OTG's Top Ten (and Other Commentary) For 2008


OPENING GIBBERISH

I guess everything old is new again. 2008 saw Randy Newman's first studio album in 10 years, the first album from the original Asia lineup in 25 years, and the debut album from Tom Petty's band Mudcrutch almost 35 years after their two singles. Enjoy the list.

REISSUES

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Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians
Luminous Groove



In 1985, Robyn Hitchcock formed a new group with the rhythm section on his former band, The Soft Boys, plus keyboard player Roger Jackson. Luminous Groove contains the first three releases from Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians (Fegmania!, the live Gotta Let This Hen Out!, and Element Of Light) packaged with lots of bonus material and Bad Case Of History, a double CD of studio and live recordings.

Fegmania! is one of Hitchcock's classics, coupling superb guitar pop and rock with often surreal lyrics. Basically, it sounds like a slightly less weird version of The Soft Boys, and it's one of Hitchcock's best albums. Highlights include three of Hitchcock's best, the oddly perky "My Wife And My Dead Wife", the surreal "The Man With The Lightbulb Head", and the gorgeous "Heaven". Gotta Let This Hen Out! captures the band in a killer live set, mixing songs from Fegmania! with songs from Hitchcock's earlier solo albums and some of the great Soft Boys songs like "Only The Stones Remain". Element Of Light is a little mellower than Fegmania!, with the delicate "Raymond Chandler Evening" as the high spot.

The bonus set, A Bad Case Of History is a double CD set, one disc of previously unreleased studio recordings (some early versions of songs that would be released later), and one CD of various live appearances from the 1990s. For an artist as prolific as Hitchcock, who's also put out several "rarities" collections, it's amazing to think that there are still outtakes this good. The title track with it's Byrdsy guitar, the rootsy "Poisonous Angel", and "Testosterone Blues" should have shown up on a Hitchcock album before now. The live CD is much more varied that Gotta Let This Hen Out!, but as it's not pulled from a single show, that makes sense. It's got great versions of later Hitchcock gems like "Veins Of The Queen" and "So You Think You're In Love" (which really should have been a hit), along with a couple of great Byrds covers ("Eight Miles High" and "Chimes Of Freedom"), and a thoroughly demented "Wafflehead".

These three albums (along with Invisible Hitchcock) were my introduction to Robyn's music, and I can't recommend them higher. If you're curious about Robyn Hitchcock, this box is a superb way to start. If you're a long-time fan, there's more than enough bonus goodies on the set to recommend it. I really hope Hitchcock keeps these box sets coming.

tracks (Fegmania!): "Egyptian Cream", "Another Bubble", "I'm Only You", "My Wife And My Dead Wife", "Goodnight I Say", "The Man With The Lightbulb Head", "Insect Mother", "Strawberry Mind", "Glass", "The Fly", "Heaven", "(Untitled)", "The Bells Of Rhymney", "Some Body", "Heaven" [live], "The Pit Of Souls" [Parts I-IV], "The Drowning Church", "The Man With The Lightbulb Head" [instrumental], "Lady Obvious"

tracks (Gotta Let This Hen Out!): "Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl", "Kingdom Of Love", "Acid Bird", "The Cars She Used To Drive", "My Wife And My Dead Wife", "Brenda's Iron Sledge", "The Fly", "Only The Stones Remain", "Egyptian Cream", "Leppo And The Jooves", "America", "Heaven", "Listening To The Higsons", "The Face Of Death", "If You Were A Priest", "Freeze", "I'm Only You", "Unsettled", "Egyptian Cream" [#2]

tracks (Element Of Light): "If You Were A Priest", "Winchester", "Somewhere Apart", "Ted, Woody And Junior", "The President", "Raymond Chandler Evening", "Bass", "Airspace", "Never Stop Bleeding", "Lady Waters And The Hooded One", "The Black Crow Knows", "The Crawling", "The Leopard", "Tell Me About Your Drugs", "Sprinkling Dots", "Upside Down Church Blues", "Into It", "Neck", "Bass" [demo], "Lady Waters And The Hooded One" [demo]

tracks (Bad Case Of History - Studio): "Bad Case Of History", "Agony Of Pleasure", "Poisonous Angel", "Live Man Die", "Furry Baby", "Evil Guy", "Hangin Out With Dad", "Wild Mountain Thyme", "Ivy Alone", "I Am Not Me", "Surfer Ghost", "Beautiful Queen", "Testosterone Blues", "Zipper In My Spine", "Lost Tribes"

tracks (Bad Case Of History - Live): "Child Of The Universe", "Freeze", "Veins Of The Queen", "Ruling Class", "So You Think You're In Love", "Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)", "Wax Doll", "The Live-In Years", "Eight Miles High", "Chimes Of Freedom", "Railway Shoes", "Arms Of Love", "The Moon Inside", "A Globe Of Frogs", "Vegetation And Dimes", "Wafflehead", "The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee"


