Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Who likes to the rock the party? We like to rock the party..."

Best Albums Project, Continued (Part Four of Four): 2005 - 2008

And we're back...

Misha's Picks

2005: Late Registration by Kanye West: I first heard ‘Gold Digger’ when the video came on Much Music and within seconds my face was one inch away from the screen. Just about a perfect song. Quite a few people will tell you a similar story about me (literally) dragging them into my car to sit with me and hear it. I was obsessed. It has everything you could ever want from a pop song. It was like musical crack, right after I heard it I had to hear it again and again. The rest of the album is also fantastic. ‘Drive Slow’, ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’, and ‘Touch The Sky’ are some of my favorites. This was a great step forward for Kanye at the time, because it was an improvement in songwriting over the excellent ‘College Dropout’ but it was also sonically expansive, and was that great combination of groundbreaking, but still accessible. Since this album Kanye has decided that breaking new ground is his only goal, and he seems to be forgetting to bring the songs with him to these new destinations. ‘Graduation’ was a cool move into a more dance-based sound, so logically ‘808’s and Heartbreaks’ would show what Kanye was capable of doing using this new sound. But instead he is now (apparently) a singer…no more hip-hop. Kanye West is a really important artist, with a lot of skill, and I respect his ambition and constant attempts to evolve, but he needs to focus less on musical style, and more on songwriting substance.

Best song: “Gold Digger” - Since I’ve already discussed the positives of this song, allow me to shine a light on the song’s biggest downfall…it provided Jamie Foxx with a music career. I’ve heard his music…I’ll be diplomatic here…it’s dog shit.

Fun fact: Does it seem like recently a bunch of hip-hop/R&B artists have all simultaneously discovered this whole ‘voice altering auto-tune’ device? It’s like every big name in hip-hop was at the same club and Cher’s 1998 hit ‘Believe’ came on and everyone went insane. I assume that there was a ‘Hip-Hop League of Nations’ meeting once the song ended and everyone agreed that you don’t need to be capable of singing to be a singer, as long as you have ‘The Cher Voice…Altering…Machine’. Listen for it on new songs by Kanye, Akon, and T-Pain, just to name a few.

Runner up: I have to admit that I don’t have an album I want to put here. Look, I was really busy aggressively courting my future wife in 2005. I will give an honorable mention to Nine Inch Nails for their moving ‘Right Where It Belongs’ which closes the album With Teeth. I will also give a dishonorable mention to Coldplay for having a chance to take over the music universe and shitting themselves with X & Y…what a goddamn shame. Maybe I have been too hard on these guys (the new album is good), I guess I just overestimated them…which is my fault, not theirs. In 2005 my #1 musical adventure was buying an old Bob Dylan album every week, even the bad ones (this lasted for a few months). That was a pretty interesting experience to say the least. And speaking of Mr. Dylan…

Kyle: …I believe “aggressively courting” is courthouse slang for “stalking.”

Dunno about Late Registration. I remember you being absolutely obsessed with the album but (the awesome Curtis Mayfield-infused “Touch the Sky” aside) it always left me cold (I’ve never liked “Gold Digger”). I do, however, quite like his new album, which I believe puts me in the minority (I may also be the only person that actually enjoyed his performance on SNL earlier this month—imagine my shock when I discovered it was deemed the second coming of Ashlee Simpson’s mic malfunction. Also: while we’re sort of on the topic, how come Simpson was positively crucified for lip-synching when she was on the show, but when Beyonce performed earlier this season and didn’t even bother to conceal the fact that she wasn’t actually singing “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On it),” everyone gave her a pass? Is it because she’s talented? Because she was focusing on her (admittedly pretty impressive) dancing? The latter I kinda accept. The former not at all (if anything, she should be held to a higher standard, no?).

I find it interesting that you’re criticizing Kanye for doing something (consistently attempting to re-invent himself), while criticizing U2 for not doing the same thing (see previous post: 2004 runner-up). Pick a side, we’re at war.

Good call with With Teeth. It was so great, I was totally unprepared for Year Zero being so thoroughly shitty.

Mark: Thanks for calling Misha out on the “U2 aren’t innovative” thing before I got a chance to. And, as U2 themselves have stated, after spending 10 years trying to make songs that purposely didn’t sound like ‘U2 songs,’ it was a challenge for them to just go back to the basics of “four guys playing instruments together.” If Johan Santana tried to throw right-handed and got shelled, the Mets wouldn’t applaud his effort. They’d tell him to get his ass back to throwing southpaw, stat.

Re: Ashlee Simpson. Her performance was such a fiasco because the tape screwed up, not that she was lip-syncing in the first place. Hell, Eminem used a backing track the very next week on SNL and nobody said boo.

My personal association with ‘Gold Digger’ stems from my 2005 birthday, which was also one of the drunkest evenings of my life. At one point, I voluntarily drank a concoction known as a “Chernobyl” --- two shots of prairie fire and two shots of vodka, all mixed together in one glass and drank as a shot. It was horrific. But yet, the enduring image of that evening is my performance on the Ceeps dance floor to ‘Gold Digger.’ I was wearing out Kanye’s “snap fingers and tilt slightly backwards” move from the video like Seth Rogen wearing out the dice move in Knocked Up. I also had to mop my bald head for sweat with what became affectionately known as a ‘sweat rag’ (a.k.a. a washcloth I had in my pocket for such an occasion), which made my co-worker Ravi laugh as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone laugh in my life. But, in my defense, Kanye does it himself! Watch the video! Between the 0:50 and 1:20 marks, Kanye wipes his head not once, not twice, but thrice! Apparently I was just doing a closer impression of him than I realized.

Misha: Firstly, great story from Mark about ‘Gold Digger’, and the snap-tilt backwards move was a crucial part of that video. As for Beyonce, I’m not surprised or bothered by the lack of uproar, but I agree that it is a double-standard. Remember how bad things were for Ashlee Simpson during that span in her career? The SNL fiasco (I agree with Mark…the tape playing, the Line-Dancing, and the “my band played the wrong song” comment) was disastrous, but the Bowl game (which was unfortunately her real singing) was the best/worst. So she was just a media piñata during this period of time. Beyonce is very talented, and is a media darling, so things like this don’t hurt her. It’s probably not fair.

On to the real issue here in regards to U2 and Kanye. I am upset that U2 has (in my estimation) settled for turning out music that in no way challenges their audience or themselves. It is really comfortable and predictable. It’s easy to be a U2 fan because they are more like your accountant than your favorite rock band. You know they are going to be professional, friendly and consistent. The songs are always of high quality, and the fans get the music they have demanded, but the band’s ambition was compromised long ago, and, like I’ve said numerous times, without that ambition it is impossible to achieve a new level of greatness. U2 is just so safe, and that is a shame because they have earned the right to be so much more. Kanye, on the other hand, has a different set of issues to deal with. U2 has the songs, but no ambition, and Kanye has all of the ambition, but (recently) few songs. He is now committed strictly to groundbreaking, but is terrified of actually working on this new turf to create music that is up to his previously established standards. It’s not about writing the same songs again, or going back to an old formula, but equal time needs to be focused on pushing the envelop and why it’s being pushed. Kanye has all of talent necessary in terms of sheer pop skills to make phenomenal music in any genre, but he just seems so focused on being different for the sake of being different, as oppose to being different for the sake of creating better music. I have picked on these artists for two reasons…1. I think they’re both great, and 2. I think they can be better. I would argue that (as of this writing) they are both going in the wrong direction.

