OTG's Top Ten (and Other Commentary) For 2009


OPENING GIBBERISH

I know I'm not on the cutting edge of new music anymore, but it seems like quite a few debuts are in the list this year. Heck, three of the top ten this year are debuts (and for a first, one of 'em topped the list). Enjoy the list. Maybe you'll find something new here too.

REISSUES



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XTC as The Dukes Of Stratosphear
25 O'Clock

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XTC as The Dukes Of Stratosphear
Psonic Psunspot



In 1985, XTC released a 6 song EP billed to The Dukes Of Stratosphear. The Dukes EP was a clever tribute/parody/homage to 60's psychedelic garage rock, and the EP is terrific. It's definitely something to be taken tongue-in-cheek, but "My Love Explodes" and "The Mole From The Ministry" are great songs, parody or no. The new reissue (now credited to "XTC as The Dukes Of Stratosphear") adds demos for a number of songs along with a couple of outtakes. It's a blast. As it turned out, 25 O'Clock was one of the better selling XTC records (even though the band's name names wasn't originally on it), so they were pressured to do a followup. The full-length Psonic Psunspot is a more general 60's homage and while songs like "Vanishing Girl", "Little Lighthouse" and "You're A Good Man Albert Brown" are terrific, the album overall isn't quite as good as the EP. Like 25 O'Clock adds demos as bonus tracks. The two were originally reissued on a single CD called Chips From The Chocolate Fireball (without the bonus tracks). The packaging on these two reissues is much nicer, and if you're a fan of the albums, they're definitely worth picking up.

tracks (25 O'Clock): "25 O'Clock", "Bike Ride To The Moon", "My Love Explodes", "What In The World?? ...", "Your Gold Dress", "The Mole From The Ministry"

bonus tracks (25 O'Clock): "25 O'Clock" [Demo], "Bike Ride To The Moon" [Demo], "My Love Explodes" [Demo], "What In The World?? ..." [Demo], "Nicely Nicely Jane" [Demo], "Susan Revolving" [Demo], "Black Jewelled Serpent Of Sound" [Radio Caroline Edit], "Open A Can Of Human Beans", "Tin Toy Clockwork Train"

tracks (Psonic Psunspot): "Vanishing Girl", "Have You Seen Jackie?", "Little Lighthouse", "You're A Good Man Albert Brown (Curse You Red Barrel)", "Collideascope", "You're My Drug", "Shiny Cage", "Brainiac's Daughter", "The Affiliated", "Pale And Precious"

bonus tracks (Psonic Psunspot): "No One At Home" [Demo], "Little Lighthouse" [Demo], "Collideascope" [Demo], "Shiny Cage" [Demo], "Brainiac's Daughter" [Demo], "The Affiliated" [Demo]


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The Who
The Who Sell Out (Deluxe Edition)



Back in '95, I wrote:
The Who Sell Out is one of the great "concept albums" in rock. The album simulates the format of the 60's British "pirate" radio stations. The songs are broken up by commercials (recorded by The Who for very real products) and segues taken from one of the pirate stations, Radio London. In addition, the styles of each song vary greatly from cut to cut. On the original 1967 album, the concept broke down a bit on side two. The style changes were still there, but the ads were less frequent. On the new reissue, a few previously unreleased ads are dropped into what was side 2 of the LP, plus a slew of outtake songs and ads are added to the end of the CD. The result is a seamless 70 minute CD with the wit and power of the original, but with better sound and more songs.
This time around,the reissue is a 2 CD set with the original stereo mix on disc one and the mono on disc two. The bonus songs that were integrated into the running order of the '95 CD are back at the end of the disc, leaving the original running order alone. The most obvious difference in the two mixes is the radically different guitar solo on "Our Love Was". The rest of the differences are pretty subtle. The bonus materials are similar to the 1995 reissue with a few extra curios thrown in. On the whole, The Who Sell Out is still a classic and you should have a copy. However, unless you're a Who fanatic or you want the original running order, there's no reason to swap out the 1995 CD for this one.

tracks (disc one - stereo): "Armenia City In The Sky", "Heinz Baked Beans", "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand", "Odorono", "Tattoo", "Our Love Was", "I Can See For Miles", "I Can't Reach You", "Medac (Spotted Henry)", "Relax", "Silas Stingy", "Sunrise", "Rael (1 & 2)"

tracks (disc one bonus material): "Rael 2", "Someone's Coming", "Early Morning Cold Taxi", "Jaguar", "Coke 2", "Glittering Girl", "Summertime Blues", "John Mason Cars", "Girl's Eyes", "Sodding About", "Premier Drums" [Full Version], "Odorono" [Final Chorus], "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand" [US Mirasound Version], "Coke 1", "In The Hall Of The Mountain King", "Top Gear", "Rael (1 & 2)" [Remake Version],

tracks (disc two - mono): "Armenia City In The Sky", "Heinz Baked Beans", "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand", "Odorono", "Tattoo", "Our Love Was", "I Can See For Miles", "I Can't Reach You", "Medac (Spotted Henry)" , "Relax", "Silas Stingy", "Sunrise", "Rael (1 & 2)"

tracks (disc two bonus material): "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand" [US Single Mono Mix], "Someone's Coming" [US Single Mono Mix], "Relax" [Early Demo - Stereo], "Jaguar" [Mono Version], "Glittering Girl" [Unreleased Stereo Version], "Tattoo" [Early Mono Mix], "Our Love Was" [Take 12 - Unused Mono Mix], "Rotosound Strings" [With Final Note], "I Can See For Miles" [Early Mono Mix], "Rael (1 & 2)" [Early Mono Mix], "Armenia City In The Sky" [Backwards Tracks], "Great Shakes"



LIVE ALBUMS

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Coldplay
LeftRightLeftRightLeft



LeftRightLeftRightLeft is a terrific live album taken from Coldplay's Viva La Vida tour. Most of the album is taken from the band's recent album and EP with two older classics ("Clocks" and "Fix You") thrown in. The album was given away as a freebie at dates on the Viva La Vida Tour and is also available as a free download from coldplay.com. Definitely worth a download.

tracks: "Glass Of Water", "42", "Clocks", "Strawberry Swing", "The Hardest Part / Postcards From Far Away", "Viva La Vida", "Death Will Never Conquer", "Fix You", "Death And All His Friends",


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Noel Gallagher
The Dreams We Have As Children



Prior to announcing his departure from Oasis, Noel Gallagher released an iTunes exclusive live album taken from a 2007 Teenage Cancer Trust benefit show. Backed by now ex-bandmate Gem Archer with Terry Kirkbride on percussion and a guest appearance by Paul Weller, Gallager runs through a largely acoustic set of Oasis songs with a few covers thrown in (including a great version of The Smiths "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"), and the results are terrific. Oasis' bombast is missing, but the songs and performance are outstanding. The version of "Cast No Shadow" is as good as the original, and the lush take on "Slide Away" is a stunner. I've felt for a while now that Noel was a better singer that his brother Liam, and hearing Noel live makes me think he made the right decision in leaving the band. Looking forward to a proper solo debut.

tracks: "(It's Good) To Be Free", "Talk Tonight", "Fade Away", "Cast No Shadow", "Half The World Away", "The Importance Of Being Idle", "The Butterfly Collector" [with Paul Weller], "All You Need Is Love" [with Paul Weller], "Don't Go Away", "Listen Up", "Sad Song", "Wonderwall", "Slide Away", "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", "Don't Look Back In Anger", "Married With Children"


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The Hold Steady
A Positive Rage



A Positive Rage documents the Hold Steady's tour supporting their excellent Boys And Girls In America album (with a few songs from the then-unreleased Stay Positive). The Hold Steady has a reputation as a great live act, and I see why. The band is electrifying live - the rockers are more intense and the ballads are more dramatic. The CD also comes with a DVD, but sadly it's not a pure concert movie. It's a documentary (and a very good one) with a little live footage, but after hearing the album, I wanted to see a complete concert. Despite that, this is definitely a must.

tracks: "Stuck Between Stations", "The Swish", "Chips Ahoy!", "Massive Nights", "Ask Her For Adderall", "Barfruit Blues", "Same Kooks", "You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came With)", "Lord, I'm Discouraged", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Southtown Girls", "Citrus", "First Night", "Girls Like Status", "Killer Parties"


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Robyn Hitchcock
I Often Dream Of Trains In New York



A sparse live rendition of Hitchcock's solo favorite I Often Dream Of Trains. Like the album, the concert is a mix of subtle, beautiful songs like "Nocturne" and "Cathedral" and goofy songs like the a cappella "Uncorrected Personality Traits" and "Ye Sleeping Knights Of Jesus". A new song, "That's Fantastic, Mother Church" has been added (and it certainly fits the mood of the album). The last three songs (a mix of two older Hitchcock songs and one recent one) get the same sparse treatment with great results. If you like the original, definitely check this out.

tracks: "Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl", "Nocturne (Prelude)", "Flavour Of Night", "Cathedral", "Sounds Great When You're Dead", "Uncorrected Personality Traits", "I Used To Say I Love You", "Winter Love", "This Could Be The Day", "Ye Sleeping Knights Of Jesus", "Trams Of Old London", "My Favourite Buildings", "That's Fantastic, Mother Church", "Heartful Of Leaves", "Autumn Is Your Last Chance", "I Often Dream Of Trains", "America", "Up To Our Nex", "Goodnight I Say"


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Bob Mould Band
Live At ATP 2008



Bob Mould's first live album is a blazing live set from his recent tour, although none of the songs from 2008's excellent District Line are on this album. Instead, the songs are pulled from Bob's solo career, his time with Sugar, and five killer Hüsker Dü songs at the end of the set. It's a nice mix of material, and the band is in fine form.

tracks: "The Act We Act", "A Good Idea", "I Hate Alternative Rock", "See A Little Light", "Hoover Dam", "Circles", "Paralyzed", "I Apologize", "Chartered Trips", "Celebrated Summer", "Makes No Sense At All", "New Day Rising"


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R.E.M.
Live At The Olympia



While last year's Accelerate was in the works, R.E.M. did a five-day residency in Dublin. They used these self-described "working sessions" as a way to try out the new material. The performances were fleshed out with a big helping of older R.E.M. songs, and the results are superb. Hearing R.E.M. rip through the new material as well as old favorites like "Little America", "Sitting Still", "These Days", and "Kohoutek" is a blast. You also get two songs that didn't make the cut ("Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance" and "On The Fly"). Both are good songs, but not quite to the standard of the rest of Accelerate. A must for an R.E.M. fan, especially if you're a fan of the early albums.

tracks: "Living Well Is The Best Revenge", "Second Guessing", "Letter Never Sent", "Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance", "Disturbance At The Heron House", "Mr. Richards", "Houston", "New Test Leper", "Cuyahoga", "Electrolite", "Man-Sized Wreath", "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", "On The Fly", "Maps And Legends", "Sitting Still", "Driver 8", "Horse To Water", "I'm Gonna DJ", "Circus Envy", "These Days", "Drive", "Feeling Gravitys Pull", "Until The Day Is Done", "Accelerate", "Auctioneer (Another Engine)", "Little America", "1,000,000", "Supernatural Superserious", "The Worst Joke Ever", "Welcome To The Occupation", "Carnival Of Sorts (Box Cars)", "Harborcoat", "Wolves, Lower", "I've Been High", "Kohoutek", "West Of The Fields", "Pretty Persuasion", "Romance", "Gardening At Night"


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Tom Waits
Glitter And Doom Live



A terrific souvenir from Waits' most recent tour. The tour focused more on recent Waits material, but there's a song or two from his Island years as well. The second disc is a real treat. Labelled "Tom Tales", it's a collection of Waits' between-song stories. The result isn't quite a standup comedy album, but it's very funny. Hidden at the end is one more song from the tour, a terrific version of "Picture In A Frame". Wonderful.

tracks: "Lucinda / Ain't Goin' Down To The Well", "Singapore", "Get Behind The Mule", "Fannin Street", "Dirt In The Ground", "Such A Scream", "Live Circus", "Goin' Out West", "Falling Down", "The Part You Throw Away", "Trampled Rose", "Metropolitan Glide", "I'll Shoot The Moon", "Green Grass", "Make It Rain", "Story", "Lucky Day", "Tom Tales", "Picture In A Frame"


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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The Live Anthology



Despite being one of the best live bands around, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers hadn't been served well by live albums. There's Official Live 'Leg (a 4-song promo EP from one of the band's first shows) and the double-live Pack Up The Plantation!, which covered Petty's 1985 Southern Accents tour and included a horn section not used before or since. The Live Anthology corrects this problem in style. The standard version is a four CD box set that mixes songs from most of the Heartbreakers' tours. There's a great mix of Petty standards like "American Girl", "Refugee", "Here Comes My Girl", "Runnin' Down A Dream", and so on. Along with those, you also get a ton of great "deep cuts" (songs like "A Woman In Love" and "Century City" that Petty hasn't played live for ages) and terrific covers like "Friend Of The Devil", "Green Onions", "Mystic Eyes" and a surf take on the theme from "Goldfinger". The set isn't arranged chronologically, so it plays like one long concert. If you go for the Deluxe Edition (only available at Best Buy), you get a great 5th CD, a new vinyl pressing of Official Live 'Leg, and two DVDs - a documentary and a concert movie.

One of the best live collections I've ever heard. Absolutely spectacular.

tracks: "Ladies And Gentlemen ...", "Nightwatchman", "Even The Losers", "Here Comes My Girl", "A Thing About You", "I'm In Love", "I'm A Man", "Straight Into Darkness", "Breakdown", "Something In The Air", "I Just Want To Make Love To You", "Drivin Down To Georgia", "Lost Without You", "Refugee", "Diddy Wah Diddy", "I Want You Back Again", "Wildflowers", "Friend Of The Devil", "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)", "It's Good To Be King", "Angel Dream (No. 2)", "Learning To Fly", "Mary Jane's Last Dance", "Mystic Eyes", "Jammin' Me", "The Wild One, Forever", "Green Onions", "Louisiana Rain", "Melinda", "Goldfinger", "Surrender", "Dreamville", "Spike", "Any Way You Want It", "American Girl", "Runnin' Down A Dream", "Oh Well", "Southern Accents", "Crawling Back To You", "My Life / Your World", "I Won't Back Down", "Square One", "Have Love Will Travel", "Free Fallin'", "The Waiting", "Good Good Lovin'", "Century City", "Alright For Now"

tracks (Deluxe Edition - Disc Five): "Think About Me", "Down South", "I Need To Know", "Billy The Kid", "I'd Like To Love You Baby", "Image Of Me", "Born In Chicago", "Like A Diamond", "The Last DJ", "No Second Thoughts", "Ballad Of Easy Rider", "Don't Come Around Here No More", "Too Much Ain't Enough", "County Farm"

tracks (Deluxe Edition - Official Live 'Leg [vinyl]): "Jaguar and Thunderbird", "Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)", "Luna", "Dog On The Run"



COMPILATION ALBUMS

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The Beatles
The Beatles In Mono



Mono? Really? A 13 CD box of the most important rock band in history, and it's in mono? Yes, definitely. When these albums were originally recorded, mono was the common format. The Beatles worked with George Martin on the mono mixes of each album and then the tapes were shipped off to someone else for the stereo mix. As a result, the early Beatles albums have the most annoying stereo spread imaginable: all the vocals on one channel, all the music on the other. When the Beatles catalog was first issued on CD in 1987, George Martin insisted the first four albums be presented in mono, and the rest ended up in stereo. With the new reissue campaign, two box sets were released - one stereo and one mono. Being a purist, I went for the mono set so I could hear the mixes the band approved. You'll hear little differences along the way, but these versions are not radically different from the stereo versions you know. Surprisingly, they don't sound "flat" - you wouldn't necessarily notice that they're mono mixes right off. The albums sound terrific. A huge sound improvement over the original CDs.

Note: The box set stops at The Beatles (you know, the "White Album"), because there aren't specific mono mixes of Abbey Road and Let It Be. The box does have an equivalent to Past Masters (titled Mono Masters) that serves the same function - it cleans up all of the mono mixes that aren't part of the first ten albums.

tracks (Please Please Me): "I Saw Her Standing There", "Misery", "Anna (Go To Him)", "Chains", "Boys", "Ask Me Why", "Please Please Me", "Love Me Do", "P.S. I Love You", "Baby It's You", "Do You Want To Know A Secret", "A Taste Of Honey", "There's A Place", "Twist And Shout"

tracks (With The Beatles): "It Won't Be Long", "All I've Got To Do", "All My Loving", "Don't Bother Me", "Little Child", "Till There Was You", "Please Mister Postman", "Roll Over Beethoven", "Hold Me Tight", "You Really Got A Hold On Me", "I Wanna Be Your Man", "Devil In Her Heart", "Not A Second Time", "Money (That's What I Want)"

tracks (A Hard Day's Night): "A Hard Day's Night", "I Should Have Known Better", "If I Fell", "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You", "And I Love Her", "Tell Me Why", "Can't Buy Me Love", "Any Time At All", "I'll Cry Instead", "Things We Said Today", "When I Get Home", "You Can't Do That", "I'll Be Back"

tracks (Beatles For Sale): "No Reply", "I'm A Loser", "Baby's In Black", "Rock And Roll Music", "I'll Follow The Sun", "Mr. Moonlight", "Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!", "Eight Days A Week", "Words Of Love", "Honey Don't", "Every Little Thing", "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party", "What You're Doing", "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby"

tracks (Help!): "Help!", "The Night Before", "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", "I Need You", "Another Girl", "You're Going to Lose That Girl", "Ticket to Ride", "Act Naturally", "It's Only Love", "You Like Me Too Much", "Tell Me What You See", "I've Just Seen a Face", "Yesterday", "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"

tracks (Rubber Soul): "Drive My Car", "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", "You Won't See Me", "Nowhere Man", "Think For Yourself", "The Word", "Michelle", "What Goes On", "Girl", "I'm Looking Through You", "In My Life", "Wait", "If I Needed Someone", "Run For Your Life"

tracks (Revolver): "Taxman", "Eleanor Rigby", "I'm Only Sleeping", "Love You To", "Here, There And Everywhere", "Yellow Submarine", "She Said She Said", "Good Day Sunshine", "And Your Bird Can Sing", "For No One", "Dr. Robert", "I Want To Tell You", "Got To Get You Into My Life", "Tomorrow Never Knows"

tracks (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band): "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", "With A Little Help From My Friends", "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", "Getting Better", "Fixing A Hole", "She's Leaving Home", "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!", "Within You Without You", "When I'm Sixty-Four", "Lovely Rita", "Good Morning Good Morning", "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)", "A Day In The Life"

tracks (Magical Mystery Tour): "Magical Mystery Tour", "The Fool On The Hill", "Flying", "Blue Jay Way", "Your Mother Should Know", "I Am The Walrus", "Hello, Goodbye", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Penny Lane", "Baby, You're A Rich Man", "All You Need Is Love"

tracks (The Beatles): "Back In The U.S.S.R.", "Dear Prudence", "Glass Onion", "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", "Wild Honey Pie", "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Happiness Is A Warm Gun", "Martha My Dear", "I'm So Tired", "Blackbird", "Piggies", "Rocky Racoon", "Don't Pass Me By", "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?", "I Will", "Julia", "Birthday", "Yer Blues", "Mother Nature's Son", "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey", "Sexy Sadie", "Helter Skelter", "Long, Long, Long", "Revolution 1", "Honey Pie", "Savoy Truffle", "Cry Baby Cry", "Revolution 9", "Good Night"

tracks (Mono Masters): "Love Me Do" [original single version], "From Me to You", "Thank You Girl", "She Loves You", "I'll Get You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "This Boy", "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand", "Sie Liebt Dich", "Long Tall Sally", "I Call Your Name", "Slow Down", "Matchbox", "I Feel Fine", "She's a Woman", "Bad Boy", "Yes It Is", "I'm Down", "Day Tripper", "We Can Work It Out", "Paperback Writer", "Rain", "Lady Madonna", "The Inner Light", "Hey Jude", "Revolution", "Only A Northern Song", "All Together Now", "Hey Bulldog", "It's All Too Much", "Get Back", "Don't Let Me Down", "Across The Universe", "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)"


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Big Star
Keep An Eye On The Sky



A 4 CD box of legendary cult band Big Star, Keep An Eye On The Sky covers Big Star's career starting with pre-Big Star songs by Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, and two early incarnations of the band, Icewater and Rock City. The three original Big Star albums are here in their entirety ... sort of. All the songs are here, but the vast majority of them are here as alternate mixes or demos. Capping off the set is a very rare seventy minute live disc taken from three sets in 1973 with the original lineup (minus the recently departed Chris Bell) recorded before their second album, Radio City was recorded. An absolute must for Big Star junkies. Not a bad intro to the band in general, but a 2-fer CD of #1 Record / Radio City would be a cheaper option.

tracks: "Psychedelic Stuff" - Chris Bell, "All I See Is You" - Icewater, "Every Day As We Grow Closer" - Alex Chilton, "Try Again" - Rock City, "Feel", "The Ballad Of El Goodo", "In The Street", "Thirteen", "Don't Lie To Me", "The India Song", "When My Baby's Beside Me", "My Life Is Right", "Give Me Another Chance", "Try Again", "Gone With The Light", "Watch The Sunrise", "ST 100/6", "The Preacher" - Rock City, "In The Street", "Feel", "The Ballad Of El Goodo", "The India Song", "Country Morn", "I Got Kinda Lost", "Back Of A Car", "Motel Blues", "There Was A Light", "Life Is White", "What's Going Ahn", "O My Soul", "Life Is White", "Way Out West", "What's Going Ahn", "You Get What You Deserve", "Mod Lang", "Back Of A Car", "Daisy Glaze", "She's A Mover", "September Gurls", "Morpha Too", "I'm In Love With A Girl", "O My Soul", "She's A Mover", "Daisy Glaze", "I Am The Cosmos" - Chris Bell, "You And Your Sister" - Chris Bell, "Blue Moon", "Femme Fatale", "Thank You Friends", "Nightime", "Take Care", "You Get What You Deserve", "Lovely Day", "Downs", "Jesus Christ", "Holocaust", "Big Black Car", "Manana", "Jesus Christ", "Femme Fatale", "O, Dana", "Kizza Me", "You Can't Have Me", "Nightime", "Dream Lover", "Big Black Car", "Blue Moon", "Holocaust", "Stroke It Noel", "For You", "Downs", "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", "Kanga-Roo", "Thank You Friends", "Take Care", "Lovely Day", "Till The End Of The Day", "Nature Boy", "When My Baby's Beside Me", "My Life Is Right", "She's A Mover", "Way Out West", "The Ballad Of El Goodo", "In The Street", "Back Of A Car", "Thirteen", "The India Song", "Try Again", "Watch The Sunrise", "Don't Lie To Me", "Hot Burrito #2", "I Got Kinda Lost", "Baby Strange", "Slut", "There Was A Light", "ST 100/6", "Come On Now", "O My Soul"



OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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Cracker
Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey



Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey doesn't mix things up for Cracker, and after numerous lineup changes and an ill-advised detour into country, that works. The album is a mix of folky-pop like "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me", rockers like "We All Shine A Light". Overall, it sounds like the band that recorded Cracker and Kerosene Hat back in the early 90's. 2006's Greenland got Cracker back on the right track, Sunrise ... has them back in prime form.

tracks: "Yalla Yalla (Let's Go)", "Show Me How This Thing Works", "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me", "We All Shine A Light", "Hand Me My Inhaler", "Friends", "I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right", "Time Machine", "Hey Bret (You Know What Time It Is)", "Darling One", "Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey"


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The Flaming Lips
Embryonic



Easily the weirdest Lips album since Zaireeka, Embryonic has the Flaming Lips largely abandoning the sound of their Soft Bulletin/Yoshimi/Mystics period and just experimenting. The songs are sparse and rough - they feel like early takes. Mixed in are short, mainly instrumental pieces (the songs with the zodiac symbols in the names). Overall, it's an interesting listen. However, if those three albums were singles, Embryonic would be that cool B-side - something weird and interesting to check out, but nowhere near as good as the A-side. Definitely for Lips fanatics only.

tracks: "Convinced Of The Hex", "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine", "Evil", "Aquarius Sabotage", "See The Leaves", "If", "Gemini Syringes", "Your Bats", "Powerless", "The Ego's Last Stand", "I Can Be A Frog", "Sagittarius Silver Announcement", "Worm Mountain", "Scorpio Sword", "The Impulse", "Silver Trembling Hands", "Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast", "Watching The Planets"


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The Flaming Lips And Stardeath And White Dwarfs
The Flaming Lips And Stardeath And White Dwarfs With Henry Rollins And Peaches Doing The Dark Side Of The Moon



The album title kinda says it all, doesn't it? Only available as a download, the album has The Flaming Lips and Stardeath And White Dwarfs working together and separately through the Pink Floyd classic. Henry Rollins and Peaches provide the non-Floyd vocals from the original (the spoken parts and the vocals on "The Great Gig In The Sky"). Despite some absolutely scathing reviews on iTunes, the album is quite good. It's definitely in the Flaming Lips style, but the original songs haven't been made unrecognizable. Hardly essential, but still a lot of fun (assuming you don't view the concept of a cover of Dark Side as sacrilege).

tracks: "Speak To Me / Breathe", "On The Run", "Time / Breathe (Reprise)", "The Great Gig In the Sky", "Money", "Us and Them", "Any Colour You Like", "Brain Damage", "Eclipse"


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The Nematoads
Spy Car Mechanic



The Nematoads second album mixes in a trumpet, a Theremin and an electric sitar for a fresh twist on classic surf. "Misirlou" (perhaps the ultimate surf standard) gets a much heavier guitar than the "usual" cover, plus the band extends out the song to over six minutes. Superb version. "Death Garage" adds in some grungy guitar to the mix, and result is terrific. Overall, Spy Car Mechanic is classic surf/spy music with some new sounds added in to keep it fresh. Great stuff.

tracks: "Rex Dart: Eskimo Spy", "Johnny Turbo: Spy Car Mechanic", "Squid Racer", "Miranda", "The White Whale", "Misirlou", "Airstrip One", "Theme From The Inscrutables", "Jet Jaguar", "Rawhide", "No. Mr. Bond. I Expect You To Surf!", "Death Garage", "Rancho Cucamonga"


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Matthew Sweet And Susanna Hoffs
Under The Covers, Vol. 2



Sid 'n' Susie return with their second set, this time around it's a collection of 70's covers. Like Vol. 1, they've chosen a very intersting song list with a nice mix of big hits and lesser known gems. How much you'll like this definitely depends on how much you like the originals. The arrangements aren't all that different, but they're still fun to hear. iTunes has a "deluxe" version with a bunch more songs, and two of my all-time favorites, "Marquee Moon" (complete with a full length instrumental passage) and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding", are in that set. If you think this sounds like fun, definitely go for the iTunes version.

tracks: "Sugar Magnolia", "Go All The Way", "Second Hand News", "Bell Bottom Blues", "All The Young Dudes", "You're So Vain", "Here Comes My Girl", "I've Seen All Good People", "Hello It's Me", "Willin'", "Back Of A Car", "Couldn't I Just Tell You", "Gimme Some Truth", "Maggie May", "Everything I Own", "Beware Of Darkness"

tracks (deluxe edition): "Dreaming", "Marquee Moon", "I Wanna Be Sedated", "Baby Blue", "You Say You Don't Love Me", "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding", "You Can Close Your Eyes", "Melissa", "Killer Queen", "A Song For You"


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Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures



Them Crooked Vultures is a new supergroup made up of guitarist Josh Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age, drummer Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters (and Nirvana), and legendary Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. The album starts out roaring with the heavy swing of "No One Loves Me ..." and the hard rock of "Mind Eraser, No Chaser". "Dead End Friends" and "Elephants" keep up the pace, but the album kinda runs out of gas near the end. The last five songs are nowhere near as good as the first eight. But those first eight are stellar: pounding, melodic hard rock that makes you want to hear more. I hope this isn't a one-off.

tracks: "No One Loves Me & Neither Do I", "Mind Eraser, No Chaser", "New Fang", "Dead End Friends", "Elephants", "Scumbag Blues", "Bandoliers", "Reptiles", "Interlude With Ludes", "Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up", "Caligulove", "Gunman", "Spinning in Daffodils"


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U2
No Line On The Horizon



After the smash The Joshua Tree, U2 detoured into new sounds and released Achtung Baby, which was a definite departure for the band. With No Line On The Horizon, U2 is taking a similiar detour following the back-to-basics albums All That You Can't Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Like Achtung, I like parts of No Line, and the best songs are impressive. Of course, they're also the least adventurous. "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" is the standout and "Magnificent" sounds like it could fit on The Unforgettable Fire. Most of the album didn't really impress me much one way or the other. Overall, I liked the album, but it's not something I'd listen to as much as the last two albums.

tracks: "No Line On The Horizon", "Magnificent", "Moment Of Surrender", "Unknown Caller", "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight", "Get On Your Boots", "Stand Up Comedy", "Fez - Being Born", "White As Snow", "Breathe", "Cedars Of Lebanon"


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Neil Young
Fork In The Road



Fork In The Road returns Neil Young to loud rock with songs largely about his LincVolt project (an electric Lincoln Continental). The songs are nice and grungy, but not particularly memorable. The big highlights include "Just Singing A Song", "Johnny Magic", "Light A Candle", and the old man rant "Fork In The Road" with lines like "There's a bailout coming but it's not for me / It's for all those creeps watching tickers on TV" and "I'm a big rock star / My sales have tanked / But I still got you / Thanks / Download this / Sounds like shit". On the whole, Fork In The Road reminds me of Re·ac·tor. Fun to hear Neil rocking out, but he's written much better songs than these.

tracks: "When Worlds Collide", "Fuel Line", "Just Singing A Song", "Johnny Magic", "Cough Up The Bucks", "Get Behind The Wheel", "Off The Road", "Hit The Road", "Light A Candle", "Fork In The Road"



WOULDA-BEEN TOP TENS HAD I HEARD 'EM IN TIME ... aka ... "D'OH!"

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Jack's Mannequin
The Glass Passenger



The Glass Passenger mixes elegant, lush piano-driven pop like "Annie Use Your Telescope" with the Coldplay-like "Swim", and rockers like "Suicide Blonde" ("dyed by her own hand"). Songs like "Spinning", "Swim", "The Resolution" and "Swim" albsolutely floored me. Absolutely perfect pop.

tracks: "Crashin'", "Spinning", "Swim", "American Love", "What Gets You Off", "Suicide Blonde", "Annie Use Your Telescope", "Bloodshot", "Drop Out - The So Unknown", "Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)", "The Resolution", "Orphans", "Caves", "Miss California"


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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!



