling album, 2008 should belong to them in a perfect world.
We are the Pipettes
Finally issued in the US (with new artwork), the same basic album remains, and what an album it is. Making a nice pair with Lucky Soul, Pipettes fit that retro-pop-band-with-memorable-songs to a T. And they're cute to boot. I would much rather have my kids listening to this than that Hannah Montana crap in a heartbeat.
While I find it depressing that we couldn't get a new Black Box Recorder this year, Sarah Nixey's solo record made up for it with aplomb. Coming on like Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne's witchy sister, there were some fantastic songs on this record: "The Collector", "Strangelove", "Masquerade", "When I'm Here With You", "Endless Circles". And don't forget the ace cover of the Human League's "Black Hit of Space". If this was just the debut, I cannot wait for more.
THE SHOUT OUT LOUDS
Our Ill Wills
The best poppy Cure record since the Kiss Me era. No, seriously, who knew Swedes could do Robert Smith better than Robert Smith. An easy-to-love album produced by Bjorn of other 07 Swedish breakouts, Peter, Bjorn & John.
An early 07 winner, this album took what makes Springsteen good, and got rid of what makes him bad, and added Echo & the Bunnymen in his place. "No Cars Go" and "Keep the Car Running" are purely anthemic, while "Ocean of Noise" haunts still.
NINE INCH NAILS
Trent Reznor's best record since The Downward Spiral. Not as self-indulgent as the Fragile. Not as rocky as With Teeth. More electronic than Pretty Hate Machine. Excellent.
Sound of Silver
James Murphy out-Bowie's Bowie and out-Byrne's Byrne on this album that sounds like a mix of every album from the last 25 years that I really liked. A critical favorite, and one of mine too.
BAT FOR LASHES
Fur and Gold
Could you get more Wicca than this? I love the song about the wizard when she starts talking about how they love him so much they drink his blood. Gothy, to be sure. And she uses harpsichord. How very renaissance. Love it.
Back to Black
This album started the year higher for me, and has slowly slid due to her antics in the press, but it is still one of the best of 07. I guess I just expect her to treat herself better because she has so much talent, unlike...
...who came up with a really great electronic pop album despite all the drama. Shall I go on?
Getting wasted? Crotch shots? Bad driving? Partying topless with strange dudes? Running in the ocean in your underwear? Losing custody of your kids? Embarassing awards performance? Bad music videos? Stealing swag from photo shoot? Shaving head? Such a shame, because "Heaven on Earth" is her best song since "Toxic". (I know she's from the south, but I have southern friends who don't act like this).
AND the HONORABLE MENTIONS:
We're glad you're alive and singing. You sound great! How about an original album now?
Never Say Never
OK, I won't. You did good Kim. It won't break new ground or anything, but you came up with a cohesive rock/pop effort that stayed true to form with some nice surprises. And it's really hard remaking ones own songs and making them still sound good. Many have failed. You didn't. Welcome back.
What a nice surprise! And the new lead singer sure sounds like Kurt a lot. This album is a highly enjoyable guilty pleasure for me, and it plays like a love letter to the synthesizer (see title track). Lots of good pop stuff that brings back the late 80's vividly, but in a good way.
(Paul Robb, you are a genius).
Thank you, thank you, thank you Barry Andrews for being you. Absolute craziness nonetheless, but there is noone like you, and this is the best thing you've done in 20 years. Not many will hear it, but those that do will appreciate it loads.
Red Carpet Massacre
They really tried here, and while more successful than Astronaut, it could be a bit too Timba-fied. If they want hit songs, this may have been a good choice (we all know they still love Nile Rodgers and Chic), but I would have liked to have seen them work with someone who could bring out their new wave traits a bit more. Maybe Jacknife Lee or William Orbit. In any case, RCM is their best in a long time.
Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
Finally being released in the US 2 years after Japan (and still not out in the UK), it seems like JS are going to be relegated to novelty status, which is such a shame because this is such a great album. Short, tight pop songs with hooks galore that recall everything from early Wham! to George Harrison, guest vocals from Kate & Cindy of the B-52's just add to the charm (and their first album in 18 years arrives in 08--WOOHOO!).
I would be remiss if I didn't mention this highly touted masterpiece. It is great, to be sure, but as a fan of the CD and LP, I cannot bring myself to calling it an official 2007 release, as the CD hits US stores on Jan. 1, 2008. So I will save my review for next year's installment, when I am sure it will place higher on my list than this. Radiohead, EMI misses you...
Come back for upcoming lists involving disappointing efforts of 07, and anticipated efforts of 08!
Thanks for reading!