2006: Modern Times by Bob Dylan: “Bob Dylan makes all other songwriters sound like scared little kittens”, declares the Rolling Stone Album Guide, and it is true now more than ever. Because Rock N’ Roll is only about 50 or so years old, Dylan finds himself in completely uncharted waters as the oldest rock performer ever to still be releasing vital material. More so than any other single artist in the last 100 years, Dylan has come the closest to revealing certain absolute truths about the human condition through his work. But, as he once sang: “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie”, and every time he gets face to face with these truths, he turns left, with the realization that the journey towards the truth is more interesting than the truth itself could ever be. Look back at the (many) moments in his career when he has been in such a furious and transcendent creative zone only to seemingly, out of nowhere, stop dead in his tracks, move in a completely new direction, and start from scratch (‘Blonde on Blonde’ to ‘John Wesley Harding’ and ‘Nashville Skyline’, or ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and ‘Desire’ to…well… God, just to name a couple). These transition periods are where you will find a lot of Dylan’s worst music, because after turning away from these truths he burns the map that got him there, forcing him to forge a new path if he is to ever ascend the mountain once again. On ‘Modern Times’, Dylan finds himself on a final, fevered march towards the peak. Expanding on the themes established on ‘Time Out Of Mind’ and ‘Love And Left’, Dylan continues to mediate on morality, mortality, and the corruptibility of the human spirit. Like on the two aforementioned albums, Dylan is using seemingly personal and introspective songs to explore things that are happening on a more macro level. ‘When The Deal Goes Down’ is a beautifully intimate song, with wonderful lyrics that aren’t even discussing the topics at hand as much as trying to cope with them. ‘Someday Baby’ shows that Dylan can still shoot back at an ex-love and that after all this time a fire still rages on inside that old heart. ‘Thunder On The Mountain’ is a genuinely exciting rock song, that has more lyrical twists jammed into it’s almost six minutes than 99% of artists have had in their entire careers. But the best clue as to what might come next is found in the album’s closer ‘Ain’t Talkin’’, where Dylan warns the listener that he just might go all the way this time because, unlike in his youth when his restless artistic spirit had become bored by the time he’d ever gotten this far, he has to keep pushing forward while his “heart [is] burnin’, and still yearnin’”. But, as the song’s title indicates, when he gets there, he’s most likely going to keep his findings to himself.

Best Song: “When The Deal Goes Down” - When I used to rock Jack to sleep I would use the melody lines from this song, but change all the lyrics, so as to not make the boy cry himself to sleep every night. Haunting and sad, this song has one of Dylan’s best vocal performances in recent memory, proving, once again, that how he sings is almost as affecting as what he is singing.

Runner-Up: Alright, Still by Lily Allen: Girls sing songs too? Who knew? Actually, this is the first of back to back female artists on my list. I was really impressed this first time I heard this album, and I grow more so with repeated listens. She is a saucy one, this Lily Allen, she sounds sweet enough, and the music is upbeat and fun (for the most part), but this is a young lady whom you do not want to cross. She informs an ex-boyfriend that he never “made her cum”, that she was “high as a kite” every time they were together, and that he’ll be sorry in a couple of weeks when she “works her way through [his] mates”…oh, and for good measure, he also has a small penis. That’s all in one song, the hilarious and cutting ‘Not Big’. With lyrics like this she should be battle rapping!! The album is full of hits (‘Smile’, ‘LDN’ and the strange-and awesome-‘Alfie’) but my favorite is the clever and pounding ‘Take What You Take’ which has a killer musical intro, great lyrics and some mighty pissed off singing. Fun fact: Hey, I actually have a comment that fits the criteria this time…apparently, like Chandler from ‘Friends’, Lily Allen has 3 nipples…she has drunkenly proven that this is not just a salacious rumor. What a fun fact!!

Kyle: I can’t disagree with your assessment of Dylan as a songwriter. He’s terrific. But—and if you could conveniently escort Jessica out of the room for just a minute, I'd appreciate it, since I don’t want both of you to think less of me—I simply cannot wholeheartedly embrace anything he’s released after, say, 1975, because (and I feel strongly about this), I really believe his voice has gone to shit. I feel like he’s dying mid-song sometimes. I tried to like Modern Times, I really did, just like Love and Theft and Time Out of Mind, but it’s not happening. I’m sorry. I know I’ve failed you.

Mark: Wait, you thought Dylan’s voice before 1975 wasn’t shit? Dylan’s singing ability has never been exactly mint, but it’s his lyrics and his ability to mold his voice to his music that makes him stand out. Great choices here from Misha, especially the Lily Allen record (which I own and considered for my runner-up spot in 06). As for Dylan, ‘Thunder On The Mountain’ is a GREAT song. You would’ve been fine not changing the lyrics to WTDGD, since as Conan O’Brien has taught me, babies respond to just the melody, so you can sing whatever words you want. Unless Jack is one of those baby geniuses. Like in that movie….Master & Commander.

Misha: Kyle, you are right, Dylan’s voice is (almost) completely gone. But that’s what makes this most recent incarnation (Time Out Of Mind to present) so amazing. He has had to reinvent his songwriting to fit the voice he has left, and that music is haunting, intimate and tremendously powerful. There is no astonishing voice here (as Mark argues, maybe there never really was) but it’s someone who is whispering some very profound things to us all in a way which it has never been displayed before, and the quality of the songwriting is peerless. Dylan’s voice has never been the show, but instead the vessel through which the most courageous, insightful and honest statements in modern music have been (and continue to be) delivered. Like Bono famously said: “Dylan is the only guy that has you from the cradle to the grave”. Mark, glad you like the Lily Allen pick. Jess and I have been listening back to this recently, and it is really solid. P.S. I totally remember the Conan thing about melody and lyrics…well played, sir.

2007: Back To Black by Amy Winehouse: Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: “In all writing I love only what is written with blood. Write with blood, and you discover that blood is spirit”. Amy Winehouse writes in blood. Thank God I was already on my way to the alter when I discovered this album, because if I had stumbled across it in the midst of a break-up a morbid depression would have ensued, and I’d probably never have left my room again. Say what you will about the subsequent events of her life, but Amy Winehouse is the funniest, rawest, and most brutally honest songwriter going. The musical fusion that she (and producer Mick Ronson) have developed between rock, Motown, hip-hop and jazz is truly remarkable. Winehouse’s vocal performance is spot on, with each track displaying a natural ability to phrase every line with a style that is uniquely of her own creation. But the album’s lyrical content is the shocker here. A lot of people have heard ‘Rehab’, seen her crazy antics on TMZ.com, and told me that Winehouse is nothing more than a novelty act freak show. Then, after listening to the album in its entirety, they realize that ‘Rehab’ (like ‘The Real Slim Shady’ from ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’) is not so much a song, but more of a deceptive device used to draw you into a far more seedy and dangerous, but also more exhilarating, set of circumstances. ‘Rehab’ is a really good pop song, no one is disputing that, but it’s confident, rebellious tone is a decoy for the battered, bruised characters we learn about as the album progresses. And don’t think for one second that Amy Winehouse is going to sit back and play the heart broken victim. In fact, ‘You Know I’m No Good’ is actually an ode to her two timing some poor bastard, and the detail is vivid and often times excruciating. She talks about being in bed with her ex-boyfriend (cheating) but not being able to…umm….finish, because she is thinking about her current boyfriend while she’s “in the final throws”. Wow. And the song ends with her current boyfriend noticing carpet burns on her knees that he knows he played no role in putting there. Winehouse, upon realizing she’s busted, sings that “my stomach drops and my guts churn”…ours too Amy. It’s a great song from a musical perspective as well, but what great, intense storytelling and she is not going to save face by hiding the fact that she is the villain, because that would be dishonest, and she’d rather be viewed as anything but that.

