12/19/2005

2005: The Year in Review

Here we are at the twilight of another dozen months. It’s been an interesting year, 2005. Its share of good and bad colored as always by the passing of familiar faces. But the tragedy of New Orleans looms large in the hearts of many, not least of all those of us who have a soft spot for the city’s music and culture. “Plan for the worst, hope for the best,” they say. In music, life, love and the pursuit of happiness it seems to be the best course of action, right?

As we come close to celebrating our 5th anniversary--Feb. 2001 was the maiden voyage--these are the things on our mind. Locate a copy of The Kinks’ Give The People What They Want and go straight to the closing track, “Better Days” and you’ll hear exactly what we’re talking about.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a wonderful 2006.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
The Mars Volta Frances The Mute

The sophomore release from the hirsute duo of ex-At The Drive In members is even more dense, challenging, and beautiful than their debut.

Honorable Mention:
Eels Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

Mark Everrett does the double album thing and turns out his most ambitious, yet cohesive and breathtaking work yet.


FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
None

Um, nothing really made us swoon this year. (We discovered --and even fell in love with-- some cool discs from years past, but that obviously doesn’t count.) Probably the closest contender would be Beck’s Guero.


FAVORITE SHOW:
Live 8

The sequel to the landmark concerts of 20 years ago returned to London and Philadelphia , and graced stages in Russia, France, Japan, Germany, Canada and Italy, on July 6th. As is common with this sort of thing there were quite a few so-so acts/performances (Will Smith, Bon Jovi, and Toby Keith come to mind) but the highlights were often wonderful (U2’s set; Madonna’s “Ray Of Light”; Snoop Dogg) and sometimes even magnificent (the reunited-for-the-occasion Pink Floyd). But the most poignant of moments--and the ultimate visual proof to underscore the efforts--was seeing the little Ethiopian girl that had become the poster child for the Live Aid effort in 1985 take the stage during Madonna’s set with organizer Bob Geldof, now a grown, college educated, beautiful young woman.


FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE YEAR:

“…the Public Enemy best of [Power To The People and the Beats]…reminds me of a time when hip-hop actually meant something. Whereas now it’s just a huge fucking money-making machine and all the major players in the hip-hop world are fucking idiots, bar none.” - Noel Gallagher


BEST REISSUE:
Bruce Springsteen Born To Run: 30th Anniversary Edition

The record that made New Jersey ’s favorite rock and roll son a star–-and one of the genre’s greatest albums--gets the deluxe treatment. Included among the various extras is a DVD detailing the making of the album and another with a London performance from the Born To Run tour. Nice.

Runner Up:
At The Drive In This Station Is Non-Operational: Anthology

Along with the inclusion of a DVD with videos, a full discography, and multimedia content this chronologically sequenced collection spans the band’s last three years of recorded material. Running through remixes, covers, 7" singles, and a BBC session, right up to selections from their 2000 swan song Relationship of Command, This Station Is Non-Operational is --to paraphrase Led Zeppelin-- a sad reminder of what was and what will never be.


BEST COMEBACK:
Cream

More than 35 years after their break up the quintessential power trio returned for some of their most inspired shows ever.

Runner up:
New Orleans’ music scene (not there yet, but our fingers are crossed)


BEST ALBUM TO LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR:
Ray Davies’ first ever solo LP

The Kinks front man will debut his first full-length collection of new songs in over a decade in early 2006. (An EP, the rather tasty Thanksgiving Day, was released in late 2005.) Better Days, indeed.


BEST NEW TV SHOW:
Weeds (Showtime)

A hot, upper-class, recently widowed, suburban mother of two in her early 40s (Mary-Louise Parker) decides to deal weed to supplement her now diminished income. Hilarity ensues. Lessons are learned. Seriously. As hot as its protagonist, Weeds also gets bonus points for its folky theme song.


BEST IMPERSONATION:
Glenn Phillips

Yeah, it did sound kinda familiar even though it was a little too polished but no, that was not a new Matthew Sweet record released in March, ‘twas non other than former Toad The Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips’ second full-length album of original songs, Winter Pays for Summer. A little too reminiscent of Mr. Girlfriend –-albeit with a radio-ready sheen-- for our tastes but a decent record, nonetheless.


WEIRDEST MUSICAL PAIRING:
Kanye West and Jon Brion

Hip-hop’s ‘it’ kid enlisted the pop maestro (Fiona Apple, Eels, Aimee Mann) and current ‘go-to’ soundtrack composer (Punch Drunk Love, I [Heart] Huckabees, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as co-producer on his sophomore album Late Registration. Did it work? That depends…


BEST PROOF WE HAVE BECOME OUR PARENTS:
The popularity of Antony & The Johnsons...The rediscovering of Esquivel… A re-evaluation and overhaul of Burt Bacharach’s output… Lounge covers of hardcore tunes by a band called Black Velvet Flag… Bit by bit it happened.

And now this: irony has given way to complacency and tameness. Otherwise, how can we account for the likes of the above? This is the stuff that no self-respecting rocker would be caught dead listening to. Now it’s the height of hipness. No thanks.


MOST BITTERSWEET EVENT:
Audioslave in Cuba

It was undoubtedly very cool to see that the first American rock band to play for the Cuban rockeros was the real deal and not some lame-ass Linkin Park-type crap. But let’s face it, Cornell’s voice is shot and a far cry from the building-leveling powerhouse it once was. And wouldn’t it have been more poignant for it to have been Rage Against The Machine going down there instead?


GUILTY PLEASURE OF THE YEAR:
Breaking Bonaduce (VH1)

Yes, reality shows are the bane of the sane television viewer’s existence. But to witness on a weekly basis a highly dysfunctional, nihilistic, steroid-and-alcohol-starved, emotional wreck like former Partridge Family star Danny Bonaduce in all of his gloriously sad, decadent, hasty, downward spiral is a bit much to pass up. Sorry.


RISKIEST CAREER MOVE:
Howard Stern goes to satellite radio

Will the meathead masses fork over $12.95 a month to hear their misanthropic hero curse freely on the air? Sirius Radio is betting on it. We’re not.

Runner up:
John Mayer’s blues-rock conversion.


WORST REISSUE:
The Rolling Stones Rarities 1971-2003

Despite the inclusion of the Mick Taylor-era b-side “Let It Rock” and the It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll outtake “Through The Lonely Nights”, the ‘70s tracks on here are mostly culled from the recently re-released Sucking in the Seventies, and the collection is weighted heavily with ‘90s tracks from their last two live albums. So, you throw in two bona fide rarities, add some live tracks and remixes with no rhyme, reason, or hint of chronology and voila! Pass.


WORST ALBUM IDEA:
Sun Kil Moon pays tribute to Modest Mouse

Head Sun Mark Kozelek went the full-length tribute album route before –-2001’s brilliant What’s Next To The Moon?-- and did a wonderful job. Of course, those were early (and some classic) AC/DC songs he recast in his own image. But an entire record of Modest Mouse covers? We think not. Unfortunately, sticking with the originals is not an option here either. At least with Tiny Cities you don’t have to suffer through Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and his horrible voice.


ANTI-ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
The Arcade Fire

For every newcomer deserving of hype –-the late Jeff Buckley comes to mind-- there is an army of, at best, so-so artists for whom the scribes and scenesters will break out the kneepads with alarming velocity and subsequent regularity. This year’s Franz Ferdinand Award goes to The Arcade Fire.


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:
Fiona Apple Extraordinary Machine

Apple’s third album was definitely the anti-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: all the fanclub support, media outpouring, and artist/record company controversy couldn’t hide the fact that this is a so-so album.


MOST UNWELCOME COMEBACK:
Madonna

Give it up, Madge. Don’t you have another childrens book to write or some more celebrities to drag down to the Kabbalah Center ?
Runner up:
(tie) The Darkness; Queen with Paul Rodgers.


MOST UNDESERVED HYPE:
The closing of CBGB

We’re no fans of gentrification and/or the ravenous real estate gobbling of the likes of New York University . And we try to keep our eyes open and stay alert to real estate shenanigans and misdeeds. Now, having said that, the sudden appearance of trendy lounges and million dollar condos popping up by and around Joey Ramone Way, in the midst of the once dirty, dangerous, dilapidated Bowery warehouses and storefronts did not make us feel like CBGB was in trouble. After all, the club had been there for 30 years and owner Hilly Kristal must’ve bought the property dirt cheap during the ‘80s, when no one wanted anything to do with the neighborhood, right? Right?
As it turns out, Hilly never got around to making the deed to the joint his --despite making some 2 million dollars a year in t-shirt sales-- and the landlord wants him out. (The club has until October 2006.) Now, he’s talking of reopening the venue in a different NYC location but there are also rumors of opening a sister club in… Las Vegas. Good grief.

Here’s the deal: Despite its history, these days CBGB is nothing more than just another low-level rock club peddling warm beer and even more lukewarm acts. (Which, by the way, get paid gas money. If they’re lucky, that is.)

We’ve performed and witnessed many a show at CBGB, had a few good times, and generally enjoyed ourselves. But you know what: we all gotta go sometime. (If the world-famous Palladium could not avoid becoming a dorm, what hope could CBs ever have?) We can’t and won’t feel sorry for a joint that in one year rakes in more cash than we’ll probably see in a lifetime while offering substandard entertainment night after night and milking/clinging to a reputation it has long since tarnished. Later, dude.

Runner up:
The cult of Kanye West

Please, people. He ain’t all that.


WORST COVER VERSION:
Alanis Morissette “Crazy”

Now, Alanis, what did Seal ever do to you, huh?


MOST UNNECESSARY REHASHING:
The many incarnations of Beck’s Guero album

Let’s see: aside from the official 13-track version there’s the unfinished album that preceded it, which was originally leaked on the Internet; alongside the official release an expanded 20-track special edition saw the light of day, with a few remixes and bonus tracks not on the 13-track album (although these bonus tracks had made a previous appearance on the bootleg internet version); and finally Guerolito –-a remix version of the whole album-- released in early December. And that’s not counting the various imports with varying degrees of similitude to the official version. Whew!

Runner up:
Reunion tours

Yes, we admit it: we are being hypocrites. On the one hand we commend the likes of Cream and The Pixies for putting differences aside and giving us one last (?) hurrah, while we condemn, say, The Cars and Queen for rising from the dead. But, really, can you blame us?
Like all trends the wheat/chaff ratio in this case generally favors the latter. So while the return of certain artists can make for an inspiring and even transcendent musical moment there are plenty more that should accept their fate and leave us all the hell alone. This is why we diss.


GOODBYE
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, legendary blues guitarist; ‘90s blues icon R. L. Burnside; late-night talk show king Johhny Carson; Lyn Collins, James Brown backup singer, and best known for being sampled on Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s 1988 hit “It Takes Two”; the great Ossie Davis; titular star of Gilligan’s Island, Bob Denver; Star Trek’s “Scotty”, James Doohan; Buena Vista Social Club vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer; Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins; Fran Gorshin, who played “The Riddler” on the original Batman ‘60s TV series; Jimmy Griffin, singer/songwriter and founding member of Bread; Nick Hawkings, one-time guitarist for Big Audio Dynamite; jazz singer Shirley Horn; Steven "Stevo" Jensen, former lead vocalist for The Vandals; Keith Knudsen, longtime drummer for the Doobie Brothers; Arthur Miller, legendary playwright; sonic innovator Bob Moog; Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, actor (The Karate Kid movies, Happy Days); the one and only Richard Pryor; former SNL cast member Charles Rocket; comedian Nipsey Russell; writer Hunter S. Thompson; velvet-voiced R&B giant Luther Vandross.