Okay, so maybe this is a little premature (well by like a week anyway).
But in the next couple of weeks, you are going to be seeing zillions of these year-end best of lists on these pages. From what I understand, there are going to be at least two “official” Blogcritics lists — one by the editors, and another by a group of our most popular music writers.
Not to mention the several individual lists that are no doubt forthcoming (you may have noticed that Blogcritic Jerry Rojas already has his own metal list up).
It seems nothing says it’s Christmas time in the world of music criticism quite like the critics jackoff that is the yearend top ten list. Anyway, I figured it was probably as good a time as any to get a jump on the competition.
So the criteria for my own list is just a bit different this year. You see, when I am not slaving away at my computer by night writing and editing articles for the mighty Blogcritics Magazine, I drive a van all over the states of Washington and Oregon in my day job as a sales guy for a music distributor here.
As you can imagine — since many of these trips involve eight to even twelve hour days on the road — the music on my CD player is absolutely essential to my survival. So this year, I have decided to base my choices on the CDs released in 2007 that were most often playing at full blast in the van while driving through God-forsaken towns like Boring, Oregon.
So, on that note let’s get to the list:
1. Bruce Springsteen – Magic
It should surprise no one who reads the Rockologist on a regular basis that Springsteen’s first album with the E Street Band since The Rising tops my list for 2007. The thing is, Magic just feels so much more like the real rock album Springsteen fans like me have waited patiently for since the eighties, than The Rising (good as it was) ever did. Songs like “Radio Nowhere” and “Livin’ In The Future” harken back to the E Street heyday of albums like Born To Run, and they would be all over the radio if there was any room on the airwaves for actual rock and roll these days. At the same time, the songs on this album address some of the weightier concerns that recent Springsteen albums like The Rising and Devils & Dust do. They just do so in such a less — and how exactly do you say this? — “weightier” way. On a side note, I scored my tickets for Bruce’s shows in Seattle and Portland earlier this weekend. I can’t wait.
2. Porcupine Tree – Fear Of A Blank Planet
PT was the single greatest — and unexpected — musical discovery I made this year. As connected to the music scene as I like to think myself as still being, I can’t believe I never heard of this band until this year (they’ve been around since the nineties, and their catalog is huge). Once I heard this album, recommended to me by fellow Blogcritics music scribes Pico and Tom Johnson (thanks guys!), I immediately went out and bought every album I could find by this group. FOABP is a lot heavier than some of this band’s earlier (and proggier) nineties output on albums like Signify and Deadwing — especially on the album’s centerpiece, the seventeen plus minute opus “Anesthetize” — but is nonetheless a great record that combines amazing musicianship (especially by drummer Gavin Harrison), with the great songs of this band’s resident genius, Steven Wilson. Not only are these guys really that good, they are also incredibly prolific. Speaking of which…
3. Blackfield – Blackfield II
Blackfield is just one of the many side projects of PT main man Steven Wilson, where he partners with Israeli songwriter Aviv Geffen. The songs here are much more in a pop vein (at least compared to Porcupine Tree), and are distinguished on this album mainly by their romantic lyrics and lush arrangements. Steven Wilson is an absolutely major talent that I cannot believe remains largely undiscovered on this side of the pond. Here, on songs like the album’s standout track “Christenings,” Wilson imagines meeting a washed up former rock star (who bears a striking resemblance to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page) as “the Black Dog sitting in the park,” and asking “can you still play the songs that got you so far?” This is just great, great stuff.
4. Radiohead – In Rainbows
This is a weird one, simply because it could very well end up being on a top ten list for next year as well, since it is scheduled for a physical CD release on January 1. Although some of the songs included here like “Nude” and “Reckoner” will be familiar to fans who have seen Radiohead in concert over the years, here they are rearranged to the point of becoming completely new. This is an absolutely gorgeous album that successfully weds the ambience of Radiohead albums like Kid A, with the harder edges of the band’s earlier work. Most significantly, with its initial release as a download only, pay whatever you wish method of delivery, In Rainbows may have changed the rules of music marketing forever.
5. Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger
This was the year I finally “got” Ryan Adams, and this album is the reason why. The songs here are not only for the most part absolutely gorgeous, they also provide a window into the soul of this apparently somewhat tortured artist — particularly on this album’s most rocking track, “Halloween Head.” Here Adams seems to be laying his addictions bare. Elsewhere, on songs like “Two,” “The Sun Also Sets,” and “Ripoff,” Adams self-revelatory lyrics contrast boldly with the ever so sweet country twang that is so prevalent on this album. In a year where Springsteen didn’t release an album as great as Magic, or I didn’t discover a band as great as Porcupine Tree, this would have been a definite contender for album of the year.
6. Neil Young – Chrome Dreams II
Many have called this album — which is largely a collection of leftovers from one of those great, lost unreleased albums only recently rediscovered in the vaults — Neil Young’s best in years. Although I’m not ready to go quite that far, the great moments here far outweigh the filler. For starters, you’ve got two great opus tracks in “Ordinary People” and “No Hidden Path” that are driven by that great fuzzed out, feedback heavy guitar that Neil Young does like nobody else. Beyond that, you’ve got tracks like “Spirit Road,” and “Dirty Old Man” that I’d rank as high as any of Neil’s so-called secondary tracks. It’s not Rust Never Sleeps or Harvest Moon, but at this stage in Neil Young’s career, it’ll do.
7. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
After the sonic experimentalism of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, Jeff Tweedy brought things back to a more song oriented approach with this album, which ultimately seemed to divide Wilco fans right down the middle. Still, what this album ultimately came down to was the songs, and there are several great ones here. The band’s live shows this summer with new guitarist Nels Kline also proved that this band can still rock as hard as ever.
8. Joni Mitchell – Shine
So here is what I don’t get. How is it that in a year when Joni Mitchell releases her first new album of original material in a decade, that it gets overlooked by the Grammy nominations in favor of a tribute to Joni by Herbie Hancock? For that matter, how did Springsteen’s Magic get passed over for a Foo Fighters album — but I guess that’s another subject. Shine isn’t Hejira or The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, but it is a damn fine album from one of our most treasured songwriters. Welcome back Joni!
9. John Mellencamp – Freedoms Road
This one came out so early this year that it really didn’t stand much of a chance of making it into the upper tier. Which is really too bad, since this is easily Mellencamp’s best record since the heyday of albums like Scarecrow. The biggest problem with Freedoms Road — at least in my opinion — was the way it was marketed. As much as I understand the need these days for artists like Mellencamp to take whatever they can get in the way of exposure, the Ford Truck ads featuring Mellencamp singing about how “this is our country” really missed the point of what the other songs on this album like “Ghost Towns Along the Highway” and the great, shoulda been a single “Someday,” are trying to say. Associating Mellencamp’s song “Our Country” with the Toby Keith image of George Bush’s America is probably the single biggest marketing mistake since Springsteen wrapped himself up in a flag on Born In The USA.
10. John Fogerty – Revival
Fogerty overstated his politics a bit here, no doubt. Still, this is his most solid collection of great songs since at least Centerfield. Personally, I think that its great when guys like Fogerty wear their feelings about Bush and what not as obviously on their sleeves as Fogerty does on this album. In my own opinion, it is just a lot more effective when those feelings are expressed in the more subtle metaphors like those found on Creedence songs like “Who’ll Stop The Rain?,” than those expressed more directly on this album. Regardless, there is simply no getting around the way Fogerty finally has come to terms with his considerable legacy in songs like “Summer Of Love,” and the absolutely wonderful “Creedence Song.”