Friday, January 11, 2008

The Year in Music

Ya’ll – this post got Out. Of. Control. Apparently, I’m more like my father than I thought, in that I love nothing more than to hear myself talk. I’ve put most of this behind cuts to save space on your friends’ page, and/or not crash your feeds.

The Year In Music: Best of 2007

When I sat down to write this entry, Reeva’s Year in Music 2007, I was instantly overwhelmed.

A TON of music came out. It seemed like more than normal, but I might have just been paying more attention. One of the side-effects of being bored at work is that I have tons of time to scour the internets for interesting new things, and since I can’t look at “inappropriate sites,” music blogs have become my sanctuary of stimulation. There are lots of great sites, most of them specifically geared towards finding and showcasing new talent. As a music enthusiast, I learned long ago not to count on the radio. Even the stations that proclaim to be the ones playing the big hits are only playing a dismal few of them, and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, they’re playing them over and over and over and over again. So if you ever find yourself sick to death of the stuff on your local hit station, the first thing you should do is get on the internet and search the music blogs. You’re bound to find something new and different to refresh your love of music. This isn’t big news or anything, everyone knows this stuff already, but I only figured it out this year, so I’m just saying… if you’re bored, look online.

The downside is, with all the new music and all the videos and all the blogs – it’s hard to keep up. And blogs being what they are, it’s sometimes hard to discriminate between what’s actually good, and what’s just being obsessed over by some whack-job in a basement who may or not be hardcore besties with the unknown artist they’re shilling. A lot of the stuff I find is bad – there’s a reason no one has heard it. But then there are those other times when you stumble on a gem, rub it on your shirt, and start wearing it around town, and a few weeks later, everyone is talking about it.

I spent waaay too much money on music this year, but luckily, I feel like I got something out of it. The only way I can figure to discuss the year in music without rambling on into oblivion is to put forward my Top 10 albums of the year, along with a smattering of honorable mentions. If you could see the list of music I’ve gotten to know over the course of this year, I think you would be grateful that I’ve whittled them down to just 10. It could have very easily been a list of 50, but I don’t have the strength to write 50 reviews any more than you have to read them.


Kelly Clarkson / My December

There isn’t much to say about this album that hasn’t already been said – but just give me a minute and I’ll re-say every word. The album is, indeed, different from her previous work; it’s harder, and more emotionally raw. The lyrics aren’t so much about independence or victory over a doomed romance, but rather depression, desolation, and bitterness. The sounds are decidedly less American Idol and more Battle of the Hard Rock Bands. But if you ignore the politics and the labels and just listen to it, it’s a really good album; flawed… but good.

For Kelly Clarkson, it has always been and hopefully always will be about her voice. She has a powerful instrument, one that she can mold into any genre she chooses; strong enough for rock, soulful enough for R&B, and sweet enough for pop. I heard that her next album will probably be a country album, thanks to the close apprentice/master relationship she has cultivated with Reba McEntire. I, for one, will buy it the day it comes out without hearing a single note beforehand, just like I did this one. That’s how awesome I think she is.

One of the major bones the critics had to pick with My December was the alleged departure from her Pop background. If you will recall, she had a harsh, public bicker-fest with her studiohead in the months before the album’s release, and frankly, I think we’re lucky it was released at all. Among various qualms, the main sticking point was Clive Davis’s opinion that none of the songs on the album had hit potential, but Kelly argued that marketability wasn’t what she was going for. She made a very personal and risky move when she decided to compose an album that reflected the new image she wanted to convey, one that was angrier, harder, and rooted in classic rock as opposed to producer-driven pop. If you listen to her body of work from Track 1 of her first album, Thankful to the last track of My December, it’s clear that a progression has been made. It isn’t like she went from Teeny-Bopper to Gangsta Rapper overnight, but good luck explaining that to Clive Davis. As far as he was concerned, Kelly had betrayed her core audience and cost him loads of cash. In reality, Kelly was simply making the record she wanted to make, even if that meant less than impressive sales. That might seem like a big step to take so early in one’s career, indeed, but this is her third album. By today’s standards, Kelly is way past green, and moving towards retirement.

