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.
“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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
4 discs or B-sides and rarities? You bet. Great stuff.