2006: The Year in Review
I’m totally recycling a bit from my 2005 Year in Review because, well, it’s the God’s honest truth, and it always will be.
“The best bit about being a music critic is that you get…and I’m going to use an industry term here, so I hope I don’t go over anyone’s heads…a buttload of free CDs. Unfortunately, that’s also the worst bit as well. It means that you listen to a CD, you go, “Right, well, that’s quite good,” or possibly, “Ugh, that’s awful,” then you scribble down a few words about it, and, bam, it’s off to the next disc. I miss the days when I actually had the time to put on a disc and listen to it more than once without feeling guilty about getting behind in all the reviews I still have left to write.”
It’s true. I do.
Fortunately, not only did 2006 find me in possession of an iPod, which made my music much more portable, but it also found me leaving behind the drudgery of an office and becoming a full-time writer, working at home. And – would you believe it? – there still aren’t enough hours in the day to listen to everything I want or, in some cases, need to listen to!
Top 10 Albums I reviewed for Bullz-Eye
1. Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3: Ole! Tarantula (Yep Roc)
That Robyn Hitchcock is still capable of putting out pretty decent albums this far into his career is hardly a surprise, but the fact that 2006 found him releasing arguably his best album in two decades is still remarkable…much like the album itself.
2. Willie Nelson: Songbird (Lost Highway)
The Red-Headed Stranger teams with Ryan Adams and drops the gloss of his recent albums. Suddenly, it’s like the Atlantic years all over again, which means it might not sell, but at least the critics are happy.
3. Doug Powell: Four Seasons (Paisley Pop)
Mr. Powell might argue with calling this collection of “oddities” (a.k.a. demos, unreleased songs, and hard-to-find tracks) a proper album, but damned if it doesn’t hold together like one.
4. Don Dixon: The Entire Combustible World in One Small Room (125 Records)
An album’s worth of folk-pop brilliance from one of the major players of the Southern jangle-pop scene of the ‘80s. Don’s gone and gotten mature on his fans. Oh, well, it happens to the best of us.
5. Wisely: Parador (Not Lame)
Which is more depressing: that this album didn’t inspire mass adoration of Willie Wisely, or that the label that released it has now ceased operation? It’s a tough call, but either way, Parador is definitely one of the best pop – that’s right, pop – albums of 2006.
6. James Hunter: People Gonna Talk (Rounder)
Thank you, Van Morrison, for espousing the name of James Hunter and, in the process, raising his profile enough to get him signed to Rounder. This is a phenomenal collection of blue-eyed soul, one that sounds like it was recorded in the early ‘60s and only recently unearthed. It’s sweet, sweet stuff.
7. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino)
Debut of the year? Sure, why not. Certainly, it’s the debut of the year by a band virtually no one in the States knew anything about when 2005 ended. Oddsmakers in Vegas will have a field day as their music critic clients bet on whether or not the band has a second album in them that’ll come anywhere near this one, but while you’re listening to Whatever You Say I Am, you won’t care if they do or not.
8. Roseanne Cash: Black Cadillac (Capitol)
Johnny’s daughter (June’s stepdaughter) works through her grief over the deaths of her parents and stepmother by producing a melancholy but ultimately uplifting album.
9. L.E.O.: Alpacas Orgling (Cheap Lullaby)
An indie-pop supergroup, featuring Bleu playing with various members of Jellyfish, the Candy Butchers, Chicago, the Black Crowes, Self, Papas Fritas, Hanson, the Cautions, and the Argument, pays tribute to the spirit of Jeff Lynne and ELO by lovingly ripping off everything he’s ever done. And doing it damned well.
10. The Now People: The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair (Bird Song)
I only gave it three and a half stars when I reviewed it, but the more I spin this album, the more I fall in love with it; its charms, which are already pretty strong even after your first listen, only grow with future plays. It’s truly a soft-pop masterpiece.
Top 10 Albums Someone Else Reviewed For Bullz-Eye
1. Badly Drawn Boy: Born in the U.K. (Astralwerks)
Perhaps unwisely, I haven’t followed the career of Damon Gough very closely since his 2000 debut, Hour of the Bewilderbeest…but when David Medsker gave this album a four-star rave, I checked it out. If his other albums are half as good as this, it’s way past time for me to start filling in the holes in my Badly Drawn Boy collection.
2. Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit (Matador)
They’re not just a punchline anymore, kids. Stuart Murdoch isn’t nearly as twee as he used to be; now, he’s just making really good pop music, period.
3. Johnny Cash: American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways (American)
Only Johnny Cash could perform Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” and bring a tear to my eye. That the Man in Black is no longer walking the earth is still really, really depressing, but at least this brings a bit of solace.
4. Def Leppard: Yeah! (Mercury / Universal)
Covers albums are, as Duran Duran will gladly tell you, a dicey proposition. Def Leppard, however, chose their songs wisely and only changed the arrangements enough to make them fit their sound…and since the selections tended toward material that inspired them in the first place, the results kick ass.
5. The Feeling: Twelve Stops and Home (Interscope)
Okay, maybe I was a little hasty with the claim about the Arctic Monkeys having the debut of the year. Any band who channels 10CC and Supertramp in this day and age deserves just as many kudos.
6. Gin Blossoms: Major Lodge Victory (Hybrid)
You know, I’ve been a fan of these guys since the first time I heard “Hey Jealousy,” and I’ve stayed that way ever since, but I gotta say, I really never expected to see another album from them. And I definitely wouldn’t have foreseen that it would be as good as this one is.
7. Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere (Downtown)
I resisted the charms of this album until I found out that they covered a Violent Femmes song on the same day that I saw the Raconteurs cover “Crazy.” After that, I settled in and embraced it as strongly as I should have from the get-go.
8. Mylo: Destroy Rock & Roll (Breastfed/RCA)
Not really being a full-fledged dance music aficionado, I never would’ve checked out this record if it hadn’t been for…yes, him again: David Medsker. It’s really a 2004 release – thanks, US record labels, for sitting on this thing for so damned long – but it came out this year in the States, so it counts as far as I’m concerned.
9. Roger Manning, Jr.: The Land of Pure Imagination (Cordless)
It’s not the return of Jellyfish, but it’s the return of one of the band’s major contributors, and frankly, it’s long overdue. Not entirely worth the wait…but, then, it was a really, really long wait, so don’t take that to mean that it isn’t quite good. Because it is.
10. Pet Shop Boys: Fundamental (Rhino)
I wouldn’t begin to claim that it’s their best work, but, as the old cliché goes, even a just-okay album by these guys is better than a great album by a lot of artists. “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show” and “I’m With Stupid” are instant classics, that’s all I know.
Top 10 Albums Nobody Reviewed For Bullz-Eye (because, what, like we’ve got time to review everything?)
1. The Beautiful South, Superbi (Sony/BMG UK)
After getting a really solid covers album out of their system back in 2003, Paul Heaton and the gang return, reinvigorated and ready to roll. Check out “Manchester” for proof, then proceed onward without any concern.
2. The Format: Dog Problems (Nettwerk)
The Format’s one and only album for Elektra Records was hampered by a corporate reshuffling – Elektra was absorbed into Atlantic – and never shifted the amount of units it should’ve. (Seriously, how can you not like a disc where the first single is entitled “The First Single”?) So they went indie…and got even poppier than they already were to begin with. In “The Compromise,” they sing, “I wouldn't call it a sophomore slump / I'd say I'm one step closer to being just / Where I want / To be.” Me, too.
3. Roddy Frame: Western Skies (Redemption)
Some would say that Aztec Camera’s albums tended toward being a series of diminishing returns, but I would not be among that number; I liked pretty much everything they ever released. (Hell, I even have a poster of Dreamland on the wall of my office!) This, Roddy’s second solo album since retiring the AC name, is a collection of nice, gentle pop, and few do it better.
4. The Kooks: Inside In/Inside Out (Astralwerks)
I’m mildly impressed that this disc even scored Stateside release – that’s a very big thank-ye-kindly to Astralwerks – given how indifferent American audiences tend to be to the latest Next Big Thing from the UK, but these lads, named after a Bowie song, have a lot of diversity to their pop songs. Good, catchy, energetic stuff, this is. Cheers.
5. The Pipettes: We Are the Pipettes (Naïve)
Fair warning: this trio of lovely ladies is veddy, veddy British, my friends, but while the accents are up-front and utterly unabashed, the songs are straight out of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and the harmonies are wonderful.
