12/27/2004

2004: The Year in Review

Yes, boys and girls, here it is: yet another year-end recap. Not that you need anymore of this nonsense but we’re gonna give it to you any way, this being the season of giving and all that good stuff. On with the show...


ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Death Cab For Cutie Transatlanticism [Barsuk]

Bellingham, WA new favorite sons–-watch out Posies--and indie darlings, DCFC released a remarkable record that not only boosted their profile, it caught the attention of the mainstream and got them signed to Atlantic Records in the process.

Honorable Mentions:
Iron & Wine Our Endless Numbered Days [Sub Pop]
Morrissey You Are The Quarry [Attack]
Secret Machines Now Here Is Nowhere [Reprise]
Wilco A Ghost Is Born [Nonesuch]
TV On The Radio Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes [Touch And Go]


FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Wilco A Ghost is Born [Nonesuch]

How do you follow a towering achievement like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? Well, if you’re Jeff Tweedy and co. you push yourself a bit furtherartistically, channel the muse and let the chips fall where they may. Who does that anymore?

Runner up:
Matthew Sweet Kimi Ga Suki [Superdeformed]


BEST REISSUE:
Talking Heads The Name of This Band is… [Sire/Rhino]

A kick ass live document that clearly demonstrates that eggheads can shake their booty too, The Name Of This Band Is… was the only Talking Heads album to remain sans release in CD format until this year.

Runner Up:
Brian Wilson Smile [Nonesuch]


GUILTY PLEASURE OF THE YEAR:
John Mayer has a TV show

Yes, the above is the actual name of the show. As it turns out, Mr. Dave Matthews Jr. has gotten himself a low-rent talk/variety show on VH1 that is one of the funniest things we’ve seen all year. Seriously.


BEST COMEBACK:
Morrissey

After almost a decade in limbo, Moz returned with one of his best solo albums yet. Welcome back, sir.

Runner up:
The Pixies

Also:
The Cure
Helmet
Tears For Fears


BIGGEST TOUR:
According to Billboard, Madonna’s Re-Invention Tour was the year's biggest grossing tour taking in $125 million through September. Prince, who played to more people than any other artist (almost 1.5 million), came in second place, with $90.2 million.
Country star Shania Twain was third, playing to almost 950,000 fans and grossing $62.5 million.


BIGGEST SHOW:
The biggest concert of the year was a three-night stand by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and James Brown at London's Hyde Park, which drew more than 258,000 fans and grossed more than $17 million.


BEST NEW TV SHOW:
Huff

Once again proof positive that the best TV dramas are on cable, Showtime’s Huff stars multiple-Emmy winner Hank Azaria (The Simpsons, Quiz Show, The Birdcage) as psychiatrist Dr. Craig Huffstodt who re-evaluates his life and profession after a 15 year-old patient commits suicide in his office. A stellar cast including Blythe Danner as Huff’s manipulative mother and Oliver Platt–-nominated for a Golden Globe for this role--as his drugs and sex crazed attorney and best friend.


BEST BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT:
iTunes for Windows

At last, those poor PC people finally had a taste of what a real digital jukebox–-not to mention access to Apple’s iTunes Music Store--is like. Come in from the cold, it’s warm over here.


WORST ALBUM:
Gwen Stefani Love Angel Music Baby [Interscope]

This album definitely proves it once and for all: Stefani may be the focal point of the band but she sure as hell ain’t the talented one. Bleech!

Runner up:
Courtney Love America’s Sweetheart [Virgin]


MOST UNWELCOME COMEBACK:
Velvet Revolver

Not that they really suck, or anything, but if the core of Guns ’N’ Roses was going to reform with Stone Temple Pilots’ lead singer shouldn’t we have gotten more than what these guys ultimately had to offer? Just a thought. (Axl’s still having the last laugh, by the way.)

Runner up:
Interpol


MOST UNDESERVED HYPE:
The Libertines

Once again, just like last year, this honor is bestowed upon yet another great punk rock hope. Whatever. We don’t care if this has The Clash’s Mick Jones’ seal of approval, we’re not biting.