If you’re still a doubter after these couple of songs, check out ‘Love Is A Losing Game’, ‘Me And Mr. Jones’ and ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’. Oh, and be prepared to run for cover if you listen to ‘He Can Only Hold Her’, because a Mac Truck sized hook is about drive through your front window. We all watch the news, and know that this is going to end in tears, but this album is worth a million records from Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce or Britney, because what is radiating from the cover of those albums is a fine, pretty gloss of disposability, whereas ‘Back To Black’ is the ugly, glorious truth, all covered in blood.

Best Song: “Back To Black” -This the best break-up song not on Dylan’s ultimate break-up album ‘Blood On The Tracks’. Just brutal. If you haven’t heard it, I can’t describe it to you, but I’ll tell you that if you’re over the age of 16 you’ve been in her shoes before, and, no matter what you told your friends at the time, when you were alone, reflecting on how you really felt about things, you were feeling like this. Simply a stunning emotional achievement.

Fun fact: The night before Carrie and Kyle’s wedding we were all in the Wasko family basement when Carrie’s mother Mary came downstairs and announced that she wanted to sing us her favorite song. I, being a tool, expected some Irish ditty, but then she broke into the Amy Winehouse version of Valerie (a b-side cover from the ‘Back to Black’ sessions). Jessica and I had just happened to be listening to the song in the car earlier that evening, and, much to Mary’s surprise, joined in to sing the song with her in its entirety. Good times.

Runner-Up: Icky Thump by The White Stripes: Like I said earlier, The White Stripes could have been on this list four times, so before the bitching starts, please note that (at least in my eyes) I have used some restraint. When I first heard the title track I envisioned my good friend Jeff Teolis going into cardiac arrest, because Jeff is a huge Zeppelin fan, and this is the best Zeppelin riff in a long time (I am happy to report that Jeff survived…but, by his own admission, just barely). Note the great lyrics in the song which deal with a scenario right out of the Seinfeld episode where George meets a woman on the subway, she takes him to a hotel, ties him to the bed in nothing but his boxers, and steals all of his things. In Jack White’s version, he is George, the setting is not a subway, but a Mexican brothel, and the woman is a one eyed prostitute played by his big sister/ex-wife Meg. Oh, and then he slams America for its poor handling and outlook on immigration. Got all that? Unless you’re Jack White, you just can’t make this shit up, but that is why The White Stripes are so exciting. You don’t know what’s coming next, but you know it’ll be interesting, and they will somehow manage to pull it off in the end. The White Stripes have so much going for them it almost seems unfair. Not only does Jack White have the guitar and songwriting chops to compete with anyone from any generation, but the band also has the best gimmick in the business as well (the whole brother/sister, husband/wife thing). It’s like having Led Zeppelin’s music with Kiss’ shtick…amazing. This album is quite an adventure, from the great ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told), to the hilarious and raucous ‘Rag and Bone’ and the terrific ‘I’m Slowly Turning Into You’ which has as it’s chorus both Meg and Jack White’s voices perfectly (through studio trickery) combined to create a single voice, as if they were one person. But if you think that maybe it’s all loud noise, gimmicks and style over substance, make sure to check out the final song ‘Cause And Effect’, which is just Jack and a guitar finding his way through a simple, but extremely clever explanation about interpersonal relationships and perspectives. I know…and I agree…it’s really not fair.

Kyle: sigh…I think Back to Black is the most overrated album on your list, if not the most overrated album of the decade. I mean, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that—like the first season of Heroes—it was never even as close to as good as we all collectively agreed to think it. (Sorry for that sentence.) Yes, her and, yes, it’s become virtually impossible for me to divorce my thoughts on her personal life (deplorable, clearly) from her music, but all I know is that, according to my trusty play counter in iTunes, I have listened to Back to Black precisely zero times in 2008, which suggests to me that it doesn’t exactly have a lot of staying power. Personally, I much prefer Adele (who, I just discovered, is barely 20—wow!). Misha, I’ll save you the trouble, and write the first line of your follow up comment for you (you’re responsible for everything after “Are you out of your fucking mind?”…)

Mark: Never heard the whole album, so I can’t honestly comment. Though it’s not surprising that Winehouse has some songwriting chops. She must’ve picked something up over her 300 years of walking the earth, feasting on the blood of innocents. In a way, she’s doing a public service; if they existed, female vampires would look a lot more like her than they would, say, Julie Benz. So congrats to Amy Winehouse for fighting back aginst the media’s stereotypical body images of female vampires.

Misha: Are you out of your fucking mind!? Just kidding. Look, what good is me writing anything more going to do? Back to Black is one of those rare albums that is great for a 1,000 reasons. It’s honest, brave, uncompromising, musically excellent, lyrically outstanding and completely original. Amy Winehouse is Seinfeld and Adele is Everybody Loves Raymond. [Kyle: ouch] Period. I think it’s time to get a new iPod. P.S. I still love you.

2008: Runner-Up: The Slip by Nine Inch Nails: I’m going to do the runner-up before the best album for 2008, because we all know what’s coming up next…but first…Nine Inch Nails. While the idea of ‘the album’ is being bludgeoned to death ninety-nine cents at a time, Trent Reznor found a great way to both reward longtime fans and alienate music pirates. He released this album, in its entirety, as a free download on the band’s website months before it was made available for purchase. When asked why he would make it free instead of going the Radiohead route of just letting people pay whatever they wanted for the record, Reznor shot back a very insightful response: “It gives them [the fans] too much power. I’m not saying you have to pay for it, but don’t tell me that it’s worth fifty cents”. I think I may have put the album here for that quote alone. But also because it is his best work in a decade and ‘Discipline’ is a tremendous song. ‘1,000,000’, ‘Letting You’ and ‘Echoplex’ are also excellent. What I love about this Nine Inch Nails album (and all of them for that matter) is that they demand your full attention. These are not good ‘background noise’ albums. It’s like the music knows the second you turn your head, and goes into instant, unlistenable distortion. You turn your head back, and the music is good again…strange. But this also gives me a chance to ask if someone can provide me with a real reason why pirating music is okay. Come on now, everybody (except me, apparently) does it, and no one has ever provided me with a good answer as to why/how it is any different than walking to a car dealership and stealing a Lexus. I’m just curious. [Kyle: because a Lexus doesn’t cost $14.99? Kidding!] [Mark: Because Shawn Fanning didn’t develop LexusSter and corrupt us all at a young age.]

2008: Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses: This is my second attempt at writing something about this album. My first was set up in a format where I was the Eminem character at the end of 8 Mile and everyone else was Papa Doc. I was going to take every complaint I have heard about this album (both before and since its release) and address those issues before anyone had a chance to respond. It was about 1,000 words when I stopped, and I hadn’t even started talking about the music yet…I was solely focused on the bullshit surrounding it. And that’s the problem with discussing this album, the actual music gets lost in the drama behind its creation. I will address some of those issues later (yes, this is going to be a long entry), but this will be the first review I’ve read where the music itself will come first.