6. Lionel Richie: Coming Home (Island / Def Jam)
Yes, I know: one of these things is not like the other. But I’ve been a sucker for Lionel’s voice – which, by the way, is just as smooth now as it ever was – and I can totally lose myself in just about anything the guy does. This is no exception.
7. Right Said Fred: For Sale (Ministry of Sound)
Actually, this is pretty damned unlikely, too....and, arguably, is even more unlikely than Lionel Richie! But as God as my witness, I hereby state for the record that a) yes, this is for real, b) yes, they really are still together, and c) it’s really, really good. P.S. Stop laughing, you fucker!
8. Robbie Williams: Rudebox (EMI International)
Ultimately, it’s just another reason why our man Robbie will never, ever become a superstar in the States, but this tribute to electro-pop, full of bloops, bleeps, and Pet Shop Boys, is still a lot of fun.
9. Daniel Wylie: The High Cost of Happiness (Neon Tettra)
If I told you he used to be the lead singer of the Cosmic Rough Riders, I don’t know that that’d help you any…but that is who Daniel Wylie is, and he’s back with his third album in three years. Good work ethic, that fella. In a nutshell, if you spent 2006 jonesing for a new Teenage Fanclub album, this will fill that void nicely. Very nicely, in fact.
10. Dan Zanes and Friends: Catch That Train! (Festival Five)
Zanes made his mark as a member of the Del Fuegos, but he’s since reinvented himself so successfully as a singer of children’s music that he even shows up on the Disney Channel! This was the first album of his that I’ve investigated – I downloaded it through eMusic, ostensibly for my daughter – but given all the guest stars he ropes in (this disc has appearances from Natalie Merchant, Nick Cave, and the Kronos Quartet), it won’t be the last.
Top 10 Songs of 2006 That Don’t Appear On Any Of The Above Top 10 Lists:
1. “A Public Affair,” Jessica Simpson (A Public Affair, Epic)
Might as well put the guiltiest pleasure at the top of the list. I have absolutely no idea what the rest of the album sounds like – and, for the record, I wouldn’t even know what this sounds like if I hadn’t caught the video on MTV – but this song is so damned catchy that I couldn’t ignore it.
2. “The World Is Waiting,” The Frank Popp Ensemble (Touch and Go, Unique)
It’s almost too groovy for you to handle. The vocals remind me of a less dramatic Shirley Bassey, and the music is hip enough to have made it into an “Austin Powers” flick.
3. “Bad for Good,” Meat Loaf (Bat out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, Virgin/EMI)
In no way does the entire Bat out of Hell III album work, but this song heads straight into the stratosphere, powered by guest guitar from Queen’s Brian May.
4. “Rays,” Michael Nesmith (Rays, Video Ranch)
The former Monkee returned to the studio and, while the album as a whole is one that requires a fair amount of time to absorb, this – its title track – is an instant highlight from the first listen.
5. “Big Brother Wheels,” Buzzcocks (Flat-Pack Philosophy, Cooking Vinyl)
Who would’ve thought that the ‘Cocks would produce a song that channels Teenage Fanclub? While the rest of the album is just okay, this track particularly stands out, possibly because it goes against the punk-pop type you’ve come to expect from the band.
6. “Mama’s Room,” Under the Influence of Giants (Under the Influence of Giants, Island / Def Jam)
God awful name, but they can make some fine music, including this disco-rock stomper. This was officially the first free download from iTunes that made me want to actively seek out an artist’s entire album.
7. “Pancreas,” “Weird Al” Yankovic (Straight Outta Lynwood, Zomba)
For the record, I’d just like to say that I knew full well that this song would appear on this list, and I said as much when I reviewed the album in the first place. It’s way too perfect a Brian Wilson tribute to not make the cut.
8. “Stoned in Love,” Chicane featuring Tom Jones (single, UMTV)
Getting me to enjoy a bombastic dance-floor filler with Tom Jones on vocals is like shooting fish in a barrel, but this collaboration – only available as a single – was my first introduction to Chicane. I haven’t investigated Chicane’s catalog any further, though, mostly because I saw Sir Tom perform this song live a few months ago, and, frankly, it sounded even better than it did on record!
9. “A Line You Can Cross,” Lansing-Drieden (The Dividing Island, Kemado)
For all the ‘80s retro sounds emerging these days, for my money, not a single artist has managed to more successfully capture the real ‘80s feel better than these guys did with this song.
