Thompson's 2007 Year End Music Review
Another year has come and gone, and once again it’s time to compile year-end lists filled with all the stuff we managed to like that was sent our way. The music business continued its downward spiral in 2007 as the industry scrambled to try and get some hold on the fact that more and more people are unsatisfied with paying the price for an album’s worth of crap. iTunes and its like-minded brethren turned the single back into the music format of choice. Why buy a whole album when you can just get the one or two good cuts and leave it at that? Speculation about the death of the CD grew as the landscape of pop music was tossed into a state of flux. Hell, the Spice Girls and Led Zeppelin reunited, if only briefly. Even the Eagles got some attention by releasing another “comeback” album, and promptly sold more copies than Britney Spears’ comeback album. No one was surprised. It seems the old guard still has some say in what is popular. Perhaps not for much longer, though.
Best Albums of 2007
1. Fuji Minx: Users Cheaters Theatres
From seemingly out of nowhere (southern California, actually) came the great Fuji Minx and this impeccable album. Lead singer Greta Valenti knows a thing or three about rock theatricality, and the rest of the band makes musical magic in a semi-acoustic vein. An ambitious, decadent work, this album features dreamlike pop wonders as “Waisting Away Part 2,” “Secret Agent Part 2,” and the stunning “Bye Love.” There was nothing else like this album in 2007 -- not in imagination, not in songwriting, not in performance. For those and many other reasons, Users Cheaters Theatres nabs the top spot in this list. If you haven’t heard it, then put it at the top of your list as well.
2. Bella: No One Will Know
Synth-pop Canadian group Bella proved that New Wave is still very much alive on No One Will Know. Of course, they did it by not just merely aping the old early ‘80s sounds, but by injecting a fresh modern rock twist into the mix. Unlike so many bands that try for a fake garage revival noise, or mimic the ‘80s purely as a novelty trip, Bella make you feel like it’s 1982 all over again. “Don’t Sleep Alone” is one of the best songs of the year, and “Camelot” is power pop at its best. There’s a reason so many other bands get this formula wrong, and that is simply because it actually takes talent, not just a wry sense of humor and some old Human League albums.
3. Plastic Operator: Different Places
This duo made one of the best electronic-pop albums of the year, if not the decade. Plastic Operator takes simple and catchy chords and melodies, pushes them through their keyboards and drum machines, and what comes out is something that sounds so tantalizingly familiar, yet so very new. It’s hard not to get hooked on this disc upon first listen, especially with the likes of such great songs as “Folder” and the mesmerizing “Another Sound.” It often seems like there’s more going on here, but Plastic Operator successfully take the “less is more” approach, without overloading the songs or mix with too much (which is a plus, as so many synth groups these days tend to want to go for overkill out of the gate). For the pure pop fix, Different Places is a dream come true
4. Lily Allen: Alright, Still
For the longest time, this album was taking the top spot on my list. Alright, Still is a wonderful album that is very distinctly British, both in Allen’s accent and its musical production. The single “Smile” was the bait, but it was other tracks on the album, such as the excellent ska-infused “Not Big,” the sarcastically funny “Everything’s Wonderful,” the pop candy of “LDN” and the comedy of “Alfie” that made Alright, Still the truly great album that it is. Lily said earlier this year that she wasn’t sure how American audiences would take her music but wasn’t too worried about it. No one should have worried, because Allen scored with fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Here’s looking forward to more.
5. Junior Senior: Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
There certainly wasn’t an all-out happier and good-time album than this one in 2007. Why more people don’t make fun albums that are just mindless and dance-worthy entertainment is beyond me. But on this disc, it’s awfully hard to not automatically fall in love with such silliness as “Can I Get Get Get,” and “Take My Time.” “Ur a Girl” is also one of those tunes that will whisk you away immediately in its retro funk. Seriously, how can you go wrong with songs about handclaps, loving music, and just generally having a good time? You can’t. This is just one of those albums that makes all the clouds go away. Musical therapy remains the best there is.
6. Secret Stealth: Hooked on You
Then again, there was this fun and funky album, which took the dance groove all over the map. “High Riser” is awesome ‘70s styling at its best, while “Wacky Backy” reminds the kids of the new generation what the funk is all about. Not enough people are funking anymore! We need to get back to the good grooves, man. Luckily, with tracks like “Drive Me Crazy,” that’s not such a hard idea to fully realize. Again, this is one of those fun albums that just aren’t in production enough these days. So relish these gems when they do make themselves available, won’t you?
7. They Might Be Giants: The Else
The Johns came back and laid relatively low with this new album of excellent tracks. It was certainly a progression from The Spine, embracing a stronger rock-influenced sound while upping the whimsy factor as well. The Dust Brothers produced it and chalked up another winner. “The Cap’m” is as great as TMBG ever got, and “Take Out the Trash” proved these guys can still kill when the volume is called for. But as I said in my original review, it’s best to just let the music speak for itself, as critics too often fall back on lazy writing when it comes to reviewing these guys. They are still one of the most unique groups out there. Enjoy ‘em. ‘Nuff said.
8. Stephen Bishop: Saudade
Bish came back this year with an album of old favorites reworked in a Brazilian style. It worked perfectly, and even let old standards like “On and On” become revitalized once again. Oscar Castro-Neves played guitar impeccably, while Stephen crooned in that completely Bish way, over the top of the smooth production. “Under the Jamaican Moon” and “Un Baile Del Corazon” are amongst the album’s best tunes. If you’re a fan, it’s like having an old friend come and visit once again. For the newcomers, Saudade is a nice slice of romantic pop to put on with the lights low and the love in the air. Awww yeah.
9. Underworld: Oblivion with Bells
Underworld continued its long-running career with this snazzy album. The group has taken many detours over the years, but Oblivion with Bells returns them to the sound of the early ‘90s, with excellent tracks like “Crocodile” leading the pack. “Beautiful Burnout” and “Faxed Invitation” keep up the pace flawlessly. While not everything on the album is essential to the overall final product, this disc is certainly one of the best in the Underworld catalog, and fans of the group should find plenty to enjoy here.
10. Paul van Dyk: In Between
On his latest album, Paul van Dyk explores all sorts of different territory. The single “White Lies” is one of the best tunes he’s ever recorded, period. “Complicated,” featuring Ashley Tomberlin, and the instrumental “Far Away,” keep the good grooves coming. However, much like the Underworld disc, not everything here needed to be added to the final product. But the good stuff here is really great, and certainly gives van Dyk another album to be proud about.