My Top 10 Albums of 2007

It’s been a surprisingly great year for music. Lots of great new bands and old favorites returning. Even some of the albums that didn’t make this list were pretty good. Here are my picks in order:

10. In Rainbows, Radiohead. Took me a while to get into this album, but it is one of their best.

9. Costello Music, The Fratellis. “Flathead” was the second best single of the year.

8. The Stage Names, Okkervil River. Heartfelt, personal.

7. The Information, Beck. Personal lyrics for a change make this album ring true. Who else can use a telephone dialing fit into a melody?

6. New Magnetic Wonder, The Apples in Stereo. Happy happy joy joy!

5. Reunion Tour, The Weakerthans. While not as great as some of their earlier efforts, still a solid album. “Sun in an Empty Room” is one of the best songs they have ever done.

4. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon. Has the best single of the year, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb.” I wasn’t a fan of these guys before, but I am now.

3. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire. Darker, deeper.

2. The Broken String, Bishop Allen. My new favorite band. Catchy, charming. “Click Click Click Click” is my ringtone, if that tells you anything.

1. Leaves in the River, Sea Wolf. Great lyrics, soulful melodies, and frequent use of a cello. What’s not to like? My pick for the best album of the year.

In the disappointments category, put the missing Courtney Love album, Traffic and Weather by Fountains of Wayne, and Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky.

Missing Britpop

I realized yesterday it has been over 10 years since I heard my first Oasis song in a pub in Limerick. And no, it wasn’t “Wonderwall.” It was “She’s Electric” and I sang along with the crowd even though I had never heard the song before. It was just that infectious. “Who is this?” I asked the guy from New Zealand I was standing beside. He looked at me like I was from another planet. “Oasis!” he shouted over the din. The next day, I was at a record store buying the album, along with albums from Pulp and Blur and Elastica. I was hooked. This was the antidote to the bad grunge and nu-metal crap that was taking over the airwaves in America.

Since then, Oasis has fallen on hard times and the Britpop movement they rode the crest of the wave on has long since crashed on the rocky shores of public tastes. Almost all of the Britpop bands are either disbanded or are just shadows of their former selves. And in America, the alternative radio stations seem to be flailing about, looking for something worthwhile to play or simply killing time until they turn into Classic Rock stations or something. It’s no wonder a whole generation of listeners gave up on alternative music here in the US, instead turning to hip hop or simply listening to mainstream pop. There’s nothing wrong with either of those, of course, but it has been a long time since I have heard a new alternative movement that arose like the British bands of 1992-1999.

I miss them.

And lest you think I’m just an old fart complaining about how the music of today is not as good as it used to be, there are signs of hope like distant stars out there, coming from the edges, where the best alternative music almost always comes from. Arcade Fire from Montreal. The Weakerthans from Winnipeg. Bishop Allen. The Fratellis. Arctic Monkeys. Bands that should, collectively, be dominating the alternative airways. But there is no movement, no banner to wrap around them, no overall marketing. No catchy name. So they live in the shadow of older musical movements, the same way the great bands of the late 1980s like The Pixies lived in the shadow of New Wave. I’m hopeful that, if my theory is true and this period is much like the late-1980s, our early 1990s are right around the corner, musically. The 20teens, with another Nirvana or Blur just waiting to break through.

In the meantime, I’m blowing the dust off my Britpop albums and playing them without shame. They’ve aged better than one would think. Pulp’s Different Class is still one for the ages. Elastica’s self-titled debut still throbs with sex and snarl. Blur’s Parklife might be the “Sgt. Pepper’s” of the 1990s. And, yes, even dear, squabbling, unibrowed Oasis is better than you remember. Be Here Now is a hell of an album, and if you wouldn’t sing along with “She’s Electric” in an Irish pub, well, you’re no friend of mine.

CDs are Now Old Skool

Unpacking my CD collection this weekend, I was astonished how much room the CDs took up. Which, as anyone who remembers the space required for records, is pretty ridiculous. And yet, in the Era of iPod, I can’t imagine ever buying another CD player or even another CD, unless I simply can’t find it any other way online. CDs are now old skool.

Albums for Driving Long Distances

WINNEMUCCA, NV — I’m currently near the end of my 2600-mile, cross-country journey from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. By the time I’m done, it will have taken me roughly 40 hours of driving time and I will have passed through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. It’s a lot of driving, and, since I’ve only got my dog Pepper for company, that means a lot of listening to music.

Out of the 300+ albums in my iPod, a few of them have distinguished themselves as being excellent background music for driving. These albums all share a few things in common: few slow songs, many songs that are easy to sing along to, enough variety so as to not make you zone out, no more than one so-so song on the album that you would have to skip through or endure, not overly complex (no “Kid A” for example), and a driving beat. So, without further ado, some albums that have saved me from serious Route 80 insanity.

  • Green Day, “American Idiot.” The best album of 2004 is also a great album to drive to. Relentlessly melodic. Dare I say it, but this might be the best album of the decade thus far. And I’m no Green Day fan. Several listens this trip.
  • Guided By Voices, “Do The Collapse.” I tried listening to any number of GBV albums, but this is the one that stuck. Maybe because it was produced by The Cars’ Ric Ocasek.
  • Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, “Hearts of Oak.” Best drum solo EVER on “Ballad of the Sin Eater.”
  • Arcade Fire, “Funeral.” I’m not sure how this album works, but it does.
  • The Killers, “Hot Fuss.” Jam-packed with great songs.
  • The Pixies, “Doolittle.” Needs no explanation.
  • The Weaker Thans, “Reconstruction Site.” Great lyrics, punchy melodies.

Honorable Mentions: U2, “War,” Wilco, “Summerteeth,” The Wonder Stuff, “Never Loved Elvis,” Weezer, [Blue Album], Radiohead, “The Bends,” R.E.M., “Monster,” PJ Harvey, “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea,” Oasis, “Don’t Believe The Truth,” Garbage, “Bleed Like Me,” Elastica, “The Radio One Sessions,” ccc, “Revolved,” Brendan Benson, “Lapalco,” and Ben Folds, “Rockin’ the Suburbs.”

I suppose depending on what mood you are in, and when and where you are, any album could be a good driving album. Your mileage may vary.