The truth of the matter is: the album has some serious weaknesses. It’s almost like Kelly spent so much time focusing on the new direction of her music that she forgot to consider whether the music was any good. I think the biggest problem with the album, in general, is the lyrical content. Kelly was going for a certain darkness and angst, but she wound up with bad high school poetry. When you add the cliché rock arrangements and a tendency for a lot of the tracks to sound the same, it is no surprise that her fans and her boss were a wee bit disappointed.

So why is this album in my little countdown at all, you ask? Because it’s Kelly Clarkson, and I could listen to that girl sing stereo instructions. Didn’t you hear me earlier? I said I’d buy her next album even if it was country. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

Key Tracks: Never Again, One Minute, Sober, Irvine/Shivas


Rilo Kiley / Under the Blacklight

I bought this album because I loved (LOVED) Jenny Lewis's first solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat. After listening to that for almost two weeks non-stop, I was ecstatic to discover that there was more Jenny Lewis to be had, because, as it turns out, she is the lead singer for some band called Rilo Kiley.

I missed the boat with this band and my only excuse is that I was too busy (and too poor) to notice them when they first hit the scene a few years back. But even without my patronage, Rilo Kiley has become one of the most successful indie-rock bands in the country and this album is supposedly their big break (they scored a record deal, the cover of Spin Magazine, and a feature on MTV). Since I didn’t have any prior experience with Rilo Kiley, I was prepared to be a little disappointed (I was absolutely sure it wouldn’t be as good as Rabbit Fur Coat but I was pleasantly surprised. Under the Blacklight, their fourth album, is a great blend of soft rock and alt-country, and not only did I love it, I went out and bought their other albums (also very good).

This album is a collection of vignettes, tableaus (if you will), of the seedy, shady dealings that go down in the clubs of L.A. after dark. The subject matter ranges from prostitution to vicious break-ups to statutory rape (yikes, huh?), but there’s always a sense of irony and satire. If you get too deep into the lyrics, the whole album is kind of sleazy, but it’s all in fun, and the music definitely isn’t sleazy. Jenny is a great personality with a versatile voice, capable of aloofness and blistering emotion, whatever is required. I tend to attach more to the music anyway, as opposed to the lyrics, so I didn’t realize how nasty the album was until I read a few reviews. Not that I care, though. I’m a big fan of trashy subject matter, after all.

Key Tracks: Silver Lining, The Moneymaker, Under the Blacklight, Dejalo


Feist / The Reminder

Feist is yet another indie-rock fixture crossing over to the mainstream. I’m not familiar with her work before this album (I’ll fix that), but I can understand why she has a cult-following.

I learned about Feist after seeing her video for 1-2-3-4 on some website, and if you haven’t seen that video, you definitely should. It encapsulates everything that is Feist: she’s quirky, sweet, and incredibly talented. While most of the other songs on The Reminder aren’t as immediately endearing as 1-2-3-4, there’s plenty to fall in love with. Her style travels through jazz, alt-country, rock, and bubblegum pop, but everything is unified by her breathy, yet powerful vocals and her strange ability to surround you with atmosphere. Honestly, most of the lyrics make absolutely no sense to me, but I find myself not caring – I just enjoy the sounds.

Key Tracks: I Feel It All, My Moon My Man, 1-2-3-4


Britney Spears / Blackout

It shouldn’t surprise you that Britney’s new album, Blackout made it on to my list. However, it might surprise you that it also made it on to Rolling Stone’s Top 50 Albums of the Year. Seeing her album on that list not only made me feel better about loving it, but it also proved a point that I’m constantly trying to make with people: crazy people can make good music if they have enough help.

This album isn’t about Britney, it’s about producers. About 10 very talented artists came together, wrote some lyrics that seemed appropriate for Britney’s image, and composed deliciously original dance/pop. All Britney did was show up to record some vocals, which were then mixed, mashed, mangled, and manipulated until they were barely recognizable. That might seem like a whole lot of trouble, but let me tell you, it was worth it. This album is fun, fast, sassy, and damn… I can’t help but dance.

