Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Best of 2004: Music

A similar document will be written for films sometime in January or February.

No need to delay: let's go ahead and get the big prize out of the way.


5. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2
Man, every time you think that U2 has finally reached the point where their talent will fall off and they'll turn into bloated, boring has-beens, they release a blistering track like "Vertigo" and remind you just how good they can be. The rest of the album shines with the kind of emotional, bold pop greatness they've been playing for...geez, what is it, twenty years now? If this is any indication, they're not going away for a long, long time.

4. Pressure Chief, Cake
These goofy bastards aren't for everyone. But how can you not love a band that can turn anything into a good song -- love, pollution, even spare change? I'll be damned if I can peg which genre Cake belongs in, but they're the kings of it, no doubt.

3. Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse
Clangy, off-key, self-indulgent, messy, and totally brilliant. An album like this tries very hard to defy description: how the hell am I suppose to describe the odd arrangements, creative instrumentation and witty lyrics and make any sense at all? I can say that Modest Mouse is one of the most completely original bands out there today, and here's hoping this is the first step towards their total world domination. We badly need some more bands like this.

2. Encore, Eminem
The worst thing you can say about this devastating new album is that it can't quite stand up to The Marshall Mathers LP, which still stands as his masterpiece. But here we find Slim Shady swinging back toward humor (away from the occasionally exhausting seriousness of The Eminem Show) and, at the same time, growing with a new maturity ("Like Toy Soliders" rages against hip-hop violence, while "Mosh" loudly trumpets a powerful political message). Encore is much more solid musically than previous releases, and also shows Eminem's gift for finding perfect samples -- I don't where he got the warbling, barely-audible female vocal track he drops into the pre-chorus of "Spend Some Time," but it's the perfect touch that elevates what might otherwise be only an average song. And nobody out there does absurdism better -- who else could rap an entire song in the voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog? If I could, though, impart a piece of advice to you, Mr. Mathers: lose Obie Tryce. His verse on "Drips" was the low point of The Eminem Show; his verse on "Spend Some Time" is the low point of Encore. This is not a coincidence.

The Best Album of 2004: American Idiot, Green Day
I'll admit it: I had written Green Day off as past their prime after the listenable-but-bland Warning. But come on: who the hell knew they had this in them? A punk-rock-opera that is not only of the most ambitious and bold albums I've heard, but scorches all the other wannabe pop-punk-pretenders like Sum 41 and Good Charlotte -- somehow, this album makes their music sound even more shallow and fake. Green Day's tale of rage, love, hope, sadness, and redemption is a triumph musically and lyrically. From the high-tension political vitriol of the title track and "Holiday," to the confessional "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Whatsername," to the nine-minute epic masterpiece "Jesus of Suburbia," American Idiot is a masterwork that will be talked about for many years to come. Or, well, it should be, anyway. The only question is: how can Green Day possibly follow this?

The best ten songs you could have heard on the radio this year.

1. "Float On," Modest Mouse
2. "Mosh," Eminem
3. "Vertigo," U2
4. "Slither," Velvet Revolver
5. "No Phone," Cake
6. "So Cold," Breaking Benjamin
7. "Encore," Eminem f. Dr. Dre and 50 Cent
8. "Fall Behind Me," The Donnas
9. "Ocean Breathes Salty," Modest Mouse
10. "Some Kind of Monster," Metallica


Best Cover Song: "Simple Man," Shinedown
The lead singer should have his Creed CDs taken away right now, but this sparse, acoustic arrangement of the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic is a revelation. It's so good, actually, that it renders their own single, ".45," kind of weak in comparison. Which is unfortunate. Honorable mention: Korn's "Word Up."

Special "It's the Thought That Counts" Award of Merit: "Imagine," A Perfect Circle
Well, that was pretty bad. But hey -- their hearts were in the right place. Not their ears, apparently, but their hearts, definitely.

The Vanilla Ice Award for the Best Use of Plagarism: "Counting the Days," Collective Soul
Listen to their song. Then listen to Metallica's "King Nothing." Then listen to the Collective Soul track again. Pay special attention to the main guitar riff. Then wonder why the lawsuits haven't begun to fly.

Best Embarassingly Sappy Commerical Pop Song by an Artist Who Should Know Better: "Accidentally in Love," Counting Crows
Yeah, okay, you did it for the Shrek 2 soundtrack, and that kind of catchy blandess is appropriate for the situation. But remember, guys: the Beatles wrote "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and then went on to Sgt. Pepper's. Not the other way around.

Best Live Album: The Gorge, Dave Matthews Band
This combination DVD/CD set is the perfect holdover while Dave and company taunt us with promises of a new studio album.

Best Collector's Item I Would Own Right Now If I Weren't Totally Broke: When the Lights Go Out, Nirvana
Man, oh man, I want this so badly: a three-CD set, plus a DVD, full of unreleased rarites and demos and live stuff. I see it at various stores; I see the price tag; I see the lack of sufficient funds in my wallet; I cry. Honorable mention: the deluxe release of Nine Inch Nails's The Downward Spiral, which includes a DVD that lets you listen to the album in surround-sound. I'm crying again.

The Whitney Houston Award for the Most Ubiquitous Song of the Year: "The Reason," Hoobastank
I swear to James Hetfield, if I hear that goddamn song one more time, some one will die. Honorable mention: I'd put an Usher song here, but I honestly can't tell them apart.

and finally...

The Most Unwanted Comeback of 2004: Motley Crue
Yeah, fuck you guys.