Respectful Insolence

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I’m a bit of a music critic wannabe. This pretension began very early in the history of this blog and persisted every year. Usually, sometime around the end of the year or the first day of the new year, I’ll compile my list of my favorite CDs of the year. I had planned on doing this for 2007 yesterday, on the last day of the year, but somehow I didn’t manage to do it. So, what the heck? Before I get back to the usual medical and scientific topics of this blog tomorrow, I can’t resist indulging my college age pretension once again. A word about my list, though: There’s no way I can sample every CD (or even most CDs) out there. I may buy a lot of CDs (well over 50 a year on average), but that’s just a drop in the bucket, and many of the ones that I buy aren’t even new music; rather, they’re old music, either replacing old LPs with CDs or just filling in holes in my music collection. Even so, I don’t think I do too badly for a middle-aged guy. So, without further ado, my picks for the top ten CDs of 2007, presented in no particular order:

  1. The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible. The Arcade Fire managed to avoid the all-too-common sophomore slump with their followup to my favorite album of 2004. This effort doesn’t surpass their debut, but it comes close to equaling it. I particularly like their somewhat bombastic use of a church organ in some of the tracks, but, then, I was always a sucker for bombast and prog rock.
  2. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, The Filthiest Show in Town. Imagine, if you will, traveling back in time to Weimar Germany to put the utter decadence of large segments of the nightlife that characterized that era onto a CD, except that you’ve brought with you all the modern recording technology of today placed in the groove-happy service of the producers of only the finest soundtracks from 1970s porno or blaxploitation films, and you’ll have a vague idea of what My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult sounds like. It’s the sort of sound that demands that you shake your rump to the beat, especially tawdry gems like Jet Set Sex and Cadillac Square. Decadence never sounded so good.
  3. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand. On the surface, this was one of the most unlikely pairings I could have thought of. On the one hand, there’s Robert Plant, the blond-tressed Viking God persona as lead singer of one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time, Led Zeppelin, teamed with the avatar of new bluegrass in the 21st century. By all rights it shouldn’t work, but under the careful guidance of producer T. Bone Burnett and with the assistance of a crack band, the two mesh together almost perfectly. True, the proceedings are a bit more laid back than necessary, but that’s not a bad thing. Plant’s and Krauss’s voices harmonize in a hauntingly melodic fashion for a most satisfying collaboration.
  4. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black. Rehab has to be one of the most hilarious songs of the last decade, a defiant rant against those who would control how one lives delivered in a sultry blues that’s impossible to resist. Unfortunately, Winehouse’s apparent meltdown makes the tune seem in retrospect to be eerily prescient. Fortunately, the rest of the album is as good as its opening track, particularly You Know I’m No Good. Here’s hoping that it’s all just bravado and that Winehouse doesn’t melt down completely and deny us a talent this good.
  5. The Apples in Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder. I’ve always had a soft spot for 1960s-style psychedelia, and The Apples in Stereo deliver the goods. It’s as though a time warp opened up to 1967 but didn’t close off, allowing the technology of 2007 to mix freely with that of 40 years ago. New Magnetic Wonder is the result of that merging of old and new, and it’s filled with hooks a-plenty to boot.
  6. Brett Anderson, Brett Anderson. In the 1990s, I was a huge fan of Suede, which was forced to adopt the name of The London Suede in the United States. Brett Anderson was half of the duo behind the genius that was Suede, and it’s great to see him back in fine form. Yes, he sounds a lot like Coming Up-era Suede, but that doesn’t bother me in the least, especially since he’s learned a thing or two since then. His solo album is more clean and precise than Suede ever was. It’s also more introspective.
  7. Ian Hunter, Shrunken Heads. For a guy who’s approaching 70, once again Ian Hunter has managed to produce some of the best music of his career. The guy can still rock out, too. A worthy followup to 2001′s Rant, Shrunken Heads finds Ian Hunter no less angry at the world now than then. With echoes of Bob Dylan at times, the Rolling Stones at others, but with a sound that is unmistakably his own, Hunter dissects the soul of America as only an outsider can. Yes, he’s gotten cranky with age, but that only adds to the enjoyment of listening to his sarcastic screeds, particularly when he’s as funny as the blisteringly self-deprecating I Am What I Hated When I Was Young. Me, too, Ian. Me, too. Funny how it works out that way.
  8. Dungen, Tio Bitar. Two words: Swedish psychedelia. Who knew it could be so good? My only regret is that I can’t understand a word of the lyrics, but, really, was that ever a problem for rock?
  9. Low, Drums and Guns. Apparently inspired by the war in Iraq, Low delivers outrage and lament, all wrapped in an incredibly spare sound that proves that less is more.
  10. The White Stripes, Icky Thump. Yes, it’s more of the same, but that’s a good thing. It’s not entirely the same, though. There’s just enough change to keep Jack and Meg’s stripped down garage rock interesting.

I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to the new Radiohead or Wilco albums yet, but that’s mainly because, although I generally like Wilco, I find the band to be highly overrated and because Radiohead hasn’t produced anything that’s impressed me much since Kid A. (Hail to the Thief was particularly disappointing.)

Unfortunately, the music of 2007 didn’t impress me that much compared to recent years, but there were still gems to be found. Personally, I’m hoping that 2008 will be better.

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    January 1, 2008

    My only regret is that I can’t understand a word of the lyrics, but, really, was that ever a problem?

    It could be, as Swedish was apparently the language of God:

    Andreas Kremke, a Swedish philologist who can only be described as a flag-waving patriot, claimed that in the Garden of Eden, God spoke Swedish, Adam (and, presumably, Eve) spoke Danish and the evil serpent spoke French.

    Bob

  2. #2 Mary
    January 1, 2008

    Orac, In Rainbows was the first Radiohead I’ve bought since OK Computer, and it stacks up well against it. Not equal, but still pretty damn good.

    But yeah, Wilco’s faded on me.

  3. #3 anon
    January 2, 2008

    I’m glad you mentioned Drums and Guns. Awesome music.

  4. #4 buckeye surgeon
    January 2, 2008

    Arcade Fire is amazing. I agree; Funeral was better, but Neon Bible is a solid follow-up. In Rainbows is very good. I liked Wilco’s album. Also check out: Les Savy, Fav, Spoons, LCD Soundsystem, and the Shins.

  5. #5 smurfy
    January 2, 2008

    Thanks for reminding me to buy that Brett Anderson album.

  6. #6 David
    January 2, 2008

    In Rainbows is very good. I agree, not quite OK Radio, but still a great listen. I also liked Year Zero. The best from NIN in quite a while!

  7. #7 Steven Levery
    January 3, 2008

    I would second several of your picks, but I was particularly happy to see Thrill Kill Kult on the list. I was a big fan when they started out in the late 80s/early 90s with their self titled debut, and then “Confessions of a Knife” and “Sexplosion”. I saw them live in a small club in Seattle back then, and it was wild. “Filthiest Show” shows they’re still alive; I just wish I could still shake my rump.

  8. #8 Joshua
    January 13, 2008

    Orac, I’ve been really digging on New Magnetic Wonder as well. Although all the little not-songs thrown in there annoy me. It’s just so bloody pretentious, and pretentious is very much what the rest of that album is not. Even more annoying is that on, say, eMusic, which charges by the track, you really get screwed if you download those out of completism. So I just didn’t download them, and I really don’t think I’m missing anything. The actual songs are great.

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