Oh God…here we go…Chinese Democracy is a spectacular sonic barrage, with more musical twists and turns than a Hitchcock film, and more creative, audacious and uncompromised ambition than ANY major label album released since…well…I don’t know when. It is also not a typical pop record in the sense that it actually achieves the exact opposite effect pop artists crave. A pop song is supposed to be instantly familiar to the listener because it follows the accepted songwriting formula of hooks, a verse, a chorus, a bridge etc. The song is supposed to grab your attention initially, and slowly dissipate in the level of satisfaction the more you hear it. There are many songs on this album (in fact most) that start off in this very linear pattern, and then go in melodic or musical directions that have never been explored on a pop record of this magnitude. Imagine Axl walking down the narrow hallway of ‘normal’ pop songwriting, stopping, turning and looking at the wall. Curious, he grabs a spoon and starts digging into the wall (think Danny in The Great Escape, only with cornrows). He doesn’t know what’s on the other side of this wall, but he is sure that it is more interesting than what he’ll find if the song continues down the hallway to its logical conclusion. This type of approach has lead to a record that is too bizarre, confusing and complex to be properly digested with just one listen. When you first hear this album, it appears to be the ultimate anti-pop record. With the exception of a few of songs (‘Better’, ‘Street of Dreams’, ‘IRS’, ‘Sorry’) the album seems, at first, like a confused mess. But after a couple of listens the other songs start to make more and more sense, and the whole thing becomes an extremely satisfying affair.

A good question that has been asked is in regards to why the record needs to be this complex in the first place? If the songs are there (which they obviously are) why not just present them in a more instantly accessible manner? Well, consider how Christopher Nolan makes his movies. He and his brother develop a basic story (I’ll use the most obvious example of Memento, but this applies to all of Nolan’s films to one degree or another) and then Nolan sits back and tries to find a way of telling that story which he hopes will add another dimension to the film. Would Memento be the cult classic it is if it were told in a chronologically coherent manner? It has a great story, but the way in which it has been assembled and presented is what makes it revolutionary. It’s like a two for one deal; you get a great story, combined with impeccable storytelling. Axl follows the same path on Chinese Democracy…with every single song. Most of the time it works, but even when it fails (‘Catcher In The Rye’) it is endlessly intriguing. No other major artist has the time or the gall to attempt this type of song creation, at least not on every single track for an entire album. Axl’s vocal performance is absolutely stunning and the way his vocals are dubbed and layered throughout the record is groundbreaking. Musically the album is psychotic. There are more guitars, pianos, keyboards, and God knows what else, on this album than I have ever heard on any one record before. The arrangements are impossibly sophisticated and gorgeous. And if you listen to the music closely you’ll be amazed at how intricate the synchronization is between all of the instruments involved on any given song. An astonishing artistic achievement.

With all of this going for it musically, why is Chinese Democracy such a polarizing album? Well, firstly, if the record could actually speak, its first words would come in the form of a quote from Jack Nicholson in the film The Departed. Talking to Leo DiCaprio about his brutal ascent to power in the Boston Mafia, Nicholson says: “A lot of people had to die for me to be me”. The process of creating this record destroyed the original Guns N’ Roses line-up, cost Geffen Records an unbelievable amount of money, and lost Axl Rose a large portion of his life. There has been a lot of suffering on the 14 year road to this album’s release. Prior to its release the media mercilessly mocked this album’s (at the time supposed) existence, and Axl himself became (next to Michael Jackson) the biggest joke in music. Fans were turned off by the tracks they were hearing leaked online because they didn’t sound like ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and the record entered the world without the chance to be heard objectively. The consensus was that if this wasn’t the best album ever made it would be considered a disappointment. Has any album ever confronted that type of insane expectation? It is not the best album ever made, but to quote Chuck Klosterman’s review from The Onion (A.V Club):
“Chinese Democracy comes close to fulfilling the absurdly impossible expectations…[because] the final truth is this: He [Axl Rose] makes the best songs.”
The album was #1 in the world in terms of sales the week of its release (Source: Global Track Chart) [note: this is the first actual source ever to appear on my blog--I can't speak for Shuk's.], but the album is, so far, a commercial disappointment. It reminds me of an album that came out about two decades ago, sounded like nothing else around at the time, was hated by the record company (“Where are the singles!!??” they cried) and landed with a loud, anonymous thud, and was greeted by a chorus of yawns. But one year (to the day) after its release it was the #1 album in America. That album was Appetite For Destruction. Even the Illusion records got off to great sales starts, fizzled quickly, and were saved 10 months later by the release of ‘November Rain’ as a smash single. So Guns N’ Roses albums have a slow burn, long term track record. We’ll see where this album is commercially one year from now.

Everything I’ve written about here leads to a few, final truths. Not once in his career has Axl Rose ever compromised. Not one goddamn time. This has cost him millions of dollars (from no reunion, no new album revenue-until now, very little touring, and no new GNR merchandise), an endless amount of public abuse, and his original band. But he simply refuses to do anything he doesn’t want to do. How many people (fans, friends, agents, managers, record execs, band members etc.) begged him to put this album out over the past 14 years? His answer…not until it’s finished. WHAT??!! Name one other modern artist with the will and conviction to withstand that type of pressure? But Axl is the artistic answer to a suicide bomber. You can’t threaten a suicide bomber with death, and you can’t threaten Axl Rose with career suicide because he’d rather never release another album than release one with which he is not completely satisfied. You cannot logically reason with this personality type, and modern pop culture cannot understand it. Axl has walked away from all of this before, and he could do it again, because it’s not about money and fame…it’s about making the best music he possibly can. While Coldplay is playing ‘The Wyoming Pumpkin Festival’, desperately trying to sell more records and convince everyone of what great guys they are, and The Killers are telling anyone who will listen that they are the ‘New U2’ or the ‘New Bruce Springsteen’, and Bono is planning his next trip to Oprah, and while Kanye West is talking about being Elvis, Axl Rose, spoon in hand, is digging his way through another wall, actually looking for Yeats’ ‘Rose in the Cross’, those transcendent moments where divinity and reality intersect. He may not find anything there but, unlike everyone else in popular music, at least he’s still searching for it. And he doesn’t care if you like it or not.

Best song: I’ll leave this up to whoever is reading this, just make sure to listen to whichever song you select a few times…it’s worth the effort.

Kyle: Just wanted to point out that, in its original form, this (outstanding and downright moving in places) GNR entry was one 1,600 word paragraph (and possibly: sentence).

I’m going to surprise some people (though, implicit in that statement is the belief that someone is actually reading this, so perhaps not…) and say: I love this album. It just goes (which may not sound like much of a compliment, but is just about the highest praise I can pay an album). This is especially irritating for me as I was eager to be totally letdown and then incredibly smug in my dismissal of it. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Rats. (It appears I’ll have to channel my overwhelming sense of superiority elsewhere.)

I’m going to abstain from picking a favorite track—partly because I think you should do it, but mostly because I’m struggling to pick just one (the title track, Shacker’s Revenge, I.R.S., Sorry, and If The World are all in the running). Let me know and I will legally purchase said song from the iTunes store for the low, low price of $0.99. [Follow up note: no one touched this, so I've gone ahead and picked "I.R.S."]

What I will say is this: while it’s highly listenable and, in many ways, a towering achievement, it does call to mind a scene from an early season episode from The West Wing when Sam Seaborn was talking about high taxes:
...every time your boss got on the stump and said, "It's time for the rich to pay their fair share," I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left my last job making $400,000 a year, which means I paid twenty-seven times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of twenty-six other people. And I'm happy to because that's the only way it's gonna work, and it's in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads, but I don't get twenty-seven votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn't come to my house twenty-seven times faster and the water doesn't come out of my taps twenty-seven times hotter.
So I guess what I’m saying that, all “that’s just Axl being Axl” talk aside (an argument I know for a fact you despise), the album is good—possibly even great—but it’s not “fourteen years” great. It’s not fourteen times better than 808s or Day and Age or Viva La Vida (actually, maybe…). So while I’m pleased that it actually did come out and even happier that it’s actually good, I can’t help but be, even if ever so slightly, still a bit disgusted.