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Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon



The reissues of Warren Zevon's 70s and 80s album finally wrapped with Zevon's acclaimed debut album, packaged with a bonus CD of alternate takes and demos. The main album is brilliant, packed with early Zevon staples like "Frank And Jesse James", "Hasten Down The Wind", "Mohammed's Radio", and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" (which later became a hit for Linda Ronstadt). Warren Zevon gives hints as to where his songwriting would go, although the debut isn't going for laughs as much as the better known followup, Excitable Boy. Overall, one of Zevon's best.

The bonus CD is really for the hardcore fans. The demos are interesting (as are the alternate takes), but none of the bonus material is really essential. For me, the highlight is a great off-the-cuff sounding live version of "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" recorded on WMMS radio.

tracks (original album): "Frank And Jesse James", "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded", "Backs Turned Looking Down The Path", "Hasten Down The Wind", "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me", "The French Inhaler", "Mohammed's Radio", "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead", "Carmelita", "Join Me In L.A.", "Desperados Under The Eaves", tracks (bonus disc): "Frank And Jesse James" [Solo Piano Demo], "The French Inhaler" [Solo Piano Demo], "Hasten Down The Wind" [Band Demo], "Carmelita" [1974 Demo], "Mohammed's Radio" [Solo Piano Demo], "Backs Turned Looking Down The Path" [Take 1], "Join Me In L.A." [Take 2], "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" [Alternate Version], "Frank And Jesse James" [Alternate Version], "Mohammed's Radio" [Take 2], "The French Inhaler" [Take 1], "Carmelita" [Alternate Version], "Desperados Under The Eaves" [Take 2], "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" [Live On WMMS], "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" [Alternate Version]



LIVE ALBUMS

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Eels
Live And In Person!



Live And In Person! is a CD/DVD set that documents the most recent live version of the band, a 180-degree turn from the gentle Eels of 2006's Eels With Strings. The band is down to a quartet - Eels leader E, a second guitarist, a drummer, and "percussionist" Krazy Al (who appears as a combination security guard/drill sergeant/maniacal Eels fan). The volume is all the way up with roaring guitars and distorted vocals. Highlights include a powerful run through Tom Waits' "Jesus Gonna Be Here" (with vocals from guitarist "The Chet"), the non-LP "Eyes Down", and a great take on "I Like Birds". Fun, but weaker than Eels With Strings.

tracks (CD): "Old Shit / New Shit", "Rock Show", "Crazy Love (Crazy Music)", "Eyes Down", "Jesus Gonna Be Here", "My Beloved Monster", "A Magic World", "Not Ready Yet", "Dog Faced Boy", "Souljacker Part I", "I Put A Spell On You", "That's Life", "I Like Birds", "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues"

tracks (DVD): "The Shit", "Old Shit / New Shit", "The Other Shoe", "Rock Show", "Crazy Love (Crazy Music)", "Eyes Down", "Jesus Gonna Be Here", "Mother Mary", "The Sound Of Fear", "My Beloved Monster", "From Which I Came / A Magic World", "Agony", "Last Stop: This Town", "Not Ready Yet", "Dog Faced Boy", "Souljacker Part I", "I Put A Spell On You", "That's Life", "Cancer For The Cure", "I Like Birds", "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues"


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R.E.M.
iTunes Live: From London



A short-but-sweet live set that captures R.E.M. ripping through some of the new songs from Accelerate plus a few choice old favorites. If you like the new album (and why wouldn't you?), you'll love this.

tracks: "Living Well Is The Best Revenge", "Auctioneer (Another Engine)", "Hollow Man", "Supernatural Superserious", "Fall On Me", "West Of The Fields", "Horse To Water", "Man-Sized Wreath", "Man On The Moon"


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Lou Reed
Berlin: Live At St. Ann's Warehouse