ANTI-ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
Ashlee Simpson

"Daddy, I want a record deal, too!"
Kudos to SNL for recently re-airing her lip-synching debacle without editing a damn bit of it.


WORST COVER VERSION:
Hands down, Britney Spears wins this one. Not content with the butchering of The Rolling Stones’ "Satisfaction", she set her sights on New Jack Swing and skewers Mr. Whitney Houston–-aka Bobby Brown—and his ‘80s hit "My Prerogative". Somebody stop this girl before anyone else gets hurt.


MOST UNNECESSARY REHASHING:
‘Greatest--fill in the blank--of All Time’ lists

It’s one thing is to give a yearly or even seasonal recap but the constant barrage of lists of greatest albums, songs, guitar solos, etc. by most if not all major music publications has reached a fever pitch that loudly reverberates with a deafening roar of redundancy at best (Q
magazine) and the mediocrity of revisionism and cluelessness (Rolling Stone, Blender) at worst.

Runner up:
Reality shows, reality shows. Reality shows.


GOODBYE
Jan Berry, of Jan and Dean; the great Marlon Brando; Doobie Brother Cornelius Bumpus; the one and only Rodney Dangerfield; Pantera/Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell; The Dead Milkmen bassist Dave Blood; the inimitable Ray Charles; seminal reggae producer ‘Sir’ Coxone Dodd; film composer Jerry Goldsmith; original MTV VJ J.J. Jackson; jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet; funk rocker Rick James; legendary jazz drummer Elvin Jones; New York Dolls bassist Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane; jazz guitarist Barney Kessel; Peter Frampton guitarist/keyboardist Bob Mayo; Siouxsie and the Banshees/P.I.L. guitarist John McGeoch; renowned and influential New York radio personality Scott Muni; rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard; legendary British radio DJ John Peel; guitarist Robert Quine (Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Lou Reed, Matthew Sweet); guitarist Johnny Ramone; writer Hubert Selby Jr. (Last Exit To Brooklyn, Requiem For A Dream); Ben Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo vocalist; Hollies vocalist Carl Wayne.

9/06/2004

GBV on the UES

GUIDED BY VOICES  
AMBULANCE (LTD) 
Hudson River Park, NYC 8/19/04

Yes indeed, Guided By Voices are calling it quits. A few days before the release of their final album, Half Smiles Of The Decomposed, Dayton Ohio’s finest came to New York City’s Hudson River Park for a free show that will go down as one of this summer’s best. Poignantly opening with "Sad If I Lost It", the reigning kings of indie rock kicked off 90 minutes of their very best for the 5000+ that came to pay their final respects. They were greeted with a wall to wall kick ass show that also had its share of lead singer Bob Pollard’s renowned between-songs banter. "We love our country, because it gives us beer and rock and roll. We are patriots." And then slyly added, "As long as we don’t question things too much." As befits a performance on a final tour, Pollard and the boys ran through the gems of their quite extensive catalog, all the while reminiscing and giving thanks for the long, strange trip we’ve had the privilege of sharing. Merci, mes amis.

Critical darlings Ambulance (LTD) held their own as opening act, decidedly gaining a few converts and placating the numerous pretty girls who’d made it a point to show up and support what some are calling indie rock’s answer to the boy band. Make it a point to catch them next time. The band, too.

7/12/2004

Long Gone Fools

THE CARDIGANS
Southpaw
Brooklyn, NY
5/9/04

What at first looked like faded indie darlings trying to recapture their fanbase with a first-rate show at a small but noteworthy venue, rapidly revealed itself to be nothing more than a record label-sponsored promo for the band’s latest release Long Gone Before Daylight. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if: a) it had been a free show; and b) Long Gone Before Daylight wasn’t such a resounding bore (it’s quite telling that long-time producer Tore Johansson left very early on during the album’s recording sessions). So we endured almost two hours of third rate pseudo Eagles–-that’s the new direction these one time inventive alt-rockers have chosen--during which –-to add insult to injury--they purposely left out any material from their breakthrough album First Band On The Moon, including their only US hit, "Lovefool". The look of disgust from one of the venue’s bartenders as he gave The Cardigans the finger after their last encore, sums up our feelings as well.

4/05/2004

The Reverse Sophomore Slump

After years of honing that initial batch of songs that lands an artist a record deal and a widespread fanbase, it's time to write and record a second album within the timeframe of only a few months. No wonder many artists have less than stellar followup albums the second time around. Hell, some of 'em disappear after the debut. Here are "5" that exceeded their initial recorded effort, and in certain instances delivered their greatest album.

In alphabetical order by artist:


CAFÉ TACUBA Re [WEA Latina-1994]
After their initial self-titled filler-drenched offering, no one expected much from
Mexico City’s Café Tacuba. That the follow-up was a monumental record both critically and commercially underscored just how far the band had grown between albums. A sprawling tour de force that has been often compared to the Beatles’ White Album in terms of scope and adventurous spirit, Re not only foreshadowed Café Tacuba’s exploratory bent but is also one of the crowning achievements of the Latin American rock and roll movement.


LIVING COLOUR Time’s Up [Epic-1990]
After a strong but definitely textbook debut –-finely tuned live set list with a choice cover tacked on-- Living Colour pulled all the stops and delivered what is to this day their finest record. The Grammy-award winning Time’s Up was a much more challenging but clearly accessible listen. And the deft sequencing of the track order aided and accentuated the natural flow of this diverse and intoxicating disc
("This Is The Life" is arguably one of the greatest closing tracks on any rock album). As engaging and satisfying now as it was upon its release a decade and a half ago, Time’s Up is an underrated hard rock classic. Cameos: Mick Jagger, Little Richard, Queen Latifah, Maceo Parker, and Doug E. Fresh.


NIRVANA Nevermind [DGC-1991]
Despite one or two noteworthy tracks, Bleach was mostly an average grunge record typical of its time and place. What Cobain and co. unleashed upon the world two tears later, would not only leave that debut release in the dirt but in the process change the course of popular music and bring alternative/indie rock out into the limelight. But you already knew that.


RADIOHEAD The Bends [Parlophone-1995]
If
Radiohead had called it quits after the oh-so ordinary Pablo Honey album, "Creep" would have been its lone claim to fame and the one hit wonder tag forever affixed to their name. Fortunately, this was not the case. What followed was an epic album, arguably the Brit-pop blueprint for the ‘90s. The band further pushed their own musical boundaries with OK Computer and Kid A, but this is the one that Coldplay, Travis and an army of others should gratefully pay royalties to Radiohead for.


ROBI ROSA Vagabundo [Sony Latin-1996]
While best known for writing former Menudo bandmate
Ricky Martin’s biggest hits, Robi Rosa is also a former member of acclaimed ‘90s L.A. funksters Maggie’s Dream and an accomplished, risk-taking artist and performer in his solo work. Unfortunately, his initial solo venture was 1994’s Frio, an uneven affair on which he seemed lost.
It was as if he couldn’t decide whether to kowtow to the cheesy Miami-led Latin music hierarchy or strike out on its own. Two years later, Rosa made good on the promise of his enormous talent.

Vagabundo is Rosa at his finest; rife with meticulous arrangements, crunchy guitars, Beatle-esque orchestrations and solid performances throughout. A fantastic record in any language, it’s one of the finest rock albums ever recorded in Spanish. Definitely worth seeking out.


HONORABLE MENTION:
Suzanne Vega Solitude Standing [A&M-1987]

2/23/2004

The Onstage Type

EVAN DANDO
Southpaw
Brooklyn, NY
2-13-04

On the final show of the American leg of his solo world tour the former Lemonhead made his way to a packed house in New York’s new hipster mecca with an hour-plus show that did not disappoint. Armed with his trusty but battered acoustic guitar—and sporting a dangling cigarette a la Keith Richards, in clear defiance of the city’s smoking ban—Dando was welcomed like a long lost hero, who then proceeded to run through an extensive set littered with countless favorites including "The Outdoor Type", his seminal cover of Victoria Williams’ "Frying Pan", "It’s A Shame About Ray" and selections from last year’s Baby I’m Bored. Welcome back, sir.