December 30, 2008
Top Albums of 2008... the folly of a monster love
Four albums leapt out this year, with Goldfrapp at the top:
1 Goldfrapp Seventh Tree
For this, I'll use my Instinct Magazine review: Alison Goldfrapp has shaken the glitter out of her hair and discarded the stern Dietrich disco of Supernature for something altogether pastoral on her fourth album with collaborator Will Gregory. Folky though its roots may be, Seventh Tree is very much a Goldfrapp album, awash with electronic swooshes, strings and melodies. While Tree is a calm affair with no blazing dance tracks, the poppy Caravan Girl could easily be the Song Of Summer ’08. Lyrically, the album is softer too: the “backless dress” in A&E isn’t Galliano, it’s a hospital gown, and the protagonist is jacked up on meds as she recalls a night gone wrong. Glamour wouldn’t be glamorous if we lived it 24/7. Seventh Tree is a gorgeous and necessary comedown.
You can also read the full review about the Album Of The Year.
Key tracks: A&E, Caravan Girl, Road To Somewhere, Clowns, and the spine-tingling Monster Love
2 Ladyhawke Ladyhawke
Pip from Ladyhawke says she's influenced by "video games, childhood memories, nostalgia, pining, loneliness, and depression."It's all packed into the debut from this New Zealand band, who celebrate 80's new-wave-pop-rock that's high on melody. Favorites include Better Than Sunday, the surging Another Runaway and My Delirium, one of my Songs Of The Year. Love Don't Live Here Anymore sounds as if it were ripped from Pat Benatar's Get Nervous album. And id that isn't rad, I don't know what is.
Key tracks: My Delirium, Paris Is Burning, Better Than Sunday, Another Runaway, Morning Dreams, Magic.
3 Will Young Let It Go
My sense in 2008 that the blog world became top heavy slowed down my reviews and if there was a pop album that deserved thoughtful criticism, it was Will's near-perfect fourth CD. He's now entered into Annie Lennox-levels of talent, using the best soul/dance/pop melodies over painful lyrics that melancholy junkies like me wail along with. Take the vulnerable Tell Me The Worst, in which Wils urges a lover to come clean and show his dark side: "If that's all you're gonna give me... Cause that's just not enough / So tell me the worst I'll tell you mine / I got close, but I turned back everytime." At the end comes the frank kicker: "I wrote this song about you / But you know it's also where I fall down / Why don't I cool out.." Really, I don't need to have a relationship. I just need to listen to Will and weep over the imaginary remnants.
Key tracks: Let It Go, I Won't Give Up, Tell Me The Worst, If Love Equals Nothing, Free My Mind.
4 Sia Some People Have Real Problems
Great albums do not give it away too soon. I started playing Sia over and over in Philly last January and it took a full 11 months to really connect with me. Song by song, the melodies became clearer and the vocals went as deep as any record this year. This girl can sang! Veering from 70's AM radio confessionals to gospel, Sia arranges these songs with as many twists and turns as those vocals. The fact that I will carry this album around with me for the rest of my life means it could have easily been the #1 of the year.
Key tracks: Soon We'll All Be Found, Day Too Soon, Death By Chocolate, Little Black Sandals, Beautiful Calm Driving, I Go To Sleep (Pretenders cover).
And the rest of the Top 10:
Alanis Morissette Flavors Of Entanglement
Because I have only previously liked about 4 Alanis songs, I will give some credit for the genius of this album to its producer Guy Sigsworth, who was Imogen Heap's collaborator in Frou Frou. It's a shame that the album really went nowhere because even the b-sides and extra cuts were superb. Alanis still cries a good cry (piano ballad Not As We or the killer Torch), but she also works credible joy on Giggle Again For No Reason. The wonky new-agey-ness is still there in the lyrics - really, she has a song called In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man! Her appearance on this list is kind of embarrassing, but this was an immediate and totally unexpected favorite this summer.
Key tracks: Torch, Giggle Again For No Reason, Not As We, In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man and off-cuts It's A Bitch To Grow Up and the delicate, 6-minute Madness.
Reuben Butchart Golden Boy
I always want to have albums on this list that won't be known to every pop blog reader. This year is bereft of such music, bar the amazing Reuben Butchart, a sometime member of Antony and The Johnsons. Come & Play is the kind of New York midtempo I like to think of as the soundtrack of who I am, while Golden Boy probably makes Rufus Wainwright's ass clench, it's so good. Finally, the duet with Antony, All There Is To Tell, has the most heartbreaking final minute of any song this year. I discovered this album in late Spring, but this is autumn all the way. [ed: I suspect Reuben might blanch at sitting next to Alanis on a Best Of list, but he's on top of Grace, which is a favored position] Hear more.
