Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Year That Was 2009 pt 1

I've been neglecting the blog lately and want to get back into posting so to start up again I'm going to subscribe to the "Out with the old and in with the new" routine. My first two posts of 2010 will be to review the year that was 2009. The first post is music and the second is everything else.

2009 was a year of big hype and modest pay offs in music. It was the year the King of Pop died, ironically sparking a career re-evaluation as audiences were able to separate the music from the person. It was the year of Glambert and Susan Boyle keeping reality tv's foot in the door of pop music. It was the year of free live concerts streaming on the internet. It was the year people went gaga for Gaga and told Kanye he's heartless. Maybe he was upset that it was the year of Taylor Swift, the lanky Country teen dominated everyone and everything else in her path.

For me personally it was the year I completed my Top 100 Favorite albums posts. It only took what, two years? I'm big on lists though, as my wife says I have lists of my lists. And true to my self, here's more lists-

To start things off, here's my Top 5 favorite albums of 2009:

5. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs - Under The Covers Vol. 2 / Chickenfoot - Chickenfoot (tie)

When old timers pool their talents, sometimes they can come up with something a little fresher than if they worked on their own. Fan that I am of Matthew Sweet and of his first pairing with the lead Bangle (2006's Vol 1.) I anxiously looked forward to this set of 70's covers. And fan that I am of Saint Sammy, how could I resist a combo with guitar god Joe Satriani, ex VH Mike Anthony and funky drummer Chad Smith? In both cases, the teams came up with solid discs touched with earnest excitement and heavenly bright spots. Sweet and Hoffs were a little more mechanical this time out than on their first combo yet still found magic in well worn power pop(Raspberries, Todd Rundgren) and classic rock (Rod Stewart, Yes) scripture. Meanwhile AOR geeks rejoiced, basking in the glory of hard hitting guitar driven grooves ("Soap On A Rope"), high flying rockers ("My Kinda Girl") and power balladry ("Learning To Fall") that's Hagar's stock in trade.

4. U2 - No Line On The Horizon

The Irish quartet returned to save the world again with their most subdued effort since...The Unforgettable Fire (1984)? I was turned off by the weak techno pop lead single "Get On Your Boots" which turned out to be the hardest rocking thing on the album. That's not to say No Line is a bad album, it's actually pretty good. The dream reteaming of producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois ensures the dreamy atmospherics envelope everything in its path, creating a disc that is as grey and cloudy as its album cover. Though "Moment Of Surrender" is a nice ballad, I found myself really digging the clunky rocker "Stand Up Comedy" in addition to the classic U2 flag waver "Magnificent" and the catchy "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight". But U2's quiet ways were too mysterious with their mass audience leading to weak sales. Wonder if they'll bring back the thunder next time out?

3. Pearl Jam - Backspacer

When I first picked up this disc I was somewhat disappointed that it seemed a little weak lyrically and that they had removed the anthem rock element they just reclaimed on '06's self titled album. A little after that I was notified I would be losing my job and this album took on special meaning to me. The enervated vibe, open ended lyrics and classic Vedder clenched teeth me-against-the-world delivery provided the motivating soundtrack to a month of hell. I've already gone on about this album in other posts so I'll end it by saying my feelings about this disc has increased greatly since my initial review of it.

2. Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King

For most of the past decade, Matthews seemed to be on the run from his own band - creatively that is. DMB brought in producers to try to swerve the sound away from the intricate jam band tendencies they built their name on. But the passing of saxophonist Leroi Moore seemed to change all that and as a result we got the loosest, grooviest DMB disc in ages. The slam bang breezy rock of "Why I Am" was a highlight on an album packed with the natural, tight and instrumentally impressive music that made DMB famous. Other highlights included the gently loping "You and Me", the Cameo "Word Up" send up "Shake Me Like A Monkey" and the Lillywhite Sessions reminiscent "Lying In The Hands Of God". Of studio albums, this was the best of the year. But I'm not done yet...

1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Live Anthology

I debated over whether or not to include this, seeing how its an anthology of performances spanning back to the 70's and not a disc of new material. It's just I'm so blown away by this set (if I had done a separate post to review it Dixie would have given ten barks) that I feel compelled to include it. This is an outstanding set, five discs in all, of live performances taken from all phases of Petty's career with the Heartbreakers. Big hits, deep cuts, covers and what not are sewn together to form the facsimile of a live concert. Each song features a strong emotional performance and stack together to form something greater than the sum of its parts. This is one of the best box sets I've heard, it captures a spirit of the different facets of a brilliant artist better than most other box sets and does it with live cuts. I was lucky to get this set as a gift and even though I haven't watched the DVDs that came with it yet I will say that if you have the money to spend on this, it's well worth the price.