Key Tracks: Gimme More, Piece of Me, Radar, Toy Soldier


Tori Amos / American Doll Posse

Of course this album would make it on to my countdown (I frikkin’ worship Tori), but this isn’t necessarily proof of my irrational obsession with her. I think everyone can, and should, enjoy this album.

Her previous album, The Beekeeper, was greeted favorably by the critics, but her core group of fans responded with disdain and disappointment. Apparently, if she isn’t speaking in tongues, her fans don’t like it (personally, I’ll take coherence over crazy-speak anytime, which was why I absolutely adored The Beekeeper). So having just alienated her fans but pleased the world-at-large, Tori chose to put out an album that, in my opinion, is all about bridging the gap.

If eccentricity is what her fans crave, they are certainly getting their money’s worth. American Doll Posse is a concept album that traces the musings and misadventures of five distinct personalities embodied within Tori Amos. The five characters – Isabel, Clyde, Pip, Santa, and Tori (as herself) – each take the spotlight for 4-6 songs, revealing different sides of Tori’s musical, philosophical, and political agenda. The characters are finely drawn and fairly easy to recognize based on the general mood and theme of the songs and Tori has gone as far as to change costumes during her concerts to signify a change in character. If you want to know more about the five characters and what makes them tick, as well as the songs they sing, go to the album’s page on wikipedia… it lays it all out for you.

All of that I just said… doesn’t mean all that much to me. I didn’t really follow the different character stuff – I put in the CD and pressed play, just like I always do, and I was very happy to discover that the music holds up very well, whether one follows the additional context or not. And seriously, with 23 tracks, there’s bound to be something good, right? This album has some of the most melodic, radio-friendly music Tori has ever released, but with just enough crazy to be fresh, new, and… Tori.

The true standouts on this album are the ballads and comedic asides. As far as ballads go, Roosterspur Bridge and Girl Disappearing are two of my favorite Tori songs EVER and that is saying something, considering I come from the Under The Pink school of Tori-love. For comedy, little ditties like Fat Slut and Posse Bonus are great moments of lightness on an album that could have become over-long and over-serious. *Aside: I’m not sure if Fat Slut is supposed to be funny… or what, but when it came on, the sound of Tori screaming Fat Slut was so hilarious that I chortled, and I’m not a chortler. /Aside.*

This album is Tori’s 9th studio album, and it’s mind-blowing that she is still surprising me after all these years. I love that her sound keeps growing, which is different than simply changing.

Key Tracks: Big Wheel, Bouncing off Clouds, The Beauty of Speed, Almost Rosey, and all those others I mentioned.


Mika / Life in Cartoon Motion

Mika’s debut album holds a special place in my heart. Besides being, like, super-fun and fabulous, Life In Cartoon Motion also marked the beginning of a musical journey that I’m currently still traveling. When Life in Cartoon Motion came out in April, all I knew about Mika was that he was a rail-thin, curiously ethnic, Freddie Mercury-voiced, U.K. pop star that had just hit it big in almost every country in the world thanks to a sugary sweet, altogether addictive hit single, Grace Kelly, and he that he was finally about to hit big in the U.S. Well, I can’t say he hit as big in the U.S. as he would have liked, but he definitely hit big enough for me to buy his album.

Whenever I discover a new artist, I always make it a point to search the web for whatever info there might be on them because I think context and background really add to the experience of their music. While learning about Mika, I was stumbling across loads of websites dedicated to the pop scene in the U.K., which is very healthy and prolific. Thanks to various articles and blogs about Mika’s rise to fame, I not only discovered him, but the entire musical world from whence he came, and I decided I was totally in love.

The British Pop Scene is remarkably different from that of the U.S., even though most people seem to think all pop music is pop music. Not the case, I say! Just for starters, the American pop music scene has two very profound and powerful musical traditions constantly pounding on its walls – HipHop and Country. HipHop can trace its roots to Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, and Soul, all of which are basically sub-genres of Rock, which is fundamentally an American invention. Most of what we hear in mainstream music today is thanks to the deep and unmistakable sounds contributed by African Americans in the early stages of Rock and Roll. Meanwhile, Country is Rock mixed with the European American traditions of Bluegrass and Celtic Reeling. The majority of American pop artists today basically fall into one of those two categories when stripped to the essentials. And finally, we must give thanks to Ricky Martin for introducing America to the sounds of Latin America (honestly, his music is a very toned-down, Americanized version of Latin Pop, but he gets the lion’s share of the credit for the Latin Explosion, probably because he’s such a fine-looking piece of man).If you follow American music closely, all the different genres are constantly being shared and referenced, sometimes so much so that the music sounds schizo, but the point is… American music is some of the most diverse in the world, and you can totally hear it. Of course, I’ve over-simplified dramatically, but that doesn’t change the fact that America is damn lucky to have an almost never-ending supply of inspiration to keep the music going.

