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Music 2010: Merciful Goodbyes and an Uncertain Future

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As the last few weeks of 2010 limped their way towards what, for my money anyway, was a mostly merciful conclusion, I came down with both a killer cold and a monster case of writer’s block.

The antidote for the cold was easy enough. Spent four days over New Years in bed, drank the usual heavy (and non-alcoholic for a change) fluids and chicken soup, downed the vitamin C, and missed a day of work at the new job.

All that, and damned if I’m still not nursing one mother-bitch of a cough. Still, five days into 2011, I’m happy to report I’m mostly on the mend, if not quite at 100% yet. It’s enough to make me consider finally giving up the cigs. Well, almost anyway…

The writers block on the other hand, presented a more complicated problem. Usually around this time of year, like many of my music scribbling colleagues, I take stock of what just happened in music over the past year with a top ten list. The problem with 2010 — much as I hate to say it — is I’m honestly not sure I could fill such a list.

It’s not that 2010 was so dreadfully god-awful or anything. It wasn’t bad. But it also wasn’t that good. There were plenty of decent records released this year, and you’ll find many of the more noteworthy entries — by folks like Kanye, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, and even the unlikely Cee-Lo Green — on any number of the other lists making the rounds out there (both here at BC and elsewhere).

It’s just that I can’t recall even five records in 2010, to say nothing of a top ten list, that flat out bowled me over this year. No In Rainbows by Radiohead, No Modern Times by Dylan, No Sky Blue Sky by Wilco, to cite just three records released in the past decade that continue to resonate with me even now.

Even the most oft-noted records this year (judging by the lists out there), don’t strike me as classics I’ll be going back to, say, ten years from now.

Arcade Fire’s critically lauded The Suburbs for instance, is a decent enough followup to their universally acclaimed Neon Bible. But it didn’t stay with me anywhere near as long as Neon did.

Even now, I’d be hard pressed to name a single song from it. Sorry, just being honest here. I’d also bet money that if some of you reading this were being likewise truthful, you might suffer from a similar memory lapse. I passed on their show at Key Arena here in Seattle this past fall for much the same reason. Yes, I was also broke and unemployed at the time. But if the album blew me away anywhere the same way as its predecessor did, I probably would have found a way to make the gig, by hook or crook.

Kanye? Well, Kanye is Kanye. Definitely a brilliant guy who is making some of the most creative sounding, yet commercially accessible hip-hop out there. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is also a vast improvement over the rather limp sounding auto-tunes found on 808 And Heartbreak.

But Kanye West, for me at least, is still mostly a taste I haven’t fully acquired. For me, his ego and his goofball antics at awards shows and such also still have a tendency to overshadow his undeniable talent. I guess Kanye West is kind of my own personal hip-hop John Mayer that way.

As for the rest of what went on in 2010?

Well, Justin Bieber is up for a Grammy and Lady Gaga became the years biggest selling and most buzzed about artist. Katy Perry continued to have excellent breasts and record songs catchy enough to make you look away from them (for about a minute, anyway), while even a bodacious set of ta-tas couldn’t make me buy the crap that Ke$ha was selling. Those things alone speak volumes about the state of music in 2010.

In between the newsmakers on the hit parade, a lot of great new artists probably slipped between the cracks too (at least outside of the few hundred fans and friends able to download an MP3 on the bands website, or find it by sifting through the pile on MySpace or iTunes).

Incidentally, I understand MP3 files can degrade over time. So, if you cherish the drum track on that trance jam you just ripped for free enough to keep it on your playlist into 2012, you might wanna look into a file backup service like Carbonite. In the meantime, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the sort of song that uniquely defines its time — the way “Smells Like Teen Spirit” did, for example. You’ll be turning blue before you know it. Just thought I’d mention that.

So, while I fully expect this column is probably going to buy me some trouble in the comments section, I gotta call it the way I saw it. And 2010, while not outright awful, was still largely just a so-so year.

