The Year in Review: The 7 Albums That Aren't Nearly As Bad As You've Heard
Is This It? sounded in 2001. Granted, First Impressions of Earth is the band's weakest album and granted, the first single "Juicebox" answered the question what would Dick Dale have sounded like had he been trying to imitate Lou Reed. (Lame). But this album isn't nearly as bad as the trashing it received (a 5.9 from Pitchfork, and a closer but still slightly low B- from Stylus).
Of course, some criticism was valid. The Strokes work better in the 30-40 minute range, not the bloated 52 minutes of First Impressions. Meanwhile, Casablancas' lyrics haven't improved. But no one ever listened to The Strokes for the brilliance of their lyrics in the first place. If you're looking at this album strictly as a collection of songs, First Impressions works. Most bands would kill to be able to write songs a tenth as good as the propulsive second single "You Only Live Once." And "Ize of the World" is catchy as anything you'll find on either of the first two albums, particularly when Albert Hammond Jr. lets loose with an effortlessly slick guitar riffs at the track's 2:00 minute mark. So maybe the Strokes aren't going to change the universe, but they're still a very good band. First Impressions may not be the landmark third album that everyone was hoping for, but stripped of its enormous expectations, it reveals itself to be a fun and enjoyable record.
The Strokes on Myspace
MP3: The Strokes-"You Only Live Once"
Ten Silver Drops was a complete dud. Coke Machine Glow slammed the album with a 59 percent score, Pitchfork handed the Dallas trio a 6.3. and Stylus gave it a C. But click over to the end of the Stylus review and you'll see one of the more accurate comments ever written the site: "If you don't enjoy this album you need two things: a) better headphones and b) better pot.
Ten Silver Drops might not hit the great heights of its predecesor, the brilliant Now Here is Nowhere, but it remains an impressive follow-up, one that improves with each listen. The album isn't meant for music critics who listen to 200 records a year. It's meant to be savored with a good pair of headphones and an even better sack of Samsonite. And seriously, name one better song title this year than "Alone, Jealous and Stoned."
The Secret Machines on Myspace
MP3: The Secret Machines-"Alone, Jealous & Stoned"
I'm pretty sure that Dying to Say This To You is an album made for sorority girls to play while they're getting ready for the big Greek Formal. Needless to say, it's not my favorite type of music. But if I had to be locked in a room with a bunch of sorority girls applying too much makeup, I'd thank my lucky stars that this album was playing instead of the alternatives: Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake, and Now That's What I Call a Lobotomy Vol. 20.
The sound is bright 80's New Wave pop in the vein of The Go-Go's. But unlike fellow neo-wave revivalists The Killers, (whose Hot Fuss shares a producer with Dying To Say This to You), this band doesn't suck. Partially because these songs are being sung by a cute Swedish singer instead of Brandon "Never Trust a Man With a Mustache" Flowers. With the exception of the unlistenable ballad "Night After Night," Dying to Say This To You, is a fun and relentlessly upbeat in a benign sort of way. And yes, the album cover is awesome.
The Sounds on Myspace
MP3: The Sounds-"Song With a Mission"
A Conversation Between A "Hipster" Music Critic and His Friend About Broken Boy Soldiers
Hipster Critic 1: Dude, the Raconteurs new album is so lame. (I heard "Steady As She Goes" on the radio)
Hipster Music Critic's Friend: Why?
Hipster Critic 1 takes a long puff of his American Spirit cigarette, strokes his mustache and caresses his velour vintage blazer. He speaks:
Hipster Critic 1: Because the lyrics lack the post-modern yet retro texture of Jack White's earlier work. (I saw them on the MTV Movie Awards)
Hipster Music Critic's Friend: I see your point. Sometimes, I ask myself why every album can't be sea shanty ballads, chicks with harps, or coke dealing rappers who want to rob chicks with harps.
Hipster Critic 1: Good point...but back to what I was saying...Jack White assaults my cranial lobe. This is rehashed 70s AM AM/FM Scrapbook Pop Tart Leftovers. I haven't liked White since De Stijl. (When I felt cooler than everybody else because no one knew who he was.).