Cave's been around for ages, but this is the first album of his I've heard. On Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, he and The Bad Seeds mix grinding garage rock with Cave's vocals the wander between singing and Captain Beefheart style rambling talking parts. Great, great stuff. I need to check out more of Cave's catalog.

tracks: "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!", "Today's Lesson", "Moonland", "Night Of The Lotus Eaters", "Albert Goes West", "We Call Upon The Author", "Hold On To Yourself", "Lie Down Here (And Be My Girl)", "Jesus Of The Moon", "Midnight Man", "More News From Nowhere"



THE TOP TEN FOR 2009
(in my horribly less-than-humble opinion)

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#10
Doves
Kingdom Of Rust



Kingdom Of Rust is Doves first new album in four years, but they're not breaking any new ground. The album has their mix of folky, ethereal pop and rock with a touch of dance music. The title track is the best thing on the album, although the epic rocker "The Outsiders" and the elegant closer "Lifelines" aren't far behind. A very welcome return.

tracks: "Jetstream", "Kingdom Of Rust", "The Outsiders", "Winter Hill", "10:03", "The Greatest Denier", "Birds Flew Backwards", "Spellbound", "Compulsion", "House Of Mirrors", "Lifelines"


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#9
Stardeath And White Dwarfs
The Birth



With a sound that's a cross between The Flaming Lips and pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, The Birth is an impressive debut album. Stardeath And White Dwarfs (with lead singer Dennis Coyne - nephew of Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne) wander between quieter territory like the lovely "Keep Score", the noisy overload of "The Age Of The Freak", and freakouts like "Those Who Are From The Sun Return To The Sun". An excellent debut.

tracks: "The Sea Is On Fire", "New Heat", "Keep Score", "The Birth", "Those Who Are From The Sun Return To The Sun", "I Can't Get Away", "The Age Of The Freak", "Country Ballad", "The March", "Smoking Pot Makes Me Not Want To Kill Myself"


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#8
Eels
Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs Of Desire



Seems like Hombre Lobo doesn't know what kind of Eels album it wants to be. Songs like "Prizefighter", "Tremendous Dynamite", "What's A Fella Gotta Do" have the noisy Eels sound with loud guitars and distorted vocals. But mixed in are songs with the band's melancholy pop like "The Look You Give That Guy", "My Timing Is Off", and "All The Beautiful Things". In a way, it's the perfect intro to Eels - it gives you a taste of both sides of the band on one album.

tracks: "Prizefighter", "That Look You Give That Guy", "Lilac Breeze", "In My Dreams", "Tremendous Dynamite", "The Longing", "Fresh Blood", "What's A Fella Gotta Do", "My Timing Is Off", "All The Beautiful Things", "Beginner's Luck", "Ordinary Man"


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#7
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3
Goodnight Oslo



Robyn's second album with The Venus 3 has a little more varied sound than Olé Tarantula!, mixing in horns on a few tracks, female background singers on "What You Is", Subterranean Homesick Blues-style vocals on "Your Head Here", a little country shuffle on "Hurry For The Sky", and the closer "Goodnight Oslo" is classic Hitchcock with some dramatic strings added. "I'm Falling" is the huge standout - gorgeous pop that reminds me of Robyn's albums with The Egyptians. I'm very glad that the Venus 3 seems to be a continuing project.

tracks: "What You Is", "Your Head Here", "Saturday Groovers", "I'm Falling", "Hurry For The Sky", "Sixteen Years", "Up To Our Nex", "Intricate Thing", "TLC", "Goodnight Oslo"


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#6
Green Day
21st Century Breakdown



I totally missed out on American Idiot when it came out. Hadn't really paid much attention to Green Day in years, and when I finally heard it I was amazed. As a result, I was very interested to see what the follow up would be like. As it turns out, 21st Century Breakdown basically picks up where Idiot left off. Like it's predecessor, this album is also a story, and while the songs aren't quite as dazzling as on Idiot, they're still very good. After a low-fi intro piece, the album roars in with "21st Century Breakdown", which follows American Idiot's style of multi-part songs moving from an anthemic opening section into a punky middle section, then into a dramatic finish. "¡Viva La Gloria!" starts out as a piano ballad before exploding into Dookie-style punk pop. "21 Guns" follows a similar pattern, throwing in a chorus vague reminiscent of "All The Young Dudes". A very solid followup.

The iTunes version of the album added some covers as bonus tracks, including an excellent, full-length version of The Who's mini-opera, "A Quick One While He's Away".

tracks: "Song Of The Century", "21st Century Breakdown", "Know Your Enemy", "¡Viva La Gloria!", "Before The Lobotomy", "Christian's Inferno", "Last Night On Earth", "East Jesus Nowhere", "Peacemaker", "Last Of The American Girls", "Murder City", "¿Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl)", "Restless Heart Syndrome", "Horseshoes And Handgrenades", "The Static Age", "21 Guns", "American Eulogy", "See The Light"


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#5
Bob Mould
Life And Times



After a few experiments in different styles, Bob Mould seems to have settled into a style for his solo albums. Life And Times has much of the same feel as District Line and Body Of Song, mixing high-volume rock with occasional acoustic guitar and synths mixed in to give it some balance. "Life And Times" and "City Lights (Days Go By)" are both classic Mould, and I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Any More" is a call back to the acoustic feel of his debut Workbook. Even though Bob's not evolving his sound much these days, the songs are way too good to worry about it.

tracks: "Life And Times", "The Breach", "City Lights (Days Go By)", "MM 17", "Argos", "Bad Blood Better", "Wasted World", "Spiraling Down", "I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Any More", "Lifetime"


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#4
Tinted Windows
Tinted Windows



Tinted Windows is a new supergroup made up of guitarist James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne on bass, Cheap Trick's Bun E. Carlos on drums, and on vocals ... Taylor Hanson from '90s teen heartthrobs Hanson. Yeah, that's the Hanson of "MMMBop" fame. Don't let that put you off. Tinted Windows isn't doing anything fancy, just pure power pop with really catchy melodies and one total classic, "Nothing To Me", which sounds like it could have been an outtake from Big Star's #1 Record. A must for power pop fans.

tracks: "Kind Of A Girl", "Messing With My Head", "Dead Serious", "Can't Get A Read On You", "Back With You", "Without Love", "Cha Cha", "We Got Something", "Nothing To Me", "Doncha Wanna", "Take Me Back"


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#3
Biffy Clyro
Only Revolutions



I heard Biffy Clyro described as the Scottish Foo Fighters, and that's not too far off the mark. Like the Foos, Biffy Clyro has a powerful rock sound coupled with songs that sound designed to make an arena sing along. The album rocks out most of the way, but ballads like "God & Satan" and "Many Of Horror" add some balance to the album. "Bubbles" is the standout, but there's really not a weak song on here. Fantastic.

tracks: "The Captain", "That Golden Rule", "Bubbles", "God & Satan", "Born On A Horse", "Mountains", "Shock Shock", "Many Of Horror", "Booooom, Blast And Ruin", "Cloud Of Stink", "Know Your Quarry", "Whorses"


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#2
Manic Street Preachers
Journal For Plague Lovers



Before Richey Edwards' disappearance in 1995, he gave bassist Nicky Wire a folio of lyrics. In late 2008, Richey was officially declared as "presumed dead". That event seems to have inspired Journal For Plague Lovers. For the album, the band put those lyrics to music with a sound that mixes their more recent albums with the aggression of Richey's final Manics album, the searing The Holy Bible, and cover art by the same artist who designed the cover for The Holy Bible. "Me And Stephen Hawking" mixes an irresistable hook with Richey's dense wordplay. "This Joke Sport Severed" is a beautiful acoustic ballad that reminds me more of James Dean Bradfield's solo album. "William's Last Words" ends the album on an emotional note. It's a laid back song sung by Nicky Wire with lyrics from Richey that seem to allude to his presumed fate ("I'm just gonna close my eyes / Think about my family / Shed a little tear", and the closing "Yeah I'm really tired / I'd love to go to sleep and wake up happy / Wake up happy"). Essentially, this the fourth Manics album with the original lineup, and it's the best of the four.

The deluxe edition comes packaged like a hardback book with a second disc of the band's demos for the album. They're interesting, but not radically different. Leave the Deluxe version to the hardcore fans.

tracks: "Peeled Apples", "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time", "Me And Stephen Hawking", "This Joke Sport Severed", "Journal For Plague Lovers", "She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach", "Facing Page: Top Left", "Marlon J.D.", "Doors Closing Slowly", "All Is Vanity", "Pretension/Repulsion", "Virginia State Epileptic Colony", "William's Last Words", "Bag Lady" [hidden track]

bonus disc (demos): "Peeled Apples", "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time", "Me And Stephen Hawking", "This Joke Sport Severed", "Journal For Plague Lovers", "She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach", "Facing Page: Top Left", "Marlon J.D.", "Doors Closing Slowly", "All Is Vanity", "Pretension/Repulsion", "Virginia State Epileptic Colony", "William's Last Words"


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#1
Franz Nicolay
Major General



The solo debut from Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay is an eclectic mix of different styles that still hang together as a solid album. You get Hold Steady-style rockers ("Confessions Of An Ineffective Casanova", "Quiet Where I Lie"), soulful rock ("Hey Dad!"), dramatic ballads ("World/Inferno vs. The End Of The Evening" and "Dead Sailors"), jazzy pop ("Do We Not Live In Dreams?" and "I'm Done Singing"), a witty tribute to one of the Dead Kennedys replacement singers ("Jeff Penalty"), and even a song arranged for banjo & vocal ("Cease-Fire, Or, Mrs. Norman Maine"). Nicolay's a talented songwriter & lyricist, and quite a good singer as well. I love The Hold Steady, but I hope Franz keeps a solo career going on the side. This is an amazing album.

tracks: "Jeff Penalty", "Hey Dad!", "World/Inferno vs. The End Of The Evening", "Dead Sailors", "Do We Not Live in Dreams?", "Confessions Of An Ineffective Casanova", "Quiet Where I Lie", "Note On A Subway Wall", "Nightratsong", "X-Games", "This World Is an Open Door", "Cease-Fire, Or, Mrs. Norman Maine", "I'm Done Singing"



PAST YEARS' BESTS

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

2008: Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends2007: 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
Comments? Send 'em to me.

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