Interestingly, the records I heard this year that stuck with me the most were made mostly by the veteran cats.

Neil Young’s Le Noise, the Daniel Lanois produced album of Young’s solo electric guitar looped with Lanois’ trademark ambient soundscapes, was also one of the legendary rocker’s bolder creative efforts in years, and proof positive that Young still has a few remaining new tricks up his artistic sleeve. If I were to name an album of the year for 2010, Le Noise would probably be it.

Johnny Cash’s supposedly final posthumous volume of American Recordings made with producer Rick Rubin, was another 2010 standout, and among the best of the latter-day Man In Black’s albums. It is a meditation on death recorded in the artists final hours, that is absolutely worthy of the title Aint’ No Grave.

Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise features music recorded thirty years ago during the 1978 sessions for Darkness On The Edge Of Town, that remained officially unreleased until now. The songs are as good, if not better, than anything on Springsteen’s last several albums, and as a stand-alone album I’d rank it as one of Bruce’s four or five best records ever.

Other stuff I heard and liked this year included albums by the Jayhawks’ Mark Olson, Riverside’s Mariusz Duda, Porcupine Tree (the live Anesthetize DVD), The Pineapple Thief, Jeff Beck, Nels Cline, Seasick Steve, and reissues by Paul McCartney and Wings, Bob Dylan, Badfinger, and Iggy And The Stooges. So, not a total loss by any means, but still not enough great new music this year to credibly fill out a top ten of 2010 list.

As for 2011, right now the crystal ball forecasts new albums early on from U2 and R.E.M. (well, okay I guess those two predictions are derived more from common knowledge than any true psychic ability). Also likely to arrive in 2011 are new releases from Radiohead, Wilco and Coldplay among others. There’s probably a better than good chance for a fall 2011 Springsteen release as well (though a solo album is more likely than something with E Street Band). So, there’s at least a few good new things to look forward to in 2011.

The Rockologist will also be keeping his eyes on ticket prices (which may fall dramatically by the time of the big summer tours). The ever-evolving MP3 marketplace will also be a continued subject of interest, as traditional record companies keep chasing the elusive dragon, new business models come and go at breakneck speed, and the ever-changing music market continues to evolve.

It should be a very interesting year. Happy Bird Kill 2011.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://neilyoungnews.thrasherswheat.org/ thrasher

    Glen,

    Excellent choice of Neil Young’s Le Noise! :)

    Possibly Neil’s 1st Grammy for music!?

  • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Mark Saleski

    well, i have to disagree. there was a TON of great new music released this year. maybe two.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Believe me Mark, trying to fill a list this year wasn’t for any lack of trying…I’m constantly on the prowl for any interesting new music. I just didn’t hear a whole lot of it this year. I dunno…maybe I’m setting my snobbishly rock critics standards too high?

    -Glen

  • http://music4alifetime.blogspot.com/ Jerry Dynes

    Still, though, some great music this year. The Black Keys “Brothers” I thought deftly mixed blues, rock and soul. Loved Trombone Shorty’s “Backatown”; captured the wonderful diversity of styles of New Orleans music. Sharon Jones continues to bring it and continue the mantle of such greats as Aretha and Tina Turner. The Springsteen fan in me loved The Gaslight Anthem’s new one. Teenage Anthem’s “Shadows” was a strong jangle-pop release (especially with the infectious “Baby Lee”, and Band of Horses “Infinite Arms” displayed a certain mellow beauty. I thought 2010 was a great year!

  • Paul Roy

    Glenn, there was a wealth of great music released last year, just like there has been every year. You are just not going to find it in your local Best Buy, or the review pages of Rolling Stone magazine – not that I am suggesting that is where you go for your music. The best rock album of 2010 in my option was Sound Awake from Australia’s Karnivool. I was also lucky enough to see them play live in a small club in the US last fall and they blew me away.