The U.K. isn’t as lucky as the U.S., but that doesn’t mean they aren’t innovative. Ever since the Beatles landed on American soil, the two countries have enjoyed an open and exploratory relationship, one that encourages the exchanging of musical ideas, and the opportunity for an artist to be famous on two continents. They gave us Punk, but we gave them Disco. They gave us the Beatles, but we gave them Nirvana. We can argue whether those are both fair tradeoff’s, but let’s not and say we did. Anyway, for the past 40 years or so, the U.S. and the U.K. have been influencing each other, adding depth to the pop music on both sides of the Atlantic. Many artists enjoy acclaim and prestige in both countries, regardless of their place of birth - Madonna, Annie Lennox, Radiohead, and Elton John are just a few examples – but a true crossover has become a rare, much coveted accomplishment. Instead, one will usually see a corresponding American act for every major craze sweeping across the U.K., and vice versa. Pop is all about relativity – the right place, right time factor – and it is amazing that two cultures could come up with so much great music, all from the same pool of influences.

If I ever had to argue everything I’ve just said in a court of law, Mika would be Exhibits A-Z. Life in Cartoon Motion is almost a buffet for pop fans. It seems like every genre and sub-genre of pop is covered, from the raucous dance-floor anthem (Love Today), to the syrupy ballad (Any Other World); to high camp (Lollipop)and low silliness (Big Girl), to the sublimely ridiculous (Grace Kelly) - they're all there, with a little bit of cabaret thrown in just for kicks. Every song can be traced to pop trends from both sides of the pond, but he does it without sounding out-dated or overly imitative. All of this together explains why he has found success all over the world – everyone will like something on this album.

The really good news is that the U.K. is always churning out excellent pop singers like Mika, we just don’t hear about them until many months later, and even if we do hear about them, they have to be super-awesome just to make a dent in our Top 40. But thanks to my exposure to Mika, I have since discovered acts like Roisin Murphy, Siobhan Donaghy, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Sia, I mean, the list goes on an on. If you aren’t following the U.K. pop scene, you’re missing some incredible music. I’ve only just started to get into it, but I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Key Tracks: All those songs I listed a paragraph ago...


Bjork / Volta

I feel like a lot of people I know run away screaming whenever I mention Bjork. Why does she frighten them so? Granted, she's a bit wacky, Ok... at times she seems certifiable. But really, she’s like a really big dog that barks (crazily) a lot – intimidating and scary at first, but with a little time and attention, she becomes your best friend.

I’ve said a hundred times, I’m not a lyrics person. I was recently chattin’ it up with a co-worker of mine who happens to have her doctorate in literature, and she was saying that all she hears when she listens to a new CD are words and stories. She is so tuned in to the lyrical content of the music that if she had to talk about it later, she would only be able to recall song titles and words. I, on the other hand, focus on sounds. I’m more likely to recall great beats, or an interesting orchestration, or a great melody. Since my co-worker’s experience of music is about the story, she feels that the music serves the words. Since I’m fixated on the sounds, I usually tend to believe the words serve the music. One isn’t better than the other, I should say, but I’m very interested in how our backgrounds effect how we experience music.

All of this leads me to believe that one of the reasons why so many people fear Bjork is that her music is so much more about sound than story. A person like my co-worker would have nothing to attach to upon first hearing Bjork – her voice isn’t pretty (well… at least to most people, it isn’t), her lyrics can be difficult to decipher, and she is constantly experimenting with rhythm and timbre. I suppose the tribal drumming, the electronic hisses and scratches, and all the wailing and warbling she does with that voice of hers… I suppose all of that could be a turn-off.