All of that said: this is a strong pick. And (I hope this doesn’t come across as disingenuous) I’m happy for you.

Mark: Geez, I probably should listen to it. [/starts barricading door in anticipation of Misha angrily bursting into my home and choking me] Okay, okay, I’ve listened to some of it; I quite enjoy Shackler’s Revenge, Madagascar (though the MLK clip was maybe a bit over the top) and IRS. It’s weird, I think you’re right when you say that Chinese Democracy will take some time to properly analyze. Honestly, like Kyle, I can’t separate it from the “14 years” thing. I feel like it was almost deliberate calculation from Axl to escape standard criticism --- if he releases it in 1996 under the pressure of it being an Axl Rose solo album (which it basically is, it’s not GNR), then that’s far different from it coming out in 2008 when everyone is just starved for something, anything to finally get put onto disc. It should be noted that Chinese Democracy, from what I’ve heard of it, is also not 14 times better than Velvet Revolver’s albums.

Two questions for Misha, since he’s the GNR expert. 1) Is Axl a better songwriter solo than he is in combination with Slash and/or Izzy Stradlin? 2) Over/under: Axl Rose’s next album comes out before 2015.

Misha: Thank you both for your thoughtful comments about this album and entry. Kyle, I appreciate the compliments, and your kind words…I know they are genuine. I like that you are both honest about the whole 14 year thing. It is tough to comprehend, especially in an era where there is a very strict timeline for artists to make and release music in order to keep them top of mind in an increasingly fickle cultural arena. But it’s not like Axl was getting up every morning for 14 years and working from 9-5 on this album. At least 3 years were consumed by various litigations, another couple of years were lost with the revolving door of band members and producers (Flood, Youth, Moby, Scott Litt, Sean Beaven, and Roy Thomas Baker to name a few), and there were at least 2 years dedicated entirely to trying to get the ‘Spruce Goose” off the ground (you see, I can have a sense of humor about this). But I think it needs to be noted that you can actually hear the years of work in the arrangements and the layering of all of the sounds on the record. I think the ’14 Year Argument’ would be more effective if you couldn’t hear all of the work that has been put in over that time. It’s not 14 times better than these other albums you’ve mentioned, but it is their peer in terms of songwriting, and their superior in terms of ambition and creativity. And that’s not bad against the best artists going today. And the first Velvet Revolver album is a lot of fun, but the second is one of the absolute worst records I’ve heard in years. Axl is looking up, down, sideways…everywhere for new ways to move Guns N’ Roses forward, into a better direction, while the guys in Velvet Revolver have always had their eyes squarely in the rearview mirror. That’s why…gasp…I don’t want a reunion. Axl has proven through this album that he is still raging against the dying of the light, while his former GNR band mates are looking to rehash old ideas that worked in 1987 and 1991, but haven’t worked since.

So to answer Mark’s question first question, right now I think Axl is better off continuing down this current path, because anything else would be a step backwards. The bottom line for me is that Guns N’ Roses have always been one thing…dangerous. And, because of the things I mentioned in my entry, Axl Rose is the most dangerous artist in popular music today because his motives are so completely different from those of other artists. Fame and fortune have always been his for the taking, and, remember, no one pushed him off the top, he jumped, so in this day and age where fame itself is seemingly the only goal for most celebrities, what Axl has done is unheard of. Contrary to popular belief, it is not hard to be a Guns N’ Roses fan, because I know that if I ever hear another note of music again it will be, by Axl’s own estimation, the best possible music he could make, without compromise, regret, or apology. Not many fans can say that of their favorite artists. And to Mark’s other question…probably 2020.

Kyle’s Picks (2005-2008)

2005: Silent Alarm by Bloc Party: surprising absolutely no one, I'm sure. This is one of my five favorite albums ever, as well as the best album from my favorite band, so its inclusion was a foregone conclusion. Instead of railing against it, why not simply be happy that I reined myself in and didn't also include A Weekend in the City (2007) and Intimacy (2008...which I hated at first, but has really grown on me of late)? I kind of hate the term post-rock (and don't totally understand it), but if this is what that is, then it's something I can get behind. The singles--"So Here We Are," "Banquet," "The Pioneers," "Two More Years," and "Helicopter"--don't even really do the album justice, since it's just as easy to list five or six other songs from the album that are arguably even stronger: "Like Eating Glass," "Blue Light," "This Modern Love" (used in the S1 finale of How I Met Your Mother), "Price of Gas," "Plans," and "Little Thoughts" (released on the extended UK version). This is the long way of saying: the whole album is sixty or so minutes of hyper-kinetic awesomeness (is so, Misha) that never fails to get me wound up. Also worth checking out is Silent Alarm Remixed, which is different enough that it stands on its own as a great album. Kudos to Shuk for introducing me to these guys (via his CHRW radio show, which I dearly miss). "Best" song: (oh, it's definitely "Banquet," but just to mix it up--I've already included it on several mixes--let's go with #2, that being:) "Plans." I used to have an amazing acoustic version of it, but I somehow lost in the transition from my old iPod to my new one. Damn.

Runner up: Illinois by Sufjan Stevens--go 2005! I'll put this top two against any other year on the list (1982 and 1997 are in the mix as well).

Mark: Well, it’s been long enough, so I might as well tell you the truth. I have never listened to ‘Silent Alarm’ before in my life. I picked it off the shelf at CHRW solely because the name vaguely rang a bell from some NME article I’d recently read, and I picked ‘Banquet’ not knowing it was the single. It was quite the twist of fate, really --- had I picked another song, I might not have ever played the disc again. But ‘Banquet’ ended up being a staple of the ol’ Jade Monkey Show for a few weeks, and thus it begat your love for the band. To this very day, the only Bloc Party tracks I’ve ever listened to are Banquet, This Modern Love (only because of its inclusion in the HIMYM finale) and Talons. I’ve enjoyed them all, so I’m not really sure what my problem is. Anyway, I’m glad my pick ended up making such an impact on your life, Kyle. I feel like Joey Tribbiani, randomly picking Paul Rudd to go on a blind date with Phoebe, and then watching in amazement as the two of them ended up hitting it off and getting married.

Misha: That story about Shuk not knowing what he was playing and it subsequently changing Kyle’s life is hilarious. I have also never heard these albums, which are (according to Kyle) the best albums since the invention of sound. I will get them both Kyle, and they had better be the best records ever or else…[Misha listening to the records]…you’re lucky Kyle!! Seriously, I’ll get them.

Kyle: This is, simply put, a stunning development. Imagine what would’ve happened if you’d put on something by Panic! at the Disco or Jack Johnson instead! You might’ve changed the course of history. Maybe I wouldn’t have met Carrie…maybe I’d be dead....or a Scientologist. Who can say?