10. “America,” Razorlight (Razorlight, Universal/Motown)
It’s a little ironic that Razorlight should pay tribute to a nation who couldn’t be bothered to buy very many copies of their second album, but given that the song recently became their first #1 in the UK, they probably couldn’t care less about us these days. That’s probably best for them, really.
10 Best Reissues/Compilations of 2006:
1. The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds: The 40th Anniversary Collection (Capitol)
C’mon, I don’t actually need to explain this, do I?
2. Willie Nelson: The Complete Atlantic Sessions (Atlantic/Rhino)
Most folks agree that it was during his brief tenure at Atlantic Records that Willie Nelson truly came into his own as a country singer. This is why.
3. Bee Gees: The Studio Albums 1967–1968 (Reprise / Rhino)
In case you forgot (or never knew) that the Bee Gees were as much of a creative force to be reckoned with during the ‘60s as the Beatles, the Hollies, and the Zombies, this’ll take care of that.
4. Andy Partridge: Fuzzy Warbles Collectors Album (Ape House)
I don’t even have this yet, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t live up to my expectations once I do.
5. Gram Parsons: The Complete Reprise Sessions (Reprise/Rhino)
Everything you’ve heard is true. He really is the father of modern alt-country…or one of them, anyway.
6. R.E.M.: And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years (EMI)
It plays like a best-of made by someone who was actually a fan of the band…and lord knows those are hard to come by.
7. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Capitol)
An oft-forgotten album by The Quiet One, it’s far better than its under-the-radar status would have you believe.
8. Spinning Jennies: Full Volume: The Best of the Spinning Jennies (Cool Buzz)
They should’ve been the next Posies…and, musically, they were. One of the best bands you’ve never heard of but really should have.
9. Johnny Cash: Personal File (Sony)
It’s nowhere near the treasure trove that last year’s Unearthed was, but it’s still a lot of good stuff that we’ve never heard before.
10. The Monkees: The Monkees/More of the Monkees (Rhino)
When you come right down to it, only the real Monkees geeks are going to be willing to fork out the dough to buy these albums again, even if they do sound better and have an entire second disc of bonus tracks. Fortunately, I am one of those geeks.
The Album That Should’ve Been On My 2005 List
The Go! Team: Thunder, Lightning Strike (Sony)
I saw them at Lollapalooza 2006 and became an instant fan. If they come to your town and you don’t go see them, you’re a damned fool.
The Album That, Next Year, I’ll Say Should’ve Been On My 2006 List
The Beatles: Love (Capitol)
I just could not in good conscience go out and buy it when a) I’ve got five million other things I need to listen to, and b) it’s the one album that someone in my family will buy me for Christmas, if only because they actually recognize the name and feel comfortable purchasing it.
Most Annoying Concert Experience of 2006
Lollapalooza: Grant Park – Chicago, IL,
August 4-6, 2006
I don’t care how much they hooked the press corps up with free snacks and water. Even the nightly Happy Hour wasn’t enough to make up for the ungodly fucking hike between the two ends of Grant Park. Some nights, my feet still wake up screaming.
Most Blissful Concert Experience of 2006
Brian Wilson: Warner Theater – Washington, DC, November 21, 2006
Seeing Brian Wilson in concert nowadays is like watching your favorite funny uncle grow older; he’s still telling the same jokes, but while his delivery might not be everything it used to be, the material’s still fantastic and, frankly, you love him so much that you’d forgive him pretty much any flaws in his performance, anyway. I was a bit startled at how excited I was when Al Jardine joined Brian Wilson onstage and performed with his band for the majority of the evening, but the least surprising moment of the evening was when I felt a tear roll down my cheek as I watched and heard “God Only Knows” being sung by the man who wrote it. It was an experience that’s right up there with my having seen Morrissey performing “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” at the Apollo Theater in 2004. But even having made that comparison…
Biggest Disappointment of 2006
Morrissey: Ringleader of the Tormentors (Attack)
Dude, I even liked Kill Uncle, and I still cannot get into this disc. I tried putting it on again the other night, and it just didn’t do a thing for me. I’m going to try programming it with the singles first, to see if that makes it any more enjoyable an experience…but, really, if I wasn’t the fan that I am, there’s no way I’d ever go through this much trouble just to try to like a Morrissey album. To say the least, I'm truly disappointed. Truly, truly, truly.