Hipster Critic's Friend: Have you seen The Raconteurs live?
Indie Critic 1: No...they play at venues that seat more than 152.5 people. I saw The White Stripes in a loft in Brooklyn once. There were four people there. 3 of them had mustaches. The other one was dressed as a Kentucky Fried Chicken. (It may have been a protest).
Broken Boy Soldiers might not be Jack White's best work, but it remains one of the 30 best albums made this year. "Steady As She Goes" is one of the 10 best singles to get radio airplay. Brandon Benson is pretty good too. See this band live. If you aren't impressed, you should be.
The Raconteurs on Myspace
MP3: The Raconteurs-"Steady As She Goes"
I'm not going to lie: I was disappointed by this album. Not because it's bad. Far from it. It's just that after the cosmic leap forward of this year's severely underrated Chulahoma EP, I was expecting more from The Black Keys. Rather than this being the record that catapulted the Akron, Ohio duo into the ranks of the world's best bands, it was merely a sideways step, more of the same virtuoso blues guitar wrapped around simple love-focused themes. But still, an average Black Keys album is better than most of the avant-garde caterwauling that passes for "indie" rock. "Your Touch" is an instantly catchy (if not familiar-sounding) single that holds its own with earlier Keys singles like "10:00 AM Automatic" and "Have Love Will Travel." Don't be fooled, this album is significantly better than the 6.0 Pitchfork drubbing and the C+ Stylus ratings will have you believe. It's not their masterpiece, but it gives you reason to think that one might still be forthcoming.
The Black Keys on Myspace
MP3: The Black Keys-"Your Touch"
Technically, it depends what you read. Because either this album is wildly underrated or overrated. The British press went nuts for it, the NME giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars, while Q gave it 4 out of 5. Meanwhile, back in the states, critics didn't share the same enthusiasm, as Spin and Rolling Stone tore the band to shreds,. Which in and itself is kind of amazing because Rolling Stone and Spin never rip anyone. Ever. But the truth about the album lies somewhere in between. While Kasabian doesn't break new ground, taking their cues from vintage Primal Scream and The Stone Roses, they have a knack for writing catchy anthemic, beer-drinking songs. And let's face it, someone needs to be making music like that. The lyrics are nothing to write home about, but the band's hard guitars and crushing drums take the focus off the words and let you get lost in the album's frenetic melody.
This album won't make you sell your copy of Screamadelica anytime soon, but it's far from a disaster. Plus, I can't hate on a band that dropped a quote as good as their attack on Justin Timberlake earlier year: "He's a midget with whiskers who is just trying to be black. He's a puppet in a million-dollar suit who's had his strings cut off. "It's just money music. Absolute rubbish. You can smell the money coming off it. He's a knobhead." Well played Kasabian. Well played.
Kasabian on Myspace
Yes. You read that right. I'm claiming that a L'il Wayne album is better than it's reputed to be. No, I have not gone mental. By no means, is this a brilliant album. But it's much much better than I expected and certainly better than the C rating that Stylus gave it. Even weirder than Stylus giving Weezy F. Baby a low score was the fact that Pitchfork didn't even bother to review this album. Which means someone in Chi-Town must've thought this album was really really really terrible, lest the evil empire dare besmirch the fine name of Wayne (After all, the guy has had enough "besmirching" this year, getting photographed at impromptu make-out sessions with his "daddy.")
Wayne remains far from the great rapper he's often touted as and certainly not anywhere close to as good as Jay-Z, as he claimed recently. However, Wayne has turned himself into a pretty good rapper, one who if given a great beat will consistently turn it into a great song. And Like Father Like Son, has more than its share of great beats, ones that sound more like early 90s West Coast G-Funk than the stuttering cheap synth beats you'd expect. The comparison becomes more apt when Daz and Kurupt drop by for the bangin' "Cali Dro." This album might not be a classic, as it's plagued by cliched skits and plenty of filler (19 songs, 1 hour and 10 minutes), but if you go song by song, it has more great tracks than Kingdom Come.
Birdman and L'il Wayne at Myspace
MP3: Li'l Wayne-"Over Here Hustlin'"