This is an astoundingly good debut album, on par with Ten and London Calling. I realize that I’m so in the tank for Bloc Party that I have zero credibility when I talk about them—nevertheless, I’m urging you both to take a closer look at their stuff. Misha, in your case, this is a re-examination, since I proudly played Silent Alarm for you while we made out in my bedroom played poker in Jon’s old backyard on Olympic Cres., only to have you soul-crushingly dismiss it as “forgettable.” [sob]

2006: Boys and Girls in America by The Hold Steady: again, I kind of hate including an album that I didn't actually listen to in the year in question (I came across BAGIA late last year...thanks to Alan Sepinwall, who noted that he was incapable of recapping the final season of The Sopranos without listening to it BAGIA), but sometimes an album is so good that I don't have a choice. This is such an album. Yeah, yeah, I know lead singer Craig Finn (who, weirdly, looks exactly like Eddie Jemison--aka the guy that plays Livingston in Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen) sounds like Springsteen circa 1978, but that's hardly a bad thing, is it? Allegedly, the guys from the Hold Steady came up with the idea of forming a group after watching Scorcese's The Last Waltz and lamenting that there were no more bands like The Band anymore...which is pretty flippin' sweet.

Replete with tales of low-level debauchery, listening to this album is like spending 40 minutes and change with sketchy friends from high school--you know you shouldn't, but it's just so damn tempting. Ten minutes longer and you'd be falling into old habits. Finn's got such an unusual voice, but there's a lot going on here, including solid lyrics (how can you not love this from "Stuck Between Stations"? He was drunk and exhausted but he was critically acclaimed and respected / He loved the Golden Gophers but he hated all the drawn out winters. / He likes the warm feeling but he’s tired of all the dehydration / Most nights were kind of fuzzy / But that last night he had total retention) and great use of the piano (whether faintly during "Chillout Tent" or building to a swell in "First Night"). The latter song references the album title in a couple of places, which begs the question: why the hell wasn't this used as the theme song for Kid Nation? Missed opportunity. (Also: weekly knife fights to the death for immunity.)

This is powerful stuff...and were there any justice in the musical world, they'd be roughly three times as famous as the Jonas Brothers. Best song: Lots to choose from, but I'll go with the aforementioned "Stuck Between Stations," which sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Runner up: Silent Shout by The Knife: I won't lie, these two kind of skeeve me out, but they make great music.

Mark: More on the Hold Steady on my own list, but I’ll definitely have to get around to listening to this album at some point. Between this, My Bloody Valentine, Fountains of Wayne, and apparently, The Knife, I’ve got a lot of listening to get to. That anecdote about the Band is amazing. I need to gather the four more talented musicians I know for a screening of Stop Making Sense, and then tantalizingly drop the line, “Boy, it sure is too bad that there aren’t any bands like Talking Heads anymore.” Of course, this might lead to the four of them going off on their own to start their own band, while I go down in history as ‘the fifth Cowardly Jesuit.’ Editor’s note: they’ll call the band the Cowardly Jesuits.

Misha: Wow…again, I can’t contribute because I don’t know the albums. I was talking to Jaymie the other day about our shared admiration for The Brian Jonestown Massacre and how I stumbled onto them by chance. This fed into a conversation about how many great albums we’ve never heard, that might actually change our lives if we ever found them. What I love about Kyle is that he is combing the cemetery of rock history for these buried treasures, with the knowledge that the 25 artists that are shoved down our collective throats are probably not the best 25 artists around. In my selections I took cultural relevance into consideration, and Kyle is clearly looking to select his favourite records, regardless of who knows them or not, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. I, like Shuk, have a lot of listening to do.

Kyle: Hmmm…Misha, you seem to be subtly (actually, no not at all) implying that I’m not taking cultural relevance into consideration, and I’m not too sure how to respond to that, in that things I like always strike me as culturally relevant. The lesson, I suppose, is that I’m incredibly self-centered.

2007: Boxer by The National: Does it seem like these guys are from Tennessee or Virginia or North Carolina? Well, they're not. They're from Brooklyn (by way of Ohio)--just like The Hold Steady, actually. Moving on...this hard-charging album (which was 9th on my Best of '07 list) edges out my original #1 (The Con by Tegan and Sara) because I. can't. stop. listening. to. it. Seriously: dozens of times over the past three months. Partly it's lead singer Matt Beringer's deep baritone (which I initially found off-putting but now verges on the hypnotic) and partly it's their gorgeous, gorgeous lyrics (Looking for somewhere to stand and stay / I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away and You know I dreamed about you / for twenty-nine years before I saw you; both from "Slow Show"). Bonus points for "Fake Empire" (track one on the album) being used as the backing music for a video that aired just before Obama's acceptance speech at the DNC, and then again for a video just before his victory address on November 4th...which, in retrospect, was an incredibly ballsy move by Obama's advance team, if you think about it. (Let's assume that they assumed that most people wouldn't figure out the title.)

Best song: There's no track here that quite equals "Baby, We'll Be Fine" ("I'm so sorry about everything...") off of Alligator (their 2005 release), but "Slow Show" is damn close.

Runner up: The Con. I caught some flack for this pick at the time (usually along the lines of "I didn't realize you were a militant lesbian, Kyle"), but I stand by this selection...er, sort of (I did drop it to #2, after all). If I manage to get either of you to listen to this album even once (or, failing that, the staggeringly good title track), I'll have done a good thing today.

Mark: Once again, never heard either album. Two more for the list!

Misha: I’ve always known you were a militant lesbian. I bought you a T-Shirt that actually says just that. I feel bad that Kyle is getting no response on some of these because neither Shuk nor I have heard them. Kyle, there is an extra seat at our White Stripes meetings if you want to come. We can even listen to just ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ if you like. On a total side note, at the house on Olympic Cres. Kyle and I were in the backyard listening to ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ and the neighbour started randomly talking shit about it. I love the band (obviously) and Kyle had always shown no interest in them, so imagine my surprise when Kyle stood up and pretty much told the neighbour that the record was great…and to go fuck himself. I’m not sure if Kyle did it more out of his love for album, or his protective love of me and my feelings, but regardless, it was a touching moment…insert love scene here.

Kyle: Jesus, boys…it’s gotta be exhausting for the two of you to hang out with such a hardcore hipster like me. This is three years in a row of me dropping some sonic knowledge on your heads. Now that I think about, I should’ve thrown in a fake album from a made-up band to see if you’d just nod along (not unlike when Misha and I would make up MLB/NBA/NFL trades in public school to see if we get the other person to bite and say that they’d heard of the deal, followed by several minutes of merciless mocking—good times!). This is a gorgeous album (as is, indeed, their entire catalogue).

2008: Only by the Night by Kings of Leon: ** spoiler! ** I've gone back and forth on this pick, since I can't decide if 2008 was an especially weak year, musically-speaking, or an especially strong one, with lots of consistently good (if not knock you on your ass great) albums. I'm leaning towards the latter at this stage, but, either way, this is one of only two albums to blow me away in '08 (the other is my runner-up pick). Despite having released three albums prior to this one, Kings of Leon weren't on my radar until July. Now? I can't seem to stop listening to the disc, which is a bit like Band of Horses if they rocked harder. Certainly worth checking out if you haven't already, "gentlemen" (that's right, I used quotation marks to subtly undermine your character. Game on, bitches!)

Best song: "Sex on Fire." Wow. Just awesome.

Runner up: Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes.

Mark: Haven’t listened to it! Sigh. Fun fact: Kings of Leon are good friends with U2, having opened several shows for them on the Vertigo Tour. In fact, U2 will be the opening act (you read that right) for KOL for a concert at the new O2 Arena in Dublin next month. The logic here is that the concert promoter wanted U2 to be the official ‘first act to ever play at the arena,’ so U2 agreed to it in support of their pals in KOL. It’s going to be a tad embarrassing when half the crowd leaves after the opening act, but c’est la vie.

