Friday, December 26, 2008

Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2008

Coldplay had my 11th favorite CD of the year, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Coldplay had my 11th favorite CD of the year, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Hey, stop copying me Chris Martin!

2008 was the year that everything least likely to happen, happened. As I read what I wrote in this post, I see the words "unlikely" or "least likely" pop up everywhere. I have even named a former life long nemesis to this list. It was the year of "Go Figure", it was 2008:

10. Lindsey Buckingham - Gift of Screws
As his career has progressed, Buckingham's artful refinement of his unique distillation of roots rock, Brian Wilson and 70's melodicism has become increasingly studied though no less sharp. This makes Gift of Screws a pleasant surprise as Buckingham cuts loose a smidgen with a greater focus on energy and Fleetwood Mac-isms than much of his recent work (including Fleetwood Mac albums). Fleetwood Mac white album and Rumours era rock abounds with a cluster of acoustic and electric guitars and multitracked chorus vocals (with Buckingham seemingly raising the EQ on some of his singing to mimic the Buckingham/Nicks sound). Did You Miss Me embraces his softer, swoonier side while "Love Runs Deeper" and "The Right Place to Fade" had me reliving his "Go Your Own Way" glory days.

9. Rick Springfield - Venus in Overdrive
One of the unlikely candidates for a comeback, Springfield once again displays his Genius of adapting personal experiences to the Pop / Rock sound of the day. As he has done throughout his career, Springfield takes the modern style of commercial rock and personalizes it with his distinct brand of angst and weariness (of the many people to once hold Teen Idol status, Springfield stood out in writing downbeat lyrics to his happy sounding songs). The lead single "What's Victoria's Secret" recalled "Jessie's Girl" in parts and Springfield worked the promo circuit including his old stomping grounds of General Hospital to push it. The rest of the album is just as good as "Secret", referencing the Stones and the Beatles in between the slick sonics worthy of a Disney star. The Genius strikes again!

8. R.E.M. - Accelerate

The least likely of the bunch to ride the retro train, R.E.M. cut out the arty crap and got back to the jangly fast beat riddles that made them College Rock darlings. Like the album title says, it was time for R.E.M. to speed up a bit and tracks like Living Well is the Best Revenge and Supernatural Superserious give a caffeinated kick in the pants. There are still some slower numbers for R.E.M. to get their more ambitious ya-yas out, but what sticks are moments like the silly album closer I'm Gonna DJ. I haven't played this much R.E.M. since Automatic for The People (1992).

7. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

The real success story for Winehouse is that she made it out of 2008 alive, I really didn't think she would make it. Forgetting that she is a violent mess of a junkie, the album Back to Black ties Classic Soul and Motown to engaging songwriting and a unique performer. Tears dry on Their Own recalls the rush of early Diana Ross while her hit Rehab was attention grabbing fun. Given her self destructive behavior, it's not likely Winehouse will make an album this good ever again. Winehouse is the beautiful sound of damaged goods, intent on proving that You Know I'm No Good was no idle boast.

6. Whitesnake - Good to Be Bad

Of all the 80's rockers to pull their spandex out of mothballs, David Coverdale was one of the least likely to succeed. Whitesnake had come to symbolize hair band excess almost as much as Winger and with little output from Coverdale since the 80's he seemed ripe for a limp pale performance. But Coverdale is a crafty one, bringing in guitarist Doug Aldrich to peel out simpatico Led Zep riffage to Coverdale's Plantish howl. Good to Be Bad is like a cross of the two best 'Snake albums, it has the down and dirty blues rock of Slide it In (1984) and the commercial hooks of Whitesnake (1987). With Good to Be Bad you get the best Whitesnake has to offer, the Led Zep lite of the title track, the power balladry of All I Want All I Need and the fired up go for broke rawk of Got What You Need. Coverdale proves he still has some hair spray left in his can yet.