After an Reed's adventurous (but sub-par) concept album The Raven in 2003, a couple of live albums, and an album of ambient meditation music, Reed went on tour to present his 1973 magnum opus Berlin live in it's entirety. Reed's band (including Steve Hunter from the original Berlin and the followup live album Rock And Roll Animal) is coupled with a string quartet and 12-piece chorus to try and reproduce the dense sound of the original, and it works. The biggest change is Lou's electric guitar replacing his original acoustic work. Reed and the band run through the album from beginning to end, with three encores at the end of the set. Berlin is still a depressing masterpiece, telling the story of Jim and Caroline and their downward spiral. The title song, "Men Of Good Fortune", "Caroline Says II" and the closer "Sad Song" are the standouts for me, but the rest of the piece is just as good. Berlin is my personal favorite of Reed's albums, and the live performance is terrific. Check this out, and definitely check out the original studio album.

tracks: "Intro", "Berlin", "Lady Day", "Men Of Good Fortune", "Caroline Says I", "How Do You Think It Feels", "Oh, Jim", "Caroline Says II", "The Kids", "The Bed", "Sad Song", "Candy Says", "Rock Minuet", "Sweet Jane"


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Neil Young
Sugar Mountain - Live At Canterbury House 1968



Sugar Mountain documents Neil Young in a live solo performance over the weekend before the release of his solo debut album. The set mixes songs that would show up on Neil Young, along with songs from his Buffalo Springfield days. Young's in a chatty mood throughout with long intros to many of the songs, and the result is a relaxed, playful show. Terrific stuff. An absolute must for fans of Young's folky side.

tracks: "On The Way Home", "Mr. Soul", "Expecting To Fly", "The Last Trip To Tulsa", "The Loner", "Birds", "Out Of My Mind", "If I Could Have Her Tonight", "Sugar Mountain", "I've Been Waiting For You", "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing", "The Old Laughing Lady", "Broken Arrow"



COMPILATION ALBUMS

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Eels
Meet The Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1 (1996-2006)



Essential Eels is one of those rare "best of" albums that actually does collect the band's best songs. As seems to be standard, there's new material added to entice the fans who already have the rest of the songs. One's a new song (a cover of Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On"), and it's the only disappointing song in the collection. However the other addition, a new remix of "Climbing To The Moon" is a stunner. The CD also comes with a bonus DVD of the band's witty music videos. An excellent intro for a new listener.

tracks (CD): "Novocaine For The Soul", "Susan's House", "My Beloved Monster", "Your Lucky Day In Hell", "3 Speed", "Last Stop: This Town", "Climbing To The Moon" [Jon Brion Remix], "Flyswatter", "I Like Birds", "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues", "It's A Motherfucker", "Souljacker Part I", "That's Not Really Funny", "Fresh Feeling", "Get Ur Freak On", "Saturday Morning", "Love Of The Loveless", "Dirty Girl" [Live At Town Hall], "I Need Some Sleep", "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)", "I'm Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart", "Trouble With Dreams", "Railroad Man", "Losing Streak"

tracks (DVD): "Novocaine for the Soul", "Susan's House", "Rags To Rags", "Your Lucky Day in Hell", "Last Stop: This Town", "Cancer for the Cure", "Flyswatter", "Souljacker Part I", "Saturday Morning", "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)", "Trouble With Dreams", "Dirty Girl" [Live at Town Hall]


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Eels
Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities And Unreleased (1996-2006)



A companion set to Essential Eels, Useless Trinkets is as advertised - a double-CD of non-LP and previously unreleased tracks. Highlights include a couple of essential covers (Daniel Johnston's "Living Life" and Magnapop's "Open The Door") that are as good as anything in the Eels catalog. The previously unreleased material is pretty amazing as well. Songs like the gentle title track, "Saw A UFO" and "Her", the cover of "Can't Help Falling In Love", and the catchy "Estranged Friends" could have fit well on a number of Eels' previous albums. This set also comes with a bonus DVD - this time out an excerpt from a live performance from the latest live Eels (the louder than loud guitar/guitar/drums trio that's captured on Live And In Person!). If you're a fan, you definitely need to check this out.

tracks (CD): "Novocaine For The Soul" [Live From Hell], "Fucker", "My Beloved Monster" [Live From Tennessee], "Dog's Life", "Susan's Apartment", "Manchester Girl" [BBC], "Flower" [BBC], "My Beloved Mad Monster Party" [BBC], "Animal", "Stepmother", "Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas", "Your Lucky Day In Hell" [Michael Simpson Remix], "Altar Boy", "Novocaine For The Soul" [Moog Cookbook Remix], "If I Was Your Girlfriend" [Live], "Bad News", "Funeral Parlor", "Hospital Food" [BBC], "Open The Door" [BBC], "Birdgirl On A Cell Phone", "Vice President Fruitley", "My Beloved Monstrosity", "Dark End Of The Street" [Live], "The Cheater's Guide To Your Heart" [Live], "Useless Trinkets", "Mr. E's Beautiful Remix", "Souljacker Part I" [Alternate Version], "Dog Faced Boy" [Alternate Version], "Jennifer Eccles", "Rotten World Blues", "Can't Help Falling In Love", "Christmas Is Going To The Dogs", "Mighty Fine Blues", "Eyes Down", "Skywriting", "Taking A Bath In Rust", "Estranged Friends", "Her", "Waltz Of The Naked Clowns", "I Like Birds" [Live], "Sad Foot Sign", "Living Life", "The Bright Side", "After The Operation", "Jelly Dancers", "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" [Live At Town Hall], "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" [Live At Town Hall], "I Want To Protect You", "I Put A Spell On You" [Live], "Saw A UFO"

tracks (DVD): "Saturday Morning", "Eyes Down", "My Beloved Monster", "A Magic World", "Not Ready Yet", "Souljacker Part I"



OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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Asia
Phoenix



The first album by the original Asia lineup since 1983's Alpha, Phoenix pretty much picks up where Alpha left off, with the addition of a pair of eight-minute suites "Sleeping Giant / No Way Back / Reprise" and "Parallel Worlds / Vortex / Déyà" that moves Asia's pop/prog balance over to the prog side. The opener and closer ("Never Again" and "An Extraordinary Life") have that Asia sound and the ballad "Heroine" sounds a bit like a rework of "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes". Overall, the album is much like Alpha - a good album that doesn't match the lofty standards of their debut.

tracks: "Never Again", "Nothing's Forever", "Heroine", "Sleeping Giant / No Way Back / Reprise", "Alibis", "I Will Remember You", "Shadow Of A Doubt", "Parallel Worlds / Vortex / Déyà", "Wish I'd Known All Along", "Orchard Of Mines", "Over And Over", "An Extraordinary Life"


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The Flaming Lips
Christmas On Mars



Shot during breaks in the band's schedule over the last few years, Christmas On Mars stars the Flaming Lips along with their friends and family. It's a homemade affair, with many of the sets built in singer Wayne Coyne's backyard. The movie covers the birth of a child and an alien visit to a space station on Mars. It's thin on dialog and more than a little slow, but for a homemade effort, it's not too bad. As you'd expect, the band's soundtrack is a highlight in the film. The moody, ambient music fits the mood of the film. However, but it's not much to listen to on its own. The CD comes packaged in a 2 disc set that contains the DVD of the film. If you're a Flaming Lips addict, you'd definitely want to check it out. If you're a more casual fan, I'd pass.

tracks: "Once Beyond Hopelessness", "The Distance Between Mars And The Earth, Part One", "The Horrors Of Isolation: The Celestial Dissolve, Triumphant Hallucination, Light Being Absorbed", "In Excelsior Vaginalistic", "Your Spaceship Comes From Within", "Suicide And Extraordinary Mistakes", "The Distance Between Mars And The Earth, Part Two", "The Secret Of Immortality: This Strange Feeling, This Impossible World", "The Gleaming Armament Of Marching Genitalia", "The Distress Signals Of Celestial Objects", "Space Bible With Volume Lumps", "Once Beyond Hopelessness"


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Foxboro Hot Tubs
Stop Drop And Roll!!!



A thinly disguised Green Day side project, Foxboro Hot Tubs has Green Day working as a 60's garage rock style band. The songs are catchy, and more than a little tongue-in-cheek, with several essentially being reworks of 60's classics. For instance, "Red Tide" is basically a rewrite of "Tired Of Waiting For You", "Sally" reworks "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone", and "27th Ave Shuffle" mimics The Who's "Run Run Run". Fun stuff, but don't take it too seriously.

tracks: "The Pedestrian", "Stop Drop And Roll", "Mother Mary", "Ruby Room", "Red Tide", "Highway 1", "She's A Saint Not A Celebrity", "Sally", "Alligator", "27th Ave. Shuffle", "Dark Side Of Night", "Pieces Of Truth"


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The Gutter Twins
Saturnalia



Former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan was a guest on the Greg Dulli's last Twilight Singers album (the amazing Powder Burns), and this time around the two make it an official partnership as The Gutter Twins. The band's sound is very similar to the Twilight Singers, mixing moody and dramatic music in between loud guitar rock.

tracks: "The Stations", "God's Children", "All Misery / Flowers", "The Body", "Idle Hands", "Circle the Fringes", "Who Will Lead Us?", "Seven Stories Underground", "I Was in Love With You", "Bête Noire", "Each to Each", "Front Street"


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Randy Newman
Harps And Angels



Sadly, Randy Newman's first studio album of new material since 1999 is a pretty big disappointment. The opening track, "Harps And Angels" is the only real new Newman classic on the album (although "Potholes" is close). A solo version of "Feels Like Home" is beautiful, but suffers by comparison to the version Newman did with Bonnie Raitt on vocals on 1995's Randy Newman's Faust. Another rework, last year's scathing "A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country" has been remade with a country/western feel which pretty much ruined it for me. "Easy Street" and "Laugh And Be Happy" are both charming, but would fit better on one of Newman's soundtrack albums. Randy Newman fanatics probably bought this one immediately, but unless you're a die-hard fan, skip this one.

tracks: "Harps And Angels", "Losing You", "Laugh And Be Happy", "A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country", "A Piece Of The Pie", "Easy Street", "Korean Parents", "Only A Girl", "Potholes", "Feels Like Home"


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The Waterboys
Kiss The Wind



Kiss The Wind is a download-only collection of recent outtakes, demos and live tracks available from The Waterboys' web site (http://www.mikescottwaterboys.com). The album focuses on the sound of the most recent Waterboys albums, mixing Scott's "Big Music" sound with the Celtic flavor of the Fisherman's Blues/Room To Roam era. The album is excellent: it's amazing rockers like "Kiss The Wind" and "On The Way To The Big Light" and the poppy "I've Been In The Storm For You" were left off of the band's regular releases. A gentle, live take of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" is also a big highlight, as are a couple of playful (and a little goofy) songs, "Follow The Fellow Who Fiddles" and "John Coogan Is Going". Great stuff.

tracks: "Kiss The Wind", "On My Way To The Big Light", "Follow The Fellow Who Fiddles", "Your Baby Ain't A Baby Anymore", "Wintermind", "Let It Happen" [1999 Version], "I've Been In The Storm For You", "Anatomy Of A Love Affair", "Independence Day", "John Coogan Is Going", "Wild Horses" [live], "Big Day Boogie / Always / Broken Ring", "Martin Decent", "Send Him Down To Waco", "The Stolen Child" [live], "This Old Boat"


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Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby
Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby



Amy Rigby's fist album as a duo with new husband Wreckless Eric was initially a massive disappointment for me. I'm a huge Amy Rigby fan (and I'm not familiar with Eric's work), so I was looking at this was a new Rigby album. Got through the first spin and figured I wasted my money on this one. On first listen, former Stiff Records star Eric's lo-fi voice, guitar & organ playing really seemed like a bad fit for Rigby's catchy, folky pop. After a few listens, I started warming up to it, and while it's still no match for 2005's Little Fugitive, it's certainly worth a listen. When the combination works, it ended up being quite interesting. The opener couples guitar work straight out of The Velvet Underground, a short near-rap spoken word, and maybe the oddest harmonies I've heard since John Doe and Exene in X. "Astrovan" and "Men In Sandals" are great Rigby songs flavored with Eric's vocals and Farfisa. Overall, an interesting project, but I hope Amy Rigby doesn't give up on her solo career.

tracks: "Here Comes My Ship", "Astrovan", "Another Drive-In Saturday", "First Mate Rigby", "Men In Sandals", "The Downside Of Being A Fuck Up", "A Tast Of The Keys", "Trotters", "Please Be Nice To Her", "Round", "I Still Miss Someone"



THE TOP TEN FOR 2008
(in my sickeningly less-than-humble opinion)

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#10
Oasis
Dig Out Your Soul



Oasis last album, 2005's Don't Believe The Truth, was their best since their early heyday, and Dig Out Your Soul starts out like it could've been in the same class, but ends up falling short of that mark. The album opens strong, with the storming "Bag It Up", the dramatic "The Turning", the glam-influenced "Waiting For The Rapture", and a classic Oasis single in "The Shock Of The Lightning". After that, things gets inconsistent. According to an interview in Q Magazine, "(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady" and "Ain't Got Nothin'" (maybe the weakest song on an Oasis album) were both originally intended as B-sides, and they sound like it. The closer "Soldier On" and Liam's Lennon pastiche "I'm Outta Time" are better, but not on a par with the opening quartet. Only "Falling Down" and the psychedelic "To Be Where There's Life" hold up with the first four. Overall, Dig Out Your Soul is both a very good album and a disappointing one. Drop the weaker tracks, and you've got an impressive (if short) followup to Don't Believe The Truth.

tracks: "Bag It Up", "The Turning", "Waiting For The Rapture", "The Shock Of The Lightning", "I'm Outta Time", "(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady", "Falling Down", "To Be Where There's Life", "Ain't Got Nothin'", "The Nature Of Reality", "Soldier On"


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#9
Mudcrutch
Mudcrutch



In the early 70's, Tom Petty's band Mudcrutch were an up and coming band in Gainesville that eventually left for L.A. to get a recording contract. They recorded a couple of singles (which didn't sell) and split up. After an aborted solo project, Petty hooked up with former Mudcrutch members Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench in Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Now, 35 years later, Mudcrutch has finally recorded its debut album. In theory, Mudcrutch is Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with Petty moving to bass and rhythm guitarist Tom Leadon (Eagles' Bernie Leadon's brother) and drummer Randall Marsh added, but the reality is a little different. Mudcrutch has more of a country-rock feel than the Heartbreakers (especially on "Shady Grove", "Queen Of The Go-Go Girls" and a cover of The Byrds' "Lover Of The Bayou". I'm not a big country-rock fan, but the album's very good. "Scare Easy" and "The Wrong Thing To Do" would fit fairly well on a Heartbreakers album, and "Lover Of The Bayou" is a superb cover. The album's centerpiece, "Crystal River", is a 10-minute plus epic, and it's a beauty. I still prefer the Heartbreakers, but Mudcrutch is a fine band worth checking out.

tracks: "Shady Grove", "Scare Easy", "Orphan Of The Storm", "Six Days On The Road", "Crystal River", "Oh Maria", "This Is A Good Street", "The Wrong Thing To Do", "Queen Of The Go-Go Girls", "June Apple", "Lover Of The Bayou", "Topanga Cowgirl", "Bootleg Flyer", "House Of Stone"

bonus track (iTunes only): "Special Place"


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#8
The Raconteurs
Consolers Of The Lonely



The Raconteurs' second album pretty much picks up where their 2006 debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, left off. Consolers Of The Lonely has fiery garage rock (like the powerful "Salute Your Solution"), but mixes in elegant pop like "You Don't Understand Me", the Delta blues of "Top Yourself", the horn-driven "Many Shades Of Black" and the aptly named "Carolina Drama" which couples dramatic music with a long lyric with a story of murder and revenge. A terrific followup.

tracks: "Consolers Of The Lonely", "Salute Your Solution", "You Don't Understand Me", "Old Enough", "The Switch And The Spur", "Hold Up", "Top Yourself", "Many Shades Of Black", "Five On The Five", "Attention", "Pull This Blanket Off", "Rich Kid Blues", "These Stones Will Shout", "Carolina Drama"


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#7
Supergrass
Diamond Hoo Ha



The mellow Supergrass of Road To Rouen is long gone - it's as if they never went down that road. "Diamond Hoo Ha Man" and "345" could fit nicely on 2002's Life On Other Planets, and the bouncy "Rebel In You" and "The Return Of ..." wouldn't be out of place on 1999's Supergrass. In a way, it's a shame. I loved Road To Rouen, but Diamond Hoo Ha is like the albums that hooked me on Supergrass in the first place, so it's hard to complain. If you thought Supergrass lost the plot with Rouen, this album will restore your faith.

tracks: "Diamond Hoo Ha Man", "Bad Blood", "Rebel In You", "When I Needed You", "345", "The Return Of ...", "Rough Knuckles", "Ghost Of A Friend", "Whiskey & Green Tea", "Outside", "Butterfly"


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#6
Paul Weller
22 Dreams



22 Dreams, is most ambitious album of Paul Weller's 30-year career, shifting from style to style on almost every track. You get classic Weller rock ("22 Dreams", "All I Wanna Do"), orchestral pop ("Empty Ring"), dramatic ballads ("Invisible", "Black River"), folk pop ("Light Nights") avant-garde instrumentals ("111", "Song For Alice"), classical ("Lullaby Für Kinder"), a monologue over music ("God"), and little instrumental links like "The Dark Pages Of September Lead To The New Leaves Of Spring" and "A Dream Reprise". A commonly thrown around cliché is to refer to an album as the "Sgt. Pepper" of a band's career. 22 Dreams is more like the "White Album" of Paul Weller's. Like The White Album, some parts works better than others, but overall it's that variety makes it a fascinating listen.

tracks: "Light Nights", "22 Dreams", "All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)", "Have You Made Up Your Mind", "Empty Ring", "Invisible", "Song For Alice", "Cold Moments", "The Dark Pages Of September Lead To The New Leaves Of Spring", "Black River", "Why Walk When You Can Run", "Push It Along", "A Dream Reprise", "Echoes Round The Sun", "One Bright Star", "Lullaby Für Kinder", "Where'er Ye Go", "God", "111", "Sea Spray", "Night Lights"


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#5
Sigur Rós
Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust



Sigur Rós' previous albums were generally made up of long, moody pieces, some instrumental, and some with falsetto vocals in either Icelandic or "Hopelandic" (a nonsense language invented by singer Jónsi Birgisson). The result struck me like a modern updating of Pink Floyd's spacier pre-Meddle songs. Sigur Rós seems to improve with every album, and Með Suð... is no exception. In addition, it's Sigur Rós' most accessible album yet. The songs are shorter than on previous albums, and some of the songs could actually be hits if you could get away with Icelandic lyrics on pop radio. And heck, the last song actually has Sigur Rós' first English lyrics (but they're had to make out, so it still fits their sound). "Gobbledigook" is a bouncy pop tune, "Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur" and "Við Spilum Endalaust" use horns and strings to build a joyous, majestic sound that's just irresistable. "Ára Bátur" is a soaring epic, building to a dramatic conclusion with a choir and string section adding extra power to the band's sound. If the thought of vocals you can't understand doesn't faze you, you really should hear this. It's the best introduction to Sigur Rós, and maybe their best album.

tracks: "Gobbledigook", "Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur", "Góðan Daginn", "Við Spilum Endalaust", "Festival", "Með Suð Í Eyrum", "Ára Bátur", "Illgresi", "Fljótavík", "Straumnes", "All Alright"


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#4
Bob Mould
District Line



District Line picks up pretty much where 2005's Body Of Song left off, mixing power guitar rockers with acoustic ballads and some synthy dance touches. Even though Mould hasn't made any changes to his Body Of Song sound, the songs are superb once again. The dramatic epic "Again And Again" and classic Mould rockers like "Who Needs To Dream" and "The Silence Between Us" are as good as anything in his catalog, and overall the album is a stunner.

tracks: "Stupid Now", "Who Needs To Dream", "Again And Again", "Old Highs New Lows", "Return To Dust", "The Silence Between Us", "Shelter Me", "Very Temporary", "Miniature Parade", "Walls In Time"


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#3
The Hold Steady
Stay Positive



For their fourth album, The Hold Steady make a few small changes to their sound, but don't go too far from what made their last album, Boys And Girls In America so great. The characters that figured in most of the songs on Separation Sunday and Boys And Girls In America are gone for the most part, "Sequestered In Memphis" features a horn section, "One For The Cutters" adds a harpsichord, and there's a little more heavy rock on this one, but the basic Hold Steady sound is still loud and clear. Craig Finn is still throwing out lines like "Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer, I think he was our only real teacher", "In bar light, she looked alright / In daylight she looked desperate / That's all right, I was desperate too", and "They used to think it was so cute / When she said 'Dyer Maker' / All the boys knew it was a joke about Jamaica" The lead single "Sequestered In Memphis" is this album's answer to "Stuck Between Stations", an immediately catchy rocker with a great lyric about a one-night stand gone wrong. "Lord, I'm Discouraged" is epic ballad that builds to a towering guitar solo. The digipack edition of the album adds three more songs (all lumped together in one CD track) and it's definitely the version you want to get. "Ask Her For Adderall" sounds like an outtake from Boys And Girls, "Cheyenne Sunrise" is a ballad with a little country flavor, and "Two Handed Handshake" brings the horns back for one of the best songs on the album. While Stay Positive doesn't quite measure up to Boys And Girls In America (a pretty lofty target), it's still a tremendous album.

tracks: "Constructive Summer", "Sequestered In Memphis", "One For The Cutters", "Navy Sheets", "Lord, I'm Discouraged", "Yeah Sapphire", "Both Crosses", "Stay Positive", "Magazines", "Joke About Jamaica", "Slapped Actress"

bonus tracks (digipack edition only): "Ask Her For Adderall", "Cheyenne Sunrise", "Two Handed Handshake"


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#2
R.E.M.
Accelerate



From the opening notes of "Living Well Is The Best Revenge", it's clear something is very different this time around for R.E.M. The moody elegance of Around The Sun and Reveal have been replaced by LOUD guitars and aggressive vocals for the hardest rock in R.E.M.'s catalog. "Supernatural Superserious" is an infectious single, mixing power guitar with a hooky chorus. The blazing "Horse To Water" (which really should close the album) is as close to punk as R.E.M. has been in ages. Even the "ballads" have an edge. "Hollow Man" starts out as a piano ballad, but builds to a driving chorus. "Houston" is laced with menacing, distorted guitars. The only misstep on the album is the closer, "I'm Gonna DJ", which really should have been a B-side, which almost sounds like a B-52's song covered by a hard rock band. It keeps the energy level up, but it just doesn't hold up with the rest of the album. Despite that one clunker, Accelerate is R.E.M.'s best album in ages - definitely the best of the post-Berry years, and one of the best in their catalog.

The bonus tracks include the cool garage rock of "Redhead Walking" and very surprising surf instrumental "Airliner". The live tracks are great as well - it's worth getting the album from iTunes.

tracks: "Living Well Is The Best Revenge", "Man-Sized Wreath", "Supernatural Superserious", "Hollow Man", "Houston", "Accelerate", "Until The Day Is Done", "Mr. Richards", "Sing For The Submarine", "Horse To Water", "I'm Gonna DJ"

bonus tracks (DVD edition): "Redhead Walking", "Airliner"

bonus tracks (iTunes version): "Redhead Walking", "Airliner", "Horse To Water" [Live From Athens], "Living Well Is The Best Revenge" [Live From Athens], "Until The Day Is Done" [Live From Athens], "Supernatural Superserious" [Live]


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#1
Coldplay
Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
Prospekt's March



In order to shake things up a bit, Coldplay brought in Brian Eno to produce Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, and he's done for Coldplay what he did for U2 on The Unforgettable Fire - he's helped Coldplay evolve without losing their basic sound. Strings, synths, more aggressive guitar work, and some long instrumental passages all combine to give Viva La Vida... the feel of something brand new while still sounding like Coldplay. "Yes" mixes in a middle-eastern flavor, "Life In Technicolor" and "The Escapist" add in moody, Eno-flavored synth textures, and "Cemeteries Of London" sounds like U2's Edge could have swung by to add some guitar. One of the title tracks, "Viva La Vida", is elegant pop backed by a string section and one of the best things they've done. The wonderful three-parter "42" builds from a quiet, string laden ballad with a big guitar-driven finish. "Violet Hill" mixes dramatic, whisper-quiet passages with their loudest guitar work yet. Without a doubt, Viva La Vida... is Coldplay's best album to date.

Later in 2008, Coldplay released a followup EP, Prospekt's March. The EP is split between alternate versions of Viva La Vida... songs (a vocal version of "Life In Technicolor" titled "Life In Technicolor ii", a remix of "Lovers In Japan" and a new version of "Lost!", titled "Lost+", featuring a rap from Jay-Z), and new songs that could have very easily fit on Viva La Vida.... "Glass Of Water" and the title track make are as good as anything on the main album. The EP is now out of print by itself, but there's a 2 CD package that includes Viva La Vida... and Prospekt's March. Definitely worth getting that version.

tracks (Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends): "Life In Technicolor", "Cemeteries Of London", "Lost!", "42", "Lovers In Japan", "Reign Of Love", "Yes", "Chinese Sleep Chant" [hidden track], "Viva La Vida", "Violet Hill", "Strawberry Swing", "Death And All His Friends", "The Escapist" [hidden track]

Viva La Vida... bonus tracks (iTunes only): "Lost?", "Lovers In Japan" [Acoustic Version]

tracks (Prospekt's March): "Life In Technicolor ii", "Postcards From Far Away", "Glass Of Water", "Rainy Day", "Prospekt's March / Poppyfields", "Lost+", "Lovers In Japan" [Osaka Sun Mix], "Now My Feet Won't Touch The Ground"



PAST YEARS' BESTS

Just click on the album cover to see that year's reviews.

2007: Manic Street Preachers - Send Away The Tigers2006: James Dean Bradfield - The Great Western2005: Bob Mould - Body Of Song2004: The Polyphonic Spree - Together We're Heavy2003: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Greendale2002: The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots2001: Manic Street Preachers - Know Your Enemy2000: The Dandy Warhols - Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia1999: Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin1998: Eels - Electro-Shock Blues1997: Paul Weller - Heavy Soul1996: Bob Mould - Bob Mould1995: Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory?1994: Paul Weller - Wild Wood1993: Pete Townshend - Psychoderelict1992: Roger Waters - Amused To Death1991: Richard Thompson - Rumor And Sigh1990: Lou Reed and John Cale - Songs For Drella1989: Bob Mould - Workbook1988: R.E.M. - Green1987: Marillion - Clutching At Straws
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