Misha: Hey, I know this one. I’m a big fan of this album, and I’m glad that they are getting some buzz over it (actually, quite a bit of buzz). I’m not going to get too excited about these guys just yet, but I think they’re really onto something and I hope they stick with it and keep making exciting music like this. Come on Kyle, you know Chinese Democracy is growing on you…if you could pick Appetite for this list after all of these years I know you will come around (all the way) on CD. P.S. Where are all the ‘Fun Facts’ etc. that have littered your other blogs about the 80’s and 90’s? I made ‘Fun Facts’ that aren’t even fun or facts just to fit in. God damn you guys!!

Kyle: fun fact: go fuck yourself. (Happy?)

Shuk's Picks

2005: Elevator by Hot Hot Heat:
Goddammit, I had a whole entry written up about Stars' Set Yourself On Fire when I went to its Wikipedia entry to check on a track name....and discovered it was actually released in 2004 in Canada. Fuck. My inability to remember a calendar means that HHH get the top spot for the year. It's rare that I come across a power-pop album that a) isn't annoying as hell and b) is actually something I want to listen to more than once. I discovered HHH first when attending one of their concerts at legendary London nightclub Call The Office, and then I played a number of songs from this album on my old CHRW morning radio show. See, this is why I've gotten so clueless about music in recent years; I don't have a radio show anymore to stay plugged into the modern scene. Can someone at XM Satellite Radio sign me to a huge contract so I can, y'know, listen to a few new records? Consider it a form of charity. Maybe the XM CEO Is one of those people on Fox's "Secret Millionaire" show.

Best song: "Shame On You."

Honourable mention for 2005: Late Registration by Kanye West. Three straight years with a hip-hop selection! "Gold Digger" is one of the best songs of the decade. This disc, College Dropout and Graduation look even better given Kanye's current flirtation with pretending he can sing. His performance on SNL last weekend was, in a word, brutal.

Misha: With Hot Hot Heat I think of The Strokes knocking on their door and asking for royalties. Bands like this do not exist if ‘Is This It?’ wasn’t there to show young bands how to pull off this type of music. It’s a good record and all, and I was into it, but NO ONE this decade has been ignored more often for their influence than The Strokes. I agree with the Kanye on SNL comment, and I think we both wrote the same thing about where he is right now (with the singing thing). What’s funny about the SNL appearance is that the set was phenomenal, and the singing was phenomenally terrible. It was like a joke. But ‘Love Lockdown’ is so good that I watched Jess literally ignore the awful singing because she likes the song so much. P.S. Jess’ version of this song is WAY better than Kanye’s…she can sing.

Kyle: wow. [Looks up album online.] The guys that did “Goodnight, Goodnight”?? To borrow a line from the Isotopes announcer after Whitey Ford is pelted with pretzels: “this is a dark day for baseball.” Had I known that this was your #2 pick for 2005, I would’ve allowed Set Yourself on Fire (remember: magnanimous!) I think I have to move on now.

Mark: Oh man, the line is ‘BLACK day for baseball’! Epic fail. No offense to HHH (every time I type that, I feel like I’m making a wrestling reference) but yeah, this is quite probably the album I’m least enthusiastic about of any of my picks. Maybe I should’ve just gone with Kanye. In HHH’s defense, they put on a great live show.

2006: Pearl Jam by Pearl Jam: Just an epic record from Pearl Jam. Not many bands' eighth album can be their near-best; hell, most bands don't even get the chance to make eight albums, but PJ has survived, thrived and are at the moment as good as they've ever been. The self-titled, er, title was appropriate because the record is in a lot of ways an overview of all of their musical stylings. You've got grungy stuff (Comatose), rock ballads (Come Back), political infusion (Army Reserve and Marker In The Sand), ukulele twanging (Parachutes) and Neil Young-esque straight-ahead rock (Unemployable, Inside Job). It's probably pretty easy to forecast the rest of PJ's career --- they'll do their solo projects and then re-gather for an album every three or four years or so, releasing something that will kick our asses every time out, and then going on another great tour. This will continue until President Obama* passes a constitutional amendment --- or, a Jeff Ament-ment --- signifying that yes, once and for all, Pearl Jam were way, way better than Nirvana ever were.

* = if this realization doesn't come to the world by 2016, let's leave it up to President....oh, let's say Dean.

Best song: 'Life Wasted' was one of my favourite PJ songs from the moment I pressed the play button on my car stereo. 'Marker n the Sand' and 'Come Back' receive particular mention as well.

Honourable mention for 2006: The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living by The Streets

Misha: I will start this by saying that I love you very much Mark. But, if you want to slam Kurt Cobain for anything, slam him for causing the demise of PJ. Eddie Vedder (notoriously) hated that Cobain was viewed as the artist (who personally disliked PJ) and that PJ were viewed as a Stadium Rock Band. Once Cobain died, PJ lost their way, trying to prove a dead man wrong. PJ is a stadium rock band, and they were a damn fine one too. PJ could have followed The Who and instead are trying to be Sonic Youth!! They have tried to appear to be this underground, college radio band, but it seems (at least to me) to be completely contrived. ‘Ten’ and ‘Vs.’ are what God meant for PJ to be. Imagine where this band would be today if they were more worried about making whatever kind of music they wanted to make as oppose to worrying about how that music (and the band) would be perceived by an audience (the aforementioned college radio audience) that they never should have gone after in the first place. You can actually hear the band as it strains to avoid its own musical instincts, in order to be less commercial. I would like to conclude by telling Mark (again) that I love him.

Kyle: you meant “Palin,” right?

Oooo…I’m heartbroken. I really wanted it to work out for the two of you. What a shame. Well, you’ll always have Kanye and Outkast.

I actually totally forgot about this PJ album, which is pretty damn solid. One complaint: how the hell is your eighth album the self-titled one? Is this supposed to be ironic? Did they forget to send a title in? This is very confusing.

Mark: I think the logic behind the title was that it was their first album free of their original deal with Epic Records, so it was like a new beginning. Either that or they were going to call it Chinese Democracy.

Misha, you’re really shifting the goalposts when it comes to discussing musicians doing new things. You bash Kanye for 808s, saying the creativity outmatched the songwriting. You bash U2 for ‘playing it safe’ with ATYCLB and HTDAAB. You bash Pearl Jam for allegedly trying to out-Cobain Cobain, which doesn’t make any sense given that whatever you think of the stuff on Vitalogy or No Code, it certainly doesn’t sound like Nirvana’s music. If anything, PJ weren’t trying to be the new Nirvana; they were simply not interested in all of the attendant nonsense that went along with being The Biggest Band In America ™ in 1993 (Ticketmaster-controlled tours, premiering videos on MTV, etc.). It was more a case of running from the mainstream than it was embracing college-radio. If you’ve heard any of Stone Gossard/Mike McCready/Jeff Ament/Eddie Vedder’s solo work or side projects, they’re decidedly different from the regular Pearl Jam sound, so the guys clearly have a more ‘out-there’ side to their songwriting that they can access.

2007: Icky Thump by the White Stripes:
Finally, the White Stripes capture first place in a year! Talk about being long overdue. 'Icky Thump' is the record that more or less ended the debate that the Stripes are the best and most vibrant band in a music world increasingly dominated by solo acts. Now, of course, it's somewhat debatable that the Stripes are a 'band' per se, given Jack White's clear leadership role in a two-person unit, but whatever role Meg plays in the process (besides drumming, occasional singing, being a muse), it's clear that she brings out the best in her ex-husb....er, sorry, wait a second, "brother." This record is full of just amazing stuff. There aren't many albums that could combine a killer cover of a forgotten oddity like 'Conquest' with a pop gem like "You Don't Know What Love Is" and blues-rock masterpieces like 'Rag And Bone' and '300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues.' Man, I'm getting pumped up just writing this. I'm going to fire Icky Thump up on iTunes right now.