If you’re like my co-worker, I can’t really help you, but if you’re like me – and new sounds are the wind beneath your wings – than you will love, love, LOVE, this album, and Bjork in general. My first experience with Bjork was her album, Homogenic, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it changed my life a little bit. Songs like Hunter and Bachelorette are so freakishly awesome that they manage to make it on to every single playlist I ever make, no matter what kind of list it might be. I may play them at my wedding. It’s hard to say what makes them so great, but suffice it to say that Bjork doesn’t just create an atmosphere, she creates a whole universe. My life changed again when I saw the movie, Dancer in the Dark and followed that up with the purchazzie of the movie’s soundtrack, SelmaSongs, in which Bjork proves that she is a true-blue composer, capable of writing music that communicates with sound, instead of relying solely on the words.

Volta contains several of the most evocative, moving songs Bjork has ever created. And honestly, she may have succeeding in doing so despite of herself. Bjork has the reputation of being forward, experimental, innovative, but I think there’s a thin line between those things and insanely off-the-wall. Pop music has to exist in time and space; the only way it gets heard at all is if it breaks through the wall of indifference and over-stimulation in which our culture thrives. Therefore, it is imperative that the music be relevant and understandable. I think Bjork knows this, and that’s why she asked Timbaland, a producer who literally can do no wrong nowadays, to assist with three tracks. I don’t know if Timbaland’s main responsibility was to rein her in or not, but his work certainly helps the music sound current. Some critics expressed disappointment in what they perceived as Bjork’s selling-out, and some went so far as to call the new album pandering, but I completely disagree. An artist shouldn’t have any qualms about working towards a more universally digestible sound, as long as they aren’t compromising what they actually want to create, and I think Bjork has been around long enough not to fall into that black hole.

What I love most about this album is the consistently sharp songs. On previous albums, I’ve felt like the music and the words have been a little vague, like someone wandering in a desert; moving, yes… but probably in a giant circle. I’m a big of fan of songs that have beginnings, middles, and ends, and I especially love it when songs follow that route in an open and clear fashion. Unlike some of her previous work, the songs on this album are compact, concise, efficient – like a really good short story, and that, to me, is a sign of real brilliance.

My favorite song on the album, and one that I feel I need to spotlight, is The Dull Flame of Desire. The lyrics aren’t Bjork’s (rather, a translation of a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev), but here are the lyrics:

I love your eyes, my dear;
their splendid, sparkling fire;
when suddenly you raise them so
to cast a swift embracing glance,

like lightning flashing in the sky;
but there's a charm that is greater still:
when my love's eyes are lowered,
when all is fired by passion’s kiss,

and through the downcast lashes
I see the dull flame of desire.

Ooooohh, I get chills. First of all, what a great poem. To set it, Bjork enlists Antony Hegarty, lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons. Antony owns a voice that is both unconventional and ethereally beautiful, one that takes some time for my ears to get used to, but paired with Bjork’s often raspy, emotionally charged gutterings, the duet is unexpected and moving. The song starts quietly – a brass choir intones the melodic core of the entire piece, and then Bjork begins the first stanza of the poem. She takes turns singing the lines with Antony, until they are eventually singing in counterpoint. Meanwhile, the brass choir is echoing and embellishing the thematic elements of the piece, creating a thick layering that gets more and more complex, and a tribal, pulsing drum beat starts to push through everything, getting more and more frenetic and desperate as the piece progresses. After several iterations of the poem, everything comes together in a literal and figurative climax of brass, drums, and chorus, and well… you might need a cigarette afterwards.

Hear me, now – this song can stand up to anything being composed by doctoral candidates in Music Composition at any Conservatory in the World. Bjork is a frikkin’ genius.

Key Tracks: Earth Intruders, The Dull Flame of Desire, Innocence, Declare Independence


Rufus Wainwright / Release the Stars

I can’t remember my life before Rufus Wainwright, and frankly, I don’t want to. When Release the Stars first came out, I wrote a short blog post about what is arguably the best song on the album, Going to a Town, and my enthusiasm for Release the Stars hasn’t waned at all.

