Thursday, 27 December 2007

2007: A Year in Music [Part 4: Top 5 albums of the year]

Time to talk about my top 5 albums of the year (at the time of writing this). Enjoy, and feel free to chime in if you disagree or can recommend any other great albums from 2007!

5. Crowded House - Time on earth

Reunion albums can be dangerous affairs, especially when talking about a band with the stature of Crowded House. They released 4 studio albums in their original line-up, which ran from 1986 until their breakup in 1996. Frontman Neil Finn has had various side projects since then, including a couple of impressive solo albums and collaborations with his brother Tim under the name The Finn Brothers.

Former drummer Paul Hester tragically took his own life in March 2005, and the mourning in the aftermath of this became a catalyst for Neil Finn and bassist Nick Seymour to get back to recording music together. Neil Finn was working on a solo album at the time (the follow-up to 2001's One nil), and this eventually morphed into a new Crowded House album Time on earth.

While there are probably only a handful of tracks here which have the potential to go down in history as classic Crowded House tracks (Don't stop now, She called up, English trees), this is an amazingly consistent album which at almost an hour hardly outstays its welcome.

Rather than trying to re-create one of their late 80's - early 90's masterpieces, the line-up instead try to branch out experimentally on this album: A sigh is all atmosphere, Transit lounge is a strange jazz-tinged oddity that doesn't quite work for me and Neil's inner crooner comes out on You are the one to make me cry.

You can have the "is it a Neil Finn or Crowded House album?" argument ad infinitum. At the end, with results like this, it doesn't really matter. Great music is great music no matter what name it is released under.

4. Spoon - Ga ga ga ga ga

The title of this album has been a subject of amusement for many reviewers of this album, so I won't go there. With every album we are waiting for this Texas band to trip-up, but they just keep on subtlely evolving and continue to impress with their amazing rock minimalism.

They strip music down to the raw elements and get to the heart of why many of us love music. There's the emotion of frontman Britt Daniel's voice, the tight rhythmic foundation of Jim Eno's drumming, the lyrics which veer from abstract to personal; the parts on their own are impressive enough, but then there's that old cliche about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Spoon try a few new things on this album: there's the sheer spookiness of The ghost of you lingers, the brassy Underdog and You got yr. cherry bomb, the abundance of typos in the song titles (yr? evah? rhthm?). If they can continue to churn out quality releases like this every few years, the world will be a happier place.

3. The Good, the Bad & the Queen

The last track on this album is called The Good, the Bad & the Queen. I thought this was kind've cool, because for the first time in my CD collection, the track name, artist name and band name of a track were all the same (I don't have Iron Maiden's debut album, but I believe the opening track on that album fits the critieria as well).

I can say that for the purposes of an anecdote, but strictly it's not true! You see, the band that released this album doesn't actually have a name. You see, The Good, the Bad & the Queen is actually the album name by the unnamed musical line-up consisting of Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve) and Tony Allen (Fela Kuti). A bit of a British supergroup when it's all said and done.

The fact that this album only has a title is quite appropriate in a way, since this album almost has a very cinematic feel to it and could almost be a soundtrack to a unreleased noir film about life in Britain in the 00's. It has an incredibly dark feel throughout (musically and lyrically) which doesn't really let up through the 43-minute running time. It's also one of the biggest growers I have heard this year, and is a perfect example why professional music reviewing is a double-edged sword; an album like this which could quite easily be called boring on the first or second listen eventually reveals its magic by the seventh or eighth listen. This is an album worth investing your time in.

2. The Arcade Fire - Neon bible

Funeral was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2004, and while it was certainly very impressive, a couple of tracks fell a bit short of the other tracks in my opinion which made it mildly inconsistent in parts for me.

I could make this analogy with other bands I'm sure, but Gomez is a band that springs to mind; Neon bible is to Bring it on what Funeral was to Liquid skin. In summary: Neon bible is the more consistent album overall, with no sub-par tracks in the bunch; however, the highs on Funeral outshine the highs on Neon bible.

While Neon bible thankfully demonstrated that The Arcade Fire are more than one-album wonders, calling this merely another excellent album is underselling it a bit. This album has cemented the reputation of this Canadian line-up as one of the great bands of this decade. This is intelligently well-written music with energy, passion and real soul lacking in so many of their contemporaries. Listen to Intervention, Ocean of noise, and No cars go; the highlights of this album and also of 2007.

1. Radiohead - In rainbows

The unique marketing strategy has been discussed to death in reviews of this album, and I've already discussed it enough in some previous posts on this blog. There's really no need to discuss it much further in this review, so let's focus on the music instead.

Their previous album Hail to the thief (from 2003) was an impressive return to form for me after the disappointing Amnesiac. While in my opinion it was 4 tracks too long (I have come up with an alternate 10-track 39-minute track listing which could rival OK computer as their best album), it brought pack the power of the song and importantly brought real melody with it. Songs like A punch up at a wedding showed that a band who had alienated their listeners with the disturbing electronica on many of the Kid A/Amnesiac songs still had a soul at the heart of their sound.

In rainbows is in many ways a continuation of the accessible sound that Radiohead started returning to on Hail to the thief. The first few seconds of 15 step are a red herring, with a burst of electronica suggesting that this was a retreat to the sounds of Amnesiac, or even Thom Yorke's solo album The Eraser. Thom's still amazing vocals kick in, and thankfully (for me anyway) the guitar comes in shortly after this.

