It is time, O me droogies. Time for the annualized and eminently-forgettable review of the preceding year’s waxings. Dom and Scott, rest easy. The appointed day has come ’round.
What kind of year was it, musically? Well, not so shit-hot, actually. No revolutions commenced, no lives were improved or even changed. No fun, my babe. But some good stuff rose to the surface of the otherwise fetid rawk-and-role pit. Ten things, in fact. Herewith and heretofore, here they be:
1. Son Volt – The Search: Here I go again, being contrarian, picking a relatively-obscure alt-country group as the authors of the year’s masterpiece. So I love punk; so I like stuff that is really fast and loud. So ‘The Search’ has pianos and steel guitars on it, and is pretty quiet. So what? Jay Farrar’s group, like Kings of Leon (see below) bring out my Inner Calgarian – all of that driving a back road in the Summer stuff, late in the day, windows down, listening to ‘Action’ on the radio: “Riding waves of sound, 300 mile from Metropolitan…Grapes of wrath all around, riding waves of sound.” It’s fiercely political, these particular waves of sound, but no raging polemic: Farrar opposes the war in Iraq, and Bush, and consumerism and America’s excesses (and ours too, I suppose, because Son Volt is well-loved up here, and he knows the place better than many Canadians), but without losing his temper about it all. Make you think, make tunes that you will listen to forever? That he does.
2. Bad Religion – New Maps of Hell: When I picked it up at my favourite record shop in July (yes, indeed, I still actually buy CDs, because I like to hold them, and look at them, and because I find downloading way too illusory), the clerk said to me it was their best since ‘Suffer.’ After spinning it for my daughter and I quite a few times, I’d say that’s about right – but it’s also a clear continuation of the themes found in 2005’s epic ‘The Empire Strikes First,’ which I (and my daughter) regard as one of the best punk records ever made. From the start, with the sonic barrage of ’52 Seconds’ (which is just that), to the conclusion nearly an hour later, these guys – aging punks as they are – are just, like, totally pissed off about the state of America and the planet. And they clearly do not intend to enrol in anger management classes anytime soon. Hearing the power of this record, you will agree that can only be a good thing. Rage forever.
3. Against Me! – New Wave: Yes, yes, I know. I remember. When it came out in the Summer, this is what I wrote, in an open letter to a fellow Against Me! fanatic: “I’ve interviewed the band three times, and seen them more times than that, and – as you also know – I consider Against Me! to literally have the power to change rock’n’roll (which matters, because I still believe rock’n’roll can better lives). I think Searching For A Former Clarity is one of the most amazing records ever made. It is a soul-saver.” Then I went on about the record: “There are moments of greatness, here and there, like ‘White People For Peace,’ which they played last time they were in town. There’s also ‘New Wave,’ which kicks off the album. There’s ‘Thrash Unreal,’ which is, and whose words are – like most of Tom Gabel’s words – completely extraordinary, and in which he (gallantly) comes to the defence of an aging addict, dancing alone in a grimy bar to Billy Idol songs…” But then, my bitterly-disappointed conclusion: “This is what it sounds like when giants fall down.” But…you know what? I, and everyone I know (and even Bruce Springsteen, most famously) listened to it all Summer and Fall. And we are still listening to it. There are some stinker tracks on it, yes. But that’s why God invented the “Fast Forward” button. The rest of it remains the purest of pure genius. And I still love this band.
4. Liars – Liars: If you grew old with me (never an easy thing, ask my gal), you would know that – in between the endless punk rock fundamentalism – could sometimes be heard the stylings of Pere Ubu, the second Public Image album, Angelo Badalamenti soundtracks, Walter/Wendy Carlos stuff, and lots and lots of Pavement (the band, not the stuff you skateboard on). In that space, now, can also be found the Liars: singer Angus Andrew, multi-instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill, and drummer Julian Gross. They are God-like geniuses, the Liars, because they do things that nobody else does. (Angus used to date Wendy O, and made her cool. She moved to Los Angeles. R.I.P., Wendy.) It’s not rock’n’roll, this record, but the kick-off, ‘Plaster Casts of Everything,’ is probably the best rock driving song ever, especially if you are popping…well, you know. (The video, one of the best of 2007 and which makes David Lynch seem conventional, is here.) Astonishing. Words cannot prepare you for it. No lie.
5. The Good, The Bad and the Queen: The eponymous LP by a punk-alt supergroup that, improbably, meets expectations. How? When I interviewed the band’s bassist, Paul Simonon, earlier this year, I asked him what his former Clash bandmate, Joe Strummer, would think about his new band. I suggested to him that a lot of the record has echoes of Joe’s work in the Mescaleros. Sounding a bit sad, Simonon said: “I wouldn’t really know…I couldn’t really say, objectively. We were both in the Clash, and we both had a strong interest, an eccentric interest, in all different types of music.” So I pushed him: what Joe would think about the tunes? Said Simmo: “I think he’d probably quite like it. In a way, it’s a musical poem, and I assume he would like it. It’s music that might have tugged at the strings of his heart and his emotions.” And that, I’d say, is certainly true. The record is indeed poem-like – it floats, it shimmers, but it still rocks where required. Joe would like it, and I think you will too.
6. Queens of the Stone Age – Era Vulgaris: The best hard rock band on the planet; SFH saw them open for Nine Inch Nails, and lead QOTSA man Josh Homme (figuratively) flung us around like rag dolls. His guitar, too (literally). ‘Sick Sick Sick’ is my cell phone ringtone. Homme is a fucking genius. Funny, fast, furious.
7. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible: Because I am a punk rock snob (that is, suspicious of anything that is popular) with an antipathy to cultural nationalism (that is, CanCon rules and the Canada Council, because I think we are all good enough already), I at first resisted these Montrealers. Was everyone going ga-ga over them because they were (mostly) home-grown? Was their first album the high-water mark, never to be repeated? The answer, obviously, is no on both counts. They really are terrific – and this new record is as good as the first one, and it was very good. Stand-out tracks: ‘Black Mirror,’ with the Bowie-esque ‘Oddity’ oddities nailed; ‘Keep The Car Running,’ explaining why Springsteen hangs with them; ‘Intervention,’ which sounds like it was recorded in a church (and was). Their nationality is irrelevant. They’d be good if they came from Mars.
8. Kings of Leon – Because of the Times: My daughter loves Bad Religion, my eldest son loves Kings of Leon. It makes for an interesting household. This record was deemed to be the brothers Followill’s make-it-or-break-it: I’m not certain if it achieved the sort of commercial success they wanted for it, and I don’t care. It sees them finding their way again, after the sort-of heartbreaking moments of ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak.’ They’ve ditched most of the lyrical juvenilia, and sound surer of themselves. And, let’s face it, it’s pretty cool to hear a nine-year-old walking around the house, singing along to the Kings’ best-ever tune, ‘California Waiting,’ without getting a word or note wrong.
9. The Stooges – The Weirdness: Iggy and the Stooges, the brothers Asheton, back after more than three decades! Three decades! And what better way to start things off, than with the subtle, nuanced wordsmithing of ‘Trollin’,’ to wit: “Huh! Woo! Good God! Baby. baby take a look at me…see your long legs ridin’ the breeze, I see your hair has energy…My dick is turnin’ into a tree.” There is a reason why many of us regard James Jewel Osterberg as God. It is because He is.
10. Shit From Hell – The Wheel of Wow: Out soon! Swear! It’s our ticket out of this dump! We’re gonna be stars! You’ll see!