5. John Mellencamp - Life, Death, Love and Freedom

Is this really my list? I've hated John Mellencamp for years so saying his name positively takes a bit of getting used to. This year I decided to cut Mellencamp a little slack and give him a fair shot at impressing me. His disc Life, Death, Love and Freedom was good but I didn't think it was great. So imagine my surprise when I made this list this week and found I liked this album to the point I would rank it my 5th favorite of the year. Like Springsteen's classic Nebraska (1982), Mellencamp takes a good hard look at the disillusionment with the American dream as it is taken away "Without A Shot" in this Troubled Land. Staring in the face of social and economic ills or maybe just a plain loss of values, Mellencamp paints a stark picture that mirrors the feeling of what's happening now like no other. Looks like all those people who recommended this CD to me was right: it is great and it's one of the best of the year. Hard to believe this all started with me liking the rockabilly My Sweet Love.

4. Asia - Phoenix

It only took a quarter of a century to get Steve Howe, John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes to record a new album, record time in the world of Progressive rock where band lineups change with the weather. Inspired by Wetton's recent health problems, Phoenix comes alive with feel good emotion and tricky band interplay. Surprising in its maturity, Wetton's smooth delivery backed by angular guitars, swirling synths and rapid fire drums bring back the Heat. I even got to live the dream and see these guys in concert this year. Easily the band's most optimistic record, Asia proves it's An Extraordinary Life. "Never Again" had the drama and poppy action expected from the First Supergroup of the 80's while at the same time delving into their storied Prog history like never before on tracks like Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya. Carl Palmer rules!

3. Sheryl Crow - Detours
Crow had become a bit of a media joke as her commercial power has faded, written off as a left wing nut job who survived cancer but failed in a high profile relationship with bicyclist Lance Armstrong. Detours shows Crow can have the last laugh, reteaming with Tuesday Night Music Club producer Bill Bottrell returns her to a more natural, lively sound than her recent outings. And with Bottrell, Crow finds her songwriting muse and writes an album of all killer and no filler (the first time I can say that about one of her discs). Serving as a self portrait, Detours gives insight into her openly lefty politics and wounded romantic heart. Cuts like God Bless This Mess, Love is Free and Now That You're Gone illustrate the power of her songwriting. My favorite of all the Sheryl Crow albums, one of those rare moments where talent, feeling and performance hit their peak at the same time.

2. Journey - Revelation

In what was one of the most controversial Lead Singer swaps in recent history, Journey picked a Filipino singer from You Tube to be the latest substitute for AOR legend Steve Perry. While predecessors Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto fared well, Arnel Pineda turned out to be the best replacement yet for "The Voice". Able to mimic not just Perry's range but recapture some of the soulfulness, Pineda added clear enunciation, an egoless approach and a high flying stage presence to the mix. Surprisingly, Pineda was also able to inject an upbeat personality and genuine feeling into the group's sound to bring Journey back from the brink. Meanwhile, Jon Cain and Neal Schon wrote material strong enough to be the best Journey album since Raised on Radio (1986). Rockers like Change for the Better and Never Walk Away soared like the Journey of old. The band that practically invented the power ballad serve up more misty eyed sentimentality on After All These Years in grand fashion. An album worthy of Tony Soprano's respect.

1. Metallica - Death Magnetic

The Bay Area Bashers rolled back the clock to the speed metal sound that made their name. Unruly song lengths, multisection arrangements, blazing fast guitar solos and growling vocals tear up the landscape. That Was Just Your Life and My Apocalypse could have just as easily come from ...And Justice For All (1988) with its total commitment to heaviocity (a word I made up just now). Some of their later, catchier style works its way in on All Nightmare Long or Cyanide but not to the point of weakening their edge. It's Metallica the way I've wanted to hear them for years: brutal, fast and uncompromising. Most of all, other than the Black Album and Garage Inc. it's the first Metallica album in twenty years to sound more like fun than work.

And there it is, my Ten favorite discs of the past year. Next up, my Five favorite movies and TV shows of '08.


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Okay Mr. Mike, I'll go with your number 1. Not sure about any of the rest. Maybe your number 2... but that's about it. But... you are the Professional Media Man. I'm just a classic rock junkie.What do I know? :)

Mr. Mike said...

Hi SKW! Your opinion is always valid here :)