Key tracks: Come & Play, Golden Boy, All There Is To Tell, Belle of The Ball, Northern California.
Grace Jones Hurricane
An unexpectedly superb return from Miss Grace Jones, the original DIVA. The first two singles This Is Life and Williams Blood are among the top ten songs of her career offering two sides of Grace: no-nonsense fierce on the former and sentimental on the latter. I love how this album manages to reference her classic Island sound of the 70's (you know, the reggae shizz) and then place her into the moody James Bond environments she owns. Sure, it was all a bit Massive Attack 1994, but it sounded fucking hot. Amazing Grace, yes.
Key tracks: This Is Life, Williams Blood, Love You To Life, Devil In My Life, I'm Crying Mother's Tears.
Girls Aloud Out Of Control
Normally I am picky about my top albums - I need to like the whole record. I should be honest that I either really love or really hate the songs on Out Of Control. It's pashernate! There are three tunes here that rank as some of GA's most "uber" work and further lift them over the pantheon of great girl groups (and yes, they're leagues above those Spice "Girls"). The three tunes: The Promise (read my live blog of its premier), the moody masterpiece Untouchable (it's their Apocalypse Now, okay?) and the most perfect song they've ever done, The Loving Kind. These three scoot this album onto this list. I look forward to what they do next because they are THE most inventive group in traditional POP pop music.
Key tracks: The Promise, Untouchable, The Loving Kind, Love Is Pain, Turn To Stone and Rolling Back The Rivers In Time (ed: what does that mean?).
Okay, here is the thing - Hometown Glory was the most powerful debut song I can think of in many years. A total jawdropper. The intro alone is worth the price of the album. The voice and the lyrics on 19 suggest a SMART young woman who needs only a guitar to tell her stories. Amazing. Everyone crowed about Amy Winehouse. No No NO. Adele is the musical daughter of the great Billy Bragg. Evidence: The lyrics to Daydreamer: "He is a real lover / Makin` up the past / and feeling up his girl like he's never felt her figure before." I love that! Adele called Chasing Pavements her "Celine moment" and it was- big, bold, radio ready. I have great hopes for her as long as she lets her voice be the guide. Strings not needed here.
Key tracks: Hometown Glory, Daydreamer, To Make You Feel My Love Best For Last, Tired (love the end of that one!)
Solange Sol-Angel And The Hadley St Dreams
Turn your head away from her attention-seeking, ass-haking sister. If you have any taste, you will acknowledge the truth: that in her quote/unquote lesserness, Solange Knowles has better taste. Sandcastle Disco, I Decided (Freesmasons Mix, natch), TONY, 6'Clock Blues. Like a lost Jackson 5 album! The finale, Cosmic Journey, was a beautiful mindfuck of a closer. Really moving. The mass public may a dozen dyed roses, but I pick this dandelion.
Key tracks: Sandcastle Disco, I Decided (Freesmasons Mix), TONY, 6'Clock Blues, Cosmic Journey.
That's 10, so here is the Plus One:
Coldplay Viva La Vida
A twist: I do not love Viva La Vida as it was presented in early summer 2008. It did not live up to the title track, which is their finest song, bar Yellow. So my review here is the corrected tracklist I created after Prospekt's March was released: Life In Technicolor II, Cemeteries Of London, Glass Of Water, Lost!, Lovers In Japan (Osaka Sun Mix), Rainy Day, Postcards From Far Away, Viva La Vida, Violet Hill, Strawberry Swing, Prospekt's March/ Poppy fields, Now My Feet Won't Touch The Ground, Life In Technicolor (inst).
Note: I actually did a review of this and never posted it. Maybe someday when things are slow.
Other solid albums:
Cyndi Lauper Bring Ya To The Brink
Key tracks: Into The Nightlife, Rain On Me, Raging Storm, Same Ol' Story and the massive Lay Me Down
Donna Summer Crayons
Key tracks: Stamp Your Feet, Driving Down Brazil, Science Of Love, Be Myself Again, I'm A Fire and the sexy fucktrack It's Only Love.
The Killers Day And Age
Key tracks: Human, Spaceman, The World We Live In, This Is Your Life and the geeky calypso I Can't Stay.
The Last Shadow Puppets The Age Of The Understatement
Key tracks: My Mistakes Were Made For You, Standing Next To Me, Meeting Place
Next year, o ye Music Godesses, please bring back the Britpop bands and the men.
See 2007's Best Albums list