Best song: "I'm Slowly Turning Into You." I've made a couple of recommendations about Kyle's (now-past) wedding playlist, but let's just say that it's probably for the best that this song was left off. It's an odd sentiment to share at a wedding. After all, Carrie and Jessica are lovely women --- nobody wants to see them slowly morph into Conan O'Brien-If-They-Mated versions of you two schmucks. (And the best part is, you can't make a comeback since I'm not married! I'm single and lonely! Ha ha!....wait…..)

Honourable mention for 2007: In Rainbows by Radiohead. An excellent disc that showed that Radiohead were actually stlll a band that could write songs with melodies, rather than a computer program trying to answer a Shatner-esque question of 'what is music?' Radiohead also put on
a hell of a concert.

Misha: And we’re friends again!!! I agree with everything Mark says about The White Stripes album. I’m glad you mentioned ‘Rag and Bone’, because, not only in the song a great metaphor for how the band makes music, but I love the interplay with Jack and Meg. This song would have made for a great video. And when Meg yells ‘Ya!!’ by herself for the last time near the end of the song…hilarious…and awesome. I can’t even talk about Radiohead. Another band who is avoiding the instincts they obviously have (see ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’) in order to intentionally frustrate their actual fans. As much as a band like Nickelback does the same thing over and over again to sell records, Radiohead is just as self-conscious about doing something different in order to try and look like they don’t care about selling records. Both of these bands are wrong, because there is too much (and by too much I mean any) time focused on the reaction of the audience. Nickelback is shit, but Radiohead were great (and could be again), if they could stop caring about what anyone thinks of them. Don’t be fooled by their denials to the contrary, every move since OK Computer has been a premeditated result of Radiohead’s obsession with public opinion.

Kyle: Awww…young love. I prefer your runner-up pick to your actual selection, but they’re both good picks. Icky Thump is perhaps a bit too experimental for my liking (which is, of course, code for “some of the songs—the title track, in particular—make me run out of the room screaming”) but I appreciate what they’re doing (it doesn’t hurt that they’re fucking fantastic live.)

Mark: It’s fascinating to see how different musicians respond to becoming big and famous. Some seem to thrive on it, possibly because they wanted/expected that fame in the first place (i.e. U2). Some can’t handle it, possibly because they wanted that fame in the first place but couldn’t keep up the pace musically (i.e. Oasis). Some can’t handle it because they didn’t want to be capital-F famous and resent the attention and expectations, so they either change their music completely (i.e. Radiohead) or totally fall apart (i.e. Nirvana). Then again, it’s not like Thom Yorke writes a bunch of songs that he slots into a ‘pop’ pile and an ‘electronic alternative’ pile and them flips a coin. Maybe the band just isn’t capable of writing stuff the caliber of Bends or OK Computer, and as a result they do something else rather than put out B-minus versions of those records.

2008: Stay Positive by the Hold Steady: I've been hearing from people forever that I should start listening to the Hold Steady since they're very Springsteen-esque, so I broke down and listened to Stay Positive (somewhat because I didn't really have a great choice for 2008 yet). And lo and behold, I greatly enjoyed the album, which means now I'll have to go back and check out their entire discography. Which also means that my picks for the 2000's might soon be made inaccurate. Just fucking great. I enjoy the fact that the Hold Steady apparently write about some of the same 'characters' from album to album, detailing the progression in their lives. That's a neat lyric-writing idea that I've never heard of being done before.

Best song: "Joke About Jamaica," with an appreciative nod going towards "Lord, I'm Discouraged."

Honourable mention for 2008: "Lord, I'm Discouraged" also just about sums up my feelings about the year in music. I listened to less new music during 2008 than in any other previous year of my life. I was going to submit an entry to
Rob's best of 2008 post, but realized to my horror that I'd barely even listened to five records in total, let alone a 'top five.' Anyway, the next best record I've heard in 2008 was Day and Age by the Killers, though my appreciation for this disc might've been slightly biased by my relief that the Killers still have some zip on their fastball.

Misha: I hate to say that I haven’t heard this record. I’ve heard a lot about it, but haven’t had a chance to check it out. As I promised Kyle about albums on his list I haven’t heard, I will make an effort to listen to it in the next little while.

Kyle: Stay Positive is Entertainment Weekly’s pick for Album of the Year. I haven’t begun to compile my ’08 list yet—Shuk said “wanna write 50,000 words about music released in our lifetime?” and I inexplicably jumped at the chance—but I’m guessing it’ll be in my Top 5. This is a quality pick. I remember when I first heard them, I wondered “this guy [Finn] sounds a hell of a lot like the Boss thirty years ago. Either Shuk’s going to love them or hate them for aping Bruce.” (yes, Shuk, I spend an unhealthy portion of my life thinking WWSD?) Glad it’s the former.

Mark: “Hey Kyle, wanna write 50,000 words about movies released in our lifetime?”

Kyle: yes. Yes, I do.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"You know, my kids think you're the greatest. And thanks to your gloomy music, they've finally stopped dreaming of a future I can't possibly provide."

The Best Albums of 2000 - 2004: Kyle, Shuk, and Misha

Here's the playlist. 2005-2008 to be posted early next week (trust us, you're thankful it wasn't posted all at once...)

Intro (c/o Misha): Before we start, I’d like to thank Kyle and Mark for including me in this project. I have enjoyed the 80’s and
90’s entries, and am very happy to be a part of this final installment. No doubt, none of us will be friends once this is done, but I’m sure we’ll have a good time anyways. I should warn everyone that my editing machine broke right before I started, so it may be lengthy. But look at it this way, Kyle and Mark have now had three decades in which to get all of their points and opinions across, and I have to pack all of mine into nine years…so, theoretically, mine should be longer. Thanks again guys.

Misha’s Picks (2000-2004)

2000: The Marshall Mathers LP By Eminem: Back in the summer of 2000 Kyle and I were driving somewhere and I asked him how he liked the new Tragically Hip record, which had been released a couple of weeks earlier (I should note that Kyle was a psychotic Hip fan at the time). He told me that he hadn’t been listening to it much. Shocked, I asked why, and he told me that since The Marshall Mathers LP had come out nothing else really seemed to matter that much. That story best exemplifies the impact of this record. It was so powerful that it made everything else seem absurd. One of those few fleeting instances in music history where the best album around (artistically) was also the most popular. I think people forget just how dark this album really is. ‘The Real Slim Shady’ is fantastic, funny and smart, but the rest of the album is brutal in terms of its content. But it’s the way in which this brutality is displayed that makes the album a masterpiece. Never before had an album seemed so absolutely, out of control insane...literally…like it was made by a crazy person. But every musical and lyrical risk delivers with astonishing force. I could go on forever about the unbelievable production quality, Eminem’s uncanny use of vocal dubbing and other technical aspects of this album which are unmatched in hip-hop history. But ultimately, the songs are outstanding, the jokes are hilarious, the misogyny and homophobia are ugly, and the pain and anguish always seem genuine. Bottom line…it’s honest, no matter what that honesty says of the artist, or means to the listener, it is always present and uncompromised. Truly a landmