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2004: Best in Music

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2004 was not a terrible year for music.

Album of the Year:
U2 – How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
It was very difficult for me to pull the trigger and name one album as the best of 2004 when I can think of two or three others just as good as HTDAAB. But it is almost unprecedented for a band to make perhaps its third best album 25 years into its career. “City of Blinding Lights” might be one of the five best songs in the band’s canon. HTDAAB is a rare feat… an album with no discernable weaknesses or weak moments. It is consistent. It is great. It is consistently great.

Mark Lanegan Band – Bubblegum
Very few artists can make an album with high-profile guests and remain the dominant force on the album. Lanegan works with QOTSA, PJ Harvey, Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin, (just to name a few) yet Bubblegum is a Mark Lanegan record to its core. 2001’s Field Songs is still his best, but Bubblegum is a stellar effort.

  • Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill
    “King’s Crossing” might be the best thing Elliott Smith has ever written, and that is saying something. There may be more posthumous releases (see Tupac Shakur and Jimi Hendrix, the two hardest working deadmen on the planet), but there will never be another album conceived of by Elliott Smith (and some would argue Basement doesn’t fit that distinction. It doesn’t matter. One of the all-time great talents was lost. Basement reminds us of that.

  • Wilco – A Ghost is Born
    This is not Wilco’s best album, but it is still a helluva listen. The guitar solo on “At Least That’s What You Said” might be one of the finest turned in all year.

    Also Worth Mentioning

  • Joe Satriani – Is There Love in Space
  • Norah Jones – Feels Like Home
  • Keane – Hopes and Fears
  • Mutual Admiration Society – Mutual Admiration Society
  • Dream Theater – Live at Budokan

    Surprises of the Year
    Tears for Fears – Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
    They might not be the most high profile reunion of the year, but this album is a surprisingly listenable affair. The ambition and pretention of youth have been tempered somewhat by competent craftmanship. And it’s OK. It’s a grown-up record.

  • Helmet – Size Matters
    It’s a dipshit title, and Page Hamilton is the only original member of Helmet on this album (but then Page has always been the show where Helmet is concerned) but this is a very solid effort from one of hard rock’s least appreciated bands.

    Disappointment of the Year

  • R.E.M. – Around the Sun
    If you didn’t buy this album (and from the sales figures, you’re not alone) let me give you a word of advice. Don’t. Instead, go to iTunes and download “Leaving New York.” It is one of the best songs in R.E.M.’s catalog. It is also the only worthwhile song on this dogshit record.

  • Eric Clapton – <>Me & Mr. Johnson
    Eric Clapton used to be considered one of the kings of the blues… now he is killing them. Clapton has always been inspired by Robert Johnson and it makes perfect sense for him to do an album dedicated to the music of the mythical Johnson. What does not make sense is to take the raw emotions of Robert Johnson’s music and turn it into schmaltzy, slick, ear candy. Clapton has done the impossible. He found a way to neuter Robert Johnson. He found a way to make a Robert Johnson album without making a blues album at the same time. The album is not completely terrible but you can’t walk away from this disc wondering how such a great idea could have amounted to so little.

    Box Sets, Re-issues, Etc.

  • Nirvana – With the Lights Out
    Only the hardcore Nirvana fans will need this set, but there are few tracks on here good enough that everyone should hear it. The packaging blows and the liner notes could have been better, but this is much better sound quality than most of the bootlegs I own.
  • Muddy Waters – Blue Sky Recordings
    Hard Again, I’m Ready, and King Bee all got the deluxe treatment and we should all thank our lucky stars. It does not hurt that all three of these albums (the first two in particular) were wonderful records in their initial incarnation. The reissues make them even better. The bonus tracks are great, the liner notes are marvelous, and the sound is impeccable. Most reissues are not worth the money. These three are.
  • The Cure – Join the Dots
    4 discs or B-sides and rarities? You bet. Great stuff.

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  • About Josh Hathaway

    • Eric Olsen

      very nice job DJ, good range, concise, apt descriptions – thanks!

    • very cool list – like the categorization.

      I liked parts of the Nirvana box set. Interesting how little your list matches with the Grammy nominations.


    • I might have to post my review of The Grammy noms from last year… this year’s list might be worse. I think it’s sweet they are going to turn this into a Ray Charles memorial, but some of those other nominations are just godawful.

      At least next year’s should be better: U2 will rack up big time (the Grammy eligibility rules don’t run from Jan-Dec) so U2 won’t be eligible until next year.

    • Eric Olsen

      dude, you’ve got so much going on in the code I can’t figure out how to close the font tag – could you do it please so we don’t bleed over – thanks

    • I know REM’s latest has taken quite a few pot shots in the press, and I’ve taken it on as something of a personal mission to defend it.

      Around the Sun may not be REM’s greatest work, but I find it to be a sweet and yearning and soulful listen from start to finish. Songs like “Wanderlust” and, as you mention, “Leaving New York” are among the best the group has ever put out.

      Further, I sense an energy and direction missing in the band ever since drummer Bill Berry departed for greener pastures. This is by far their best work since New Adventures in Hi Fi, which I consider to be their best work to date.

      Eric Berlin
      Dumpster Bust: Miracles from Mind Trash

    • I’ll somewhat-second Eric B. – Around the Sun is anything but awful. It’s not a favorite, but it’s got some of my favorite songs of the year on it. (If that makes sense.)

      I have to disagree with the inclusion of the new Helmet in the “surprise of the year” category: I can’t stand this album. I’ve given it my obligatory five-spins-before-judgement and there’s nearly nothing that makes me want to give it more. This one makes my personal “disappointment of the year” list.

      That new Tears For Fears album, however, is one of the best releases of the year and my list will favor it strongly. Why it seems to be going as ignored as it is, I’ll never understand. It’s as good as, if not better than in some regards, their earlier albums.

      I’m actually very surprised at the division about the Clapton album. I think he did a very good job of keeping the attitude of the originals while incorporating a full band into the mix. I really can’t imagine what else I’d have asked for out of the project. The Sessions for Robert J sheds a bit more light on it, too, and is quite a bit less polished then the album proper. I can see through the polished performance of the album and hear Clapton’s sheer enthusiasm for the music.

    • Thanks to all who checked out the list and offered some thoughts and opinions.

      As I read your feedback, it stirred a few thoughts and I thought I would toss them up here…

      1 – Helmet: Certainly not album of the year material and it’s not as good as their vintage stuff, but I was pessimistic when I heard they were ‘reforming.’ I really like “Throwing Punches” and “See You Dead.” The rest? It’s… all right.

      2 – R.E.M.: I still think “Leaving Las Vegas” was the only thing worthwhile on the album, but that song was just fandamntastic. I was joking with a friend of mine last night about it, as a matter of fact: “That’s not a moog you hear, that’s people snoring.” I think they are still rudderless since Bill Berry left. My friend likes the album a lot more than I do, too.

      3 – Clapton: Good point on the fact he had to create full-band arrangements for songs that were solo acoustic performances originally. But to me, Robert Johnson’s songs are worth listening to mostly because of the raw emotion they evoke. Clapton’s treatment of these songs replaces raw emotion with a rollicking sense of fun. That’s not necessarily wrong, and I don’t hate the record (I might have come across sounding a tad too harsh). But I think I would have enjoyed hearing him give a more faithful or (in my opinion honest) interpretation of the music.

      Again… thanks for checking out my list and thanks for posting your thoughts.

    • P!nk was the best for this year!!!

    • Good choices