And now, my Top 10 songs of 2009:

10. The Lonely Island "I'm On A Boat" and Bruce Springsteen "The Wrestler" (tie)

Is having a tie a way of cheating so I can include an extra song or album in a countdown? Yup, and that won't stop me either. Comedy rappers The Lonely Island floated in "I'm On A Boat" early in the year and I turned a deaf ear to it until it was featured on a mash up with the movie Ponyo. I haven't gotten the song out of my head since then, with my flippy floppys while you're at Kinkos straight makin' copies! On the other end, The Boss provided a song for a movie soundtrack finding him in grumbly acoustic serious guy mode. He captures the soul of a beautiful loser perfectly. Technically this song is from 2008 but since I didn't listen to it until I bought this years Working On A Dream album I'm including it here.

9. Green Day "21 Guns"

All in all, I found Green Day's heavily hyped follow up to their modern classic American Idiot to be a fair but bloated affair. Except for a handful of cuts, one of them being "21 Guns" with its steady march beat and defiant chorus. Never did figure out what the song is actually about, after watching the overblown video for it I went off the song for a little while. I went back to it later, when you get to brass taxes I just like the beat and melody here.

8. Foreigner "Can't Slow Down"

A full review is to follow of the new Foreigner disc I got for Christmas. There's a lot of slow numbers on the new one, but the opening cut is a hard charging rocker that shares its title with the album. The current lead singer gets his Lou Gramm on (Grammophone?) to great affect as the guitars hammer onward to a charged anthemic chorus. A slice of AOR awesomeness on a stick.

Easily the catchiest tune on the recent U2 effort, you know a song is listener friendly when you hear it playing over the sound system of Home Depot while you shop for bricks. In one of those lazy susan musical influence deals, "Crazy" bears some resemblance to the sound Coldplay has employed to amazing success, the sound that borrows a lot from Radiohead and U2. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Either way, this is a pleasant pop rock feel good song.

6. Franz Ferdinand "No You Girls"

New new wavers Franz Ferdinand went from future stars to yesterdays news in a heartbeat between their first and second albums. On their third disc a desperate move (infusing their angular guitars with techno dance sound effects / beats) paid off with strong results peaking with "No You Girls". Balanced on a groove that is almost disco, the Scottish quartet bring the alternative rock cool on and back it up with a killer hook. The chorus has me flashing back to Greg Kihn's "Jeopardy". Normally I hate when a song is referred to as "hip". Franz Ferdinand justifies use of that word.

5. Dream Theater "The Best Of Times" (pts 1 and 2)

My favorite song off the musically spectacular but lyrically insipid DT disc Black Clouds and Silver Linings. The heartfelt intent of the words to "The Best Of Times" (not to be confused with the Styx song) about a man thanking his dying Dad is enough to overcome the maudlin sentimentality of the piece. Best of all, the proggy metalheads weave a tight fabric of instrumental virtuosity that pays off with a stunning John Petrucci guitar solo at the end. It's epic in all the right ways that make Dream Theater great.

Unlikely 70's inflected pop from a former teen queen Britney Spears type singer, Mandy Moore hauled in a hand clap beat and cheap keyboards to finesse a tune that would have sounded right on an AM radio channel in 1973. And I'm a sucker for songs that use the days of the week in the chorus (see "Seven Days" under Sting for details). Amid the heavy clutter of machines and calculated marketing moves that make up modern pop music, Mandy Moore sounded like a breath of fresh air in '09. And yes, this is the same girl who once sang "Candy" and starred in those teen romance movies.

OK, you're Jon Bon Jovi and you think: you know what a new Bon Jovi album needs? "Born To Be My Baby" with different lyrics! Yes, that's precisely what was needed Jon Bon Jovi. That sir, is why you earn the big bucks. Musical cop out that it is, I freakin love this song. Maybe it was the timing, I certainly could use encouraging music from a familiar artist. "We Weren't Born To Follow" (just noticed this title even has "Born" in it!) hit home and meant a lot to me. And thank you Richie Sambora for redoing that guitar solo.

2. Lady Antebellum "Need You Now"

Well look at that, I picked a Country song for number two. My cousin gave me the debut album which I thought was decent pop rock done Country style so when their new song for their second album popped up I gave it a shot. Well, I was floored by how good the new song is. A straightforward pop rock duet rendered nicely with able vocalists. Sure, this is about as Country as say Restless Hearts "When She Cries" (meaning its not) but that's fine with me, I don't listen to hardcore Country. This is like Starship's "Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now" for the new millennium. Which I guess isn't that new anymore since we're up to 2010.

1. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs "Go All The Way"

Duets are us it seems, Sweet and Hoffs Marvel Team Up hit a home run with their cover of The Raspberries / Eric Carmen classic "Go All The Way". The revved up guitar riff and intertwining voices make for audio ecstasy thanks to an inspired performance by the dynamic duo. It may also help that my copy of the original song sounds like crap even though it's from a Time Life collection. Anyway, this cover encapsulated everything that makes the pairing of these two great. (The only place I could find the song online is their myspace page, you have to click on the song to play)

2009, so glad its gone. Next is the year in movies, tv and whatever else I can think of media related. Vampires you say? That is so last year and I hear they suck.

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