Albums 2008

It’s not my list anymore, really. It’s Scott’s list.

Every year, right around now, Scott – the top PR guy at Random House, a great pal and the manager of SFH for about a day – writes to me, and inquires about the list. That is, the Top Ten Albums of the Year List.

No one else inquires about it, naturally. Everyone else comes here to read about politics. But those who know me – those who know the deepest recesses of my darkest soul – know that what I love to write about is rock’n’roll, not politics. And that Lester Bangs was always my muse, not James Carville. And that ‘Barney Rubble Is My Double’ is a more enduring legacy than Barney the Dinosaur. And, and, and.

I digress, per fucking usual.

So, heretofore and herewith, Scott’s list. It’s for you, brother. To Hell with the rest.

1. FUCKED UP, The Chemistry of Common Life – Take it from me, a guy in a band of aging degenerates called ‘Shit From Hell’: the name’s a mistake. A mistake! It’s what curious youngsters will focus on first, and they’ll form all sorts of unhelpful preconceptions, and they’ll get nervous about what their parents will say, and then they’ll move on to Fall Out Boy or something horrible. But if you get past the name, which is as goofy as Shit From Hell and then some, what you will find is not just an amazing hardcore band from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. What you will find, what you will see, what you will hear is a hardcore/punk band that isn’t – a band that folds, spindles and mutilates hardcore/punk out of all recognition, and comes up with something that is new and terrifying and therefore perfect. I was going to liken them to Minor Threat and Fugazi meet the Pixies, with some Pearl Jam on acid thrown in, but that’s trite and it just doesn’t begin to describe Fucked Up. 2006’s ‘Hidden World’ was amazing; ‘The Chemistry of Common Life’ is amazinger. Forget the name; there is genius at work, here.
2. FOXBORO HOT TUBS, Stop Drop and Roll! – The guys in Green Day are the same guys in Foxboro Hot Tubs, but the similarities end there, pretty much. Formed late at night over a few bottles of plonk by Green Day – what Western Canadian punk combos indelicately call a “fuck band” – the Foxboro Hot Tubs first (and likely last) album is the pop-punk waxing of the year. Catchier than a drawer full of fish hooks, this one. Each tune here recalls some other garage-era classic, while somehow managing to sound totally new and rockin’. I had thought GD would follow up the genre-busting political indictment of ‘American Idiot’ with more angry anthemic stuff. But Dubya was on his way out, thank Christ, and Billie Joe and the boys were accordingly less incensed – and in a melodious mood, too. The results are worth picking up. You’ll be humming these scruffy ditties for a long while.
3. THE HIVES, The Black and White Album – It came out towards the end of 2007, when we were over in London for the Pistols’ 30th anniversary mini-tour, but this record has received many, many spins around the Kinsella homestead in the interim. That’s why I regard it as more 2008 than 2007, and piss off if you disagree. As always, the pride of Fagersta, Sweden have not forsaken punk rock for commercial success, but commercial success is what Pelle and his co-conspirators richly deserve. They are, indisputably, the best live act in rock’n’roll; they have a pop sensibility that would put their fellow Swedes in Abba to shame (and, like all Seventies-era punks, I always nursed a secret love of Abba). Why aren’t they famous? Why aren’t they millionaires? Is there a God? Speak, damn you!
4. KINGS OF LEON, Only By The Night – It is weird, weird, weird going to see the brothers Followill, like Bjorn and I did, a few weeks ago. Kool Haus was packed, with jocks and puck bunnies jammed in there like it was a Summertime suburban sock hop with free shooters. Eyeballing that scene, I figured I’d get depressed – I remember seeing these Nashville alt-country sulkers at the Opera House, in front of a hundred or so true believers! – but I wasn’t. The songs are still there, and KOL exhibit a confidence they didn’t have before – and a maturity their lyrics seldom revealed, too. Could they be one of the biggest bands on Earth? They’re well on their way to that, for good or bad.
5. NOFX, They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live – So there I am during the election, backstage at NOFX, watching el Hefe leap about to ‘Leaving Jesusland,’ which is one of the best political songs ever written, and I start getting emails from Tories, going on about some YouTube thing, like it was the Zapruder film, or the Dean Scream, or both. So I watch it. The ATV anchor dude certainly acts like they have tape of Stéphane Dion burning the Maple Leaf or something. But what I saw is funny, and even sort of endearing. What’s next, Tory war room? Perhaps you could make fun of someone’s facial paralysis, eh? Back to Fat Wreck Chord’s NOFX. They’re about to do ‘Murder the Government.’ Fits.
6. RISE AGAINST, Appeal to Reason – On the first few listens, I was worried about Rise Against. Really worried. You see, this Chicago group have always been the straightest Straight-Edgers around – their politics were impeccably right, their attitude was indisputably right, their sound was righteous (but melodic) hardcore. On this one, Rise Against’s superior musicianship steps, a bit, on their message. It verges on glossy slickness, here and there, and that worried me, as noted. But frontman Tim McIlrath pulls it back, and ultimately delivers RA’s pro-peace, pro-green gospel with the requisite power and conviction. Wish I hadn’t missed their show in October – but I was deep in the woods, where peace and green were all around. McIlrath likely would have approved.
7. AMERICAN STEEL, Destroy Their Future – Another Fat Wreck Chords gem – and another record released at the very tail end of 2007 – this Oakland, California quintet’s fourth LP is noteworthy for its willingness to be simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny (“Mean Streak”) and deadly serious (“Dead and Gone”). Not easy to do, for most bands, but these guys navigate it with style. Some of the tunes here, like ‘Speak, O Heart,’ have that early Against Me quality – you know, wonderful proletarian pub sing-alongs. Never a bad way to ply one’s musical trade. Watch for these guys.
8. THE BUGS, The Bugs – “He used to be in Jane’s Addiction, for which I had no appreciation. Now he’s on TV, trying to earn a buck – Dave Navarro’s goatee fucking sucks…He’s got funny hair and funny goatee now…he was so much cooler when he was on drugs.” That’s ‘Dave Navarro’s Goatee Fucking Sucks,’ and that’s pure genius, folks. For my money, ‘Dave Navarro’s Goatee Fucking Sucks,’ with its Ramones-meets-Angry Samoans zeitgeist, was the greatest song of last year, and it still makes me giggle like a helium-snorting schoolgirl. The Bugs are a California trio, fronted by former Queers legend Dangerous Dave, and they likely never be as famous as they deserve to be. You won’t find their stuff in the iTunes store, which makes them even more perfect.
9. PENNYWISE, Reason To Believe – Like Bad Religion and NOFX, they’ve been going at it for a quarter-century, now. But Pennywise haven’t lost the spark. They are as angry, and as polemical, as ever. The Western World’ is the standout, here: “ We are the dregs of the western world, the steroid boys and video girls…We are the viral internet stars, and the anchor man can’t stop crying.” Hope I’m this pissed off when I’m Jim’s age… Hey, wait! I am!
10. SHIT FROM HELL, Wheel of Wow – We are god-like geniuses, and you are fucking lucky to have us around. Here’s ‘Yellow Beetle,’ as played at Barrymore’s in April. You will worship us, mortals!

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