I always like to wait until the absolute last minute to make my album of the year list. The list is a sacred and cherished tradition for most music journalists and you never know what might creep onto shelves on the last Tuesday of the year.
That said my list is decidedly mainstream this year and I admit that I am musically stuck in the past and didn’t get around to hearing a lot of the new sounds that are driving the kids crazy. If you think my opinion is whack comment, that’s the whole point, because if there’s 6.6. Billion people on this planet there are bound to be 6.6. Billion opinions. Peace and best wishes for your 2009.
Number One: John Mellencamp / Life, Death, Love and Freedom
John Mellencmp promised and delivered with what might not be the year’s most danceable record but is certainly its most important. With a country in financial turmoil tracks like “Troubled Land” and “Longest Days” accurately reflect the emotions of many Americans. Other songs like “If I Die Sudden” tackle the loss of faith, while the politically charged “Jenna” is an open letter against racism. In a year when little Katy Perry has swept the charts with her pseudo-lesbian fantasies, Mellencamp manages to remind us that not everybody in America is incapacitated by simple pop ditties, shiny I-phones, and American Idol.
Number Two: Guns N’ Roses / Chinese Democracy
Drama, Drama, Drama, this albums almost mythical existence was surrounded by plenty of it. The thing is if you can set that aside what you what you have is an epic rock record that shows Axl Rose doing exactly what any good rock and roller should: spitting on the status quo and defying expectations. From the rocking title track to mind-bendingly un-stereotypical songs like “Catcher in the Rye” and ”Shackler’s Revenge,” Chinese Democracy refuses to follow the rules. No it is not Appetite for Destruction and that, coupled with Axl Rose’s to unique approach to fame promotion, disappointed many. Still those that “get” the record will understand why I gave it the number two spot.
Number Three: The Black Crowes / Warpaint
Alongside their other releases, Warpaint is a rather mellow record from a group that is easily one of the best live bands on the planet. The Black Crowes have long been seeking true artistic independence and Warpaint final achieves it in spades. The band sounds relaxed and unfiltered on tunes like “Oh, Josephine” and “Locust Street,” while flat out rocking the house with tracks like “Walk Believer Walk” and their cover of “God’s Got It.” This is an album that grows on you and reminds you that simplicity works and good rock and roll doesn’t have to be a huge spectacle to be fulfilling.
Number Four: Ice Cube / Raw Footage
Ice Cube turns in his finest record since 2003’s Lethal Injection. The multi-faceted superstar brings his music out back to the hood with a collection of songs that can best be described as "positive gangsterism.” Instead of reveling in the trappings of “the game” Cube dissects the negative aspects and provides a musical escape route for those willing to listen. Centered around the bangers “Gangster Rap Made Me Do It” and “It Takes a Nation,” Cube creates an album that is truly inspiring and unapologetic at the same time.
Number Five: Tesla / Forever More
Tesla is one of those bands that got noticed during the 80’s hair metal boom even though they have more in common musically with Creedence Clearwater Revival than say, Poison. What they did share with hair bands was a habit of making albums that featured several hit singles and a fair amount of filler. Not so with Forever More. The album is solid from start to finish (much like their groundbreaking 1994 album Bust a Nut) and is a true rock album more than a collection of individual songs. Props to Tesla for producing something that’s getting rarer and rarer in this era of the I-pod.
Number Six: Metallica / Death Magnetic
This album made it into the top five of a lot of critics, but I gave it a lesser rating because honestly, in my opinion, I was hoping the band’s “return to their roots” would contain a bit more daring and edginess. Still the band accomplishes here what they mostly failed with on St. Anger (although I still say “St. Anger” the song is one of the best of their career). In other words, they have turned their group therapy sessions and more importantly Hetfield’s quest for sobriety into coherent, memorable songs. Especially compelling, for me at least, are “The Day That Never Comes” and “That Was Just Your Life.”
Number Seven: Scarface / Emeritus
After a long, illustrious and at times underappreciated career Brad Jordon is hanging up his Scarface persona. This album is far from his best solo work and is light years away from the musical mastery he created as one third of The Geto Boys. Still Emeritus is a great album. Scarface’s use of live instrumentation, much of it played by Face himself, coupled with his uncompromising lyrics, especially on the album highlights like “Can’t Get Right” and “High Powered,” make this one of the best albums of the year. Scarface will be missed.
Number Eight: The Offspring / Rise & Fall, Rage & Grace
Known for their sarcastic songs The Offspring make my list by creating a record that is a little more on the serious side. That’s not to say singer Dexter Holland has abandoned his flippant attitude all together, that’s not the case, Still, more poignant songs like “Half-Truism” and “Hammerhead” show that The Offspring are far more than a one-trick pony.
Number Nine: Motley Crue / The Saints of Los Angeles
Although I consider Generation Swine a more enjoyable record, this is easily Motley’s most solid effort since 1989’s Dr. Feelgood. The album loses points for being loosely based on their book The Dirt and for Nikki Sixx’s use of outside songwriters. But the fact that the band is still singing about, and living the same decadent lifestyle they started with makes up for it. Highly enjoyable but not exactly groundbreaking.
Number Ten: Digital Underground / Cuz a D.U. Party Don’t Stop
Sadly billed as their last album, this hodgepodge of weird studio tracks, remixes and live tracks is somewhat uneven and unremarkable compared to their past albums or else it would be at the top of my list. Being that Digital Underground is one of my all time favorite groups the album makes my list because it serves as a good introduction to a group that has been out of the spotlight for way to long. If you even remotely like something on this album do yourself a favor and pick up something from D.U.’s back catalog.