There are tracks on In rainbows which impress on the first listen, and successfully draw the listener back for subsequent listens -- Nude is a beautiful epic ballad that wouldn't sound out-of-place on the alienating OK computer, Faust arp is a gorgeous string-laden piece which sounds like nothing they have released before and All I need almost sounds like something that could be on The bends.

Then there are the tracks which pass the listener by initially, and slowly reveal themselves like a magic eye picture on additional listens -- Bodysnatchers sounded like pretty generic rock on first listen, but has revealed itself to be an epic song of considerable depth; Videotape also reveals its charms over time and has become a perfect closer for the album.

With In Rainbows, as with all of their albums, Radiohead have successfully been able to re-invent themselves as the definitive alternative band of this generation. That they can continue to impress so much seven albums in, and never be accused of repeating themselves, puts them up on a pedestal so far away from their peers that I often wonder what the temptation is like for the others to throw in the towel.


  1. Nice list, Jiggs -- I probably agree with In Rainbows at top spot. Their novel method of release didn't hurt, either! Some notable mentions from me include The Frames' The Cost (which is almost Nick Cave meets Coldplay, and I assure you it's not as bad as it sounds!!), Editors' An End has a Start, the ever-reliable Josh Rouse's Country Mouse, City House, and the Rosebuds' Night of the Furies (which I highly recommend, an instant listen that stands the test of time). -Pete

  2. Sorry, forgot one, because it was released very early in the year, but I thought that Bloc Party's A weekend in the city was fantastic, much more consistent than the debut (although the highs are arguably somewhat lower). Suffered beneath the weight of expectation.-Pete

  3. Thanks for the responses Pete. I wasn't aware that you liked the new Bloc Party album so much...will need to check it out. Surprisingly I think their debut album still holds up pretty well -- I gave it a listen recently.

    But I know what you mean about albums suffering due to high expectations...I've lost count of the number of times that has happened.

    Of the other bands you have mentioned, the only band I haven't heard the music of is the Frames, so I'll have to give them a listen.

  4. I can't say I'm a The Good, The Bad and The Queen fan but then I've only heard it a couple times and it did seem like a bit of a grower. Will try again.

    And I don't own any Spoon albums but I've been meaning to get into them for awhile now - since they're on your list I'll give 'em a proper go.

    I've only heard Radioheads album a couple of times but, as expected, it sounded great.

    Arcade Fire are sen-frickin-sational and Neon Bible is a worthy top-fiver.

    I haven't gotten into Time on Earth but anything Neil Finn touches is gold.

    For me, Shepherds Dog was up there and is conspicuous by it's absence from your lists! It just gets better with every listen.

    I'd also have bent the rules and slipped in New Moon just because I love it.

    And it may be "Dad Rock" but Sky Blue Sky gets reasonable rotation - but then I conceded I may be influenced as I was mucho impressed with Wilco's live chops. The album is great but probably would have missed out on my top five.

    Wincing the Night Away is also a clearly-in on my list. Chutes is extraordinary. Wincing is better.

    I also noticed Sound of Silver on many peoples best-of lists...although perhaps not rated *that* highly by yours truly (it's likely that it just needs more listens) it's still worth a mention. Not your kind of music though.

    Gotta say Jigs, you're getting better at writing these things! Keep it up mate. :)

  5. Oh, and, while I'm sure it'll not be a popular pick in this crowd, and I known it's not particularly cool, Amy Winehouse's Back to Black was a brilliant release IMO.

  6. Thanks for the detailed response (and compliment) Matty.

    Just to clarify -- I only include albums in my posts which I have legitimately purchased. So while Shepherds Dog is definitely on my list of albums to purchase, I have yet to purchase (or even listen) to it so I can't comment on it! That's why I will revisit this list at the end of next year, to allow me to re-evaluate my list and catch up on the albums which I didn't have at the time of writing the list now...

    > Wincing the Night Away is also a
    > clearly-in on my list. Chutes is
    > extraordinary. Wincing is better.

    Yes, Wincing is good. But Chutes is a near-masterpiece :-) We'll have to agree to disagree on this on. I definitely prefer Wincing over their debut Oh, inverted world which, despite having New slang on it (brilliant, brilliant song) is a bit patchy IMHO.

    Regarding LCD Soundsystem, I don't have that and I have seen it in many other albums of the year lists, but not sure if it's my bag. I've seen it called dance/electronica and I've also seen it called indie/alternative, but I suspect it's more dance than indie -- would that be a correct assumption?

  7. Ah, was wondering why Shepherds Dog didn't garner a mention. Makes sense now...hurry up and get it! ;)

    I would definitely use the word 'dance' when describing LCD Soundsystem. Yeah, more so than Indie, though they are a bit genre-bending. Incidentally iTunes describes its genre as "Alternative & Punk". :)

  8. Am really loving these posts Jiggy. As Matt said, you are getting better at writing them, and they are a good read despite the fact that I haven't heard of a lot of the artists/songs mentioned.

    Time on Earth is a good album, but I still do think its a bit top heavy. Although I did gain a new appreciation for some of the later songs such as Walked Her Way Down and People are Like Suns after hearing them performed live at the gig.

  9. @ Matt: Don't worry, I'll be picking up Shepherds Dog this year so I can mention it in my re-evaluation of 2007 post at the end of 2008 :)

    And that 'Alternative & Punk' genre is a silly one if you ask me, even though the majority of music in my iPod is filed under that genre. I mean, Alternative is already such a vague genre, and then they throw 'Punk' in there for no good reason as well :)

    @ Wally Raffles: Thanks for the comments mate! I agree that the first half of Time on Earth is definitely the more accessible half, but the second half is certainly a grower, mainly because it's much mellower.


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