The great thing about this album is that it revitalized my adoration for Rufus. I’ll be honest, Want One and Want Two (Rufus’s third and fourth albums) aren’t my favorites. They don’t have the same magic as his eponymous first album or Poses. The Want albums seem to be searching for something, like there’s some lack of direction. That’s not to say the albums aren’t totally brill, but I don’t connect to them like I want to. Release the Stars was a revelation for me, because upon my first listen, I was completely caught up in it, listening to it over and over, memorizing the lyrics, getting misty at my favorite parts; I LOVE it when I have that kind of response to something.

Rufus is always talking about his affinity for opera and Broadway musicals, and for the first time, you can actually hear that affinity. He hinted at it on previous albums, but this time, it’s emphatic and intentional. These aren’t so much songs as they are production numbers, and I’m tempted to say he might have had the stage in mind when he was composing them. Songs like Going to a Town, Between My Legs, Do I Disappoint You, and Release the Stars are so bombastic, so energetic, so dense – that only one word comes to mind: SHOWSTOPPER! And then, just for balance, he throws in these quiet, intimate ballads like Tiergarten and Not Ready to Love, that are so bittersweet and sad that you can’t help but surrender to them. In my mind, all of these songs are moments in some bigger production, and God…I would do anything to see it.

Key Tracks: Are you kidding? They’re all key tracks!! I will NOT choose…


Amy Winehouse / Back to Black

I believe that 2007 will go down as the Year of Amy Winehouse. Every year has a small parade of breakout artists, but Amy Winehouse might just be the breakout artist of the decade.

The important thing to understand about Back to Black is that it’s a throw-back AND a throw-forward. The music is completely entrenched in the sounds and styles of 60s and 70s blues, soul, and rock (hence the beehive hairdo), and yet it fits in perfectly with everything going on in music today. Helping her is Mark Ronson, a producer/composer/arranger/DJ that has spearheaded the neo-soul movement in the UK (incidentally, he released an album of collaborations this year as well, which is really good). Amy, who has more soul than any white girl should, uses her voice and her lyrics to update and modernize the old-school sounds, and somehow does so without coming across like a tribute artist. The lyrics are the standard stuff you’d expect: heartbreak, unrequited love, infidelity, etc., but Amy peppers everything with very modern allusions to drugs, sex, and self-destruction. The girl groups of the 60s and 70s weren’t addressing those issues, and if they were, it wasn’t obvious. The best example would have to be Rehab, probably the biggest hit on the album. Keep in mind, this album was out in the U.K. before Paris, Lindsay, and Britney went through their respective dramas. Somehow, Amy wrote their theme song before they even needed it.

Basically, Amy Winehouse reinvented the sounds of yesterday. I think she’s a shoe-in for the Best New Artist Grammy, that is if she can keep her act together long enough to claim it. Based on the tabloids, it seems her life is very much imitating her art – and you know, it’s none of my business. I just want her to be alive and reasonably healthy so she can keep making records.

Key Tracks: Rehab, Back to Black, Tears Dry On Their Own, You Know I’m No Good


Rihanna / Good Girl Gone Bad

I think Rihanna gets a bad rap. Everyone knows and loves Umbrella, and that makes sense because it’s one of the best pop songs ever written, in my opinion, but no one ever talks about the album. Even when the follow-up singles performed well, people still didn’t go out and buy the whole thing. To this day, Good Girl Gone Bad hasn’t sold nearly as well as her other albums. What is going on!? I think it speaks volumes about the state of the music industry, because 10 years ago, this album would have sold millions. If you only bought the Umbrella single, I’m telling you to your face that you’re missing out on the best pop album to come out in years. I'm vindicated just a tiny bit by her six Grammy nominations - at least someone somewhere noticed how awesome she is.

For some reason, Rihanna has entered the national psyche as some sort of guilty pleasure; she’s treated like a fad that won’t last. That’s a shame, seriously, because there’s nothing trendy or time-sensitive about this album. It is fantastic pop, well performed, well produced, and well everything. The reason I put it at No. 1 is because it didn’t leave my car stereo for 5 months. You hear me? I listened to it over and over for five months, and it never got old. Did it change the world? No. Is Rihanna the next Madonna? Perhaps not. But did it entertain me non-stop for almost half the year? A thousand times yes, and that’s why I’ve named it my best album of the year.

There have only been a few albums that I would put up with Good Girl Gone Bad in my pantheon of pop greatness. My criteria is simple: zero skippable tracks, I never get tired of it, and it makes me feel happy. They are, and in no particular order:

1. Destiny’s Child – Survivor
2. Kelly Clarkson – Breakaway
3. Kylie Minogue – Fever
4. Ace of Base – The Sign
5. Britney Spears – In the Zone
6. Christina Aguilera – Stripped
7-10. Madonna – Ray of Light, Music, American Life, Confessions on a Dancefloor

I proudly stick Rihanna’s Good Girl Gone Bad at No. 11. Welcome to the club, girlfriend!!

Key Tracks: They’re all great. Not a skipper in the bunch. My favs, though, are… dammit, they’re all my favorites.

I am exhausted! Honorable Mentions are behind the last cut...

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

I’m not a huge proponent of indie-rock, but this group is fast becoming one of my favs. I’ve listened to this album at least a dozen times, but I always come away with new insights. I especially love the lush arrangements – this band is quite large, with what? 10 people, so they experiment with all sorts of different timbres. It adds a lot to their clever lyrics.

Maroon 5 – It Won’t Be Soon Before Long

I’m loyal to this otherwise mediocre band mostly because I think Adam Levine is smokin’ hot. But this album is very decent – great hooks. Basic Pop, but fun enough.

Annie Lennox – Songs of Mass Destruction

At first I was disappointed with this album. It doesn’t stand up to any of her previous work – a lot of it sounds tired and uninspired. But it’s still Annie Lennox, so it’s good stuff no matter what. The only awful thing I could say about it concerns the song, Sing. We’re lead to believe that over 20 famous singers came in to record the song, but you only hear Madonna and Joss Stone clearly. Talk about false advertising. Also, while I appreciate that the song is about encouraging repressed women all over the world, this song couldn’t be any cheesier. Apparently there’s a very thin line between inspirational and pandering.

Backstreet Boys – Unbreakable

Before you laugh, this album is really quite good. The Backstreet Boys always had the better power ballads in my opinion, and this album is nothing but. Something seems off, what with the missing 5th member, but it’s still a good album for just singing along like a crazy person in the car.

Brandi Carlile – The Story

Wow, I’m so glad I discovered this girl. She’s a mix of country and southern rock, with just a little bit of alternative thrown in. Her voice is really rough… like, it sounds like it hurts when she sings, but it has a heck of a lot of character, too. The highlight on this album is the title track, which featured heavily on Grey’s Anatomy. It’s an amazing song that moved me to tears the first time I heard it. The rest of the album is very good, just a tad bit too country for my tastes.

A Fine Frenzy – One Cell in the Sea

A Fine Frenzy is actually Alison Sudol, and this turned out to be an amazing debut album. She’s a chanteuse that sings about love, mostly, but there’s always a hint of pathos, even in her most optimistic songs. Her true strength, though, is desolation and despair, as evidenced by her hit single, Almost Lover. Either way, the songs are catchy and memorable, and her breathy mezzo-soprano is one of the prettiest I’ve heard in a while.

Alicia Keys – As I Am

I haven’t listened to this album as much as I would like - it only came out a month ago - but I’m fine adding it as an honorable mention based on one song – No One. I frikkin’ love that song.

Timbaland - Shock Value

It most certainly has been Timbaland's big year, or... years. First of all, Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado are both all over the radio, even though both of their albums (which Timbaland produced) are almost two years old. Then, OneRepublic, a struggling Coldplay/The Fray-eque band hired him to remix one of their songs, which ultimately skyrocketed to huge hit status. On top of everything, Timbaland released a solo album which yielded an impressive three huge singles. Well, I love the singles... the rest of the album is standard rap stuff, lots of "I'm the greatest"+"I have more money than you"+"Women like to have sex with me"+"Haters don't bug me, but I will still write ten songs about the fact that they hate me"="Love me or I'll hurt you" kind of stuff.

And just because I'm a complete masochist, the rest of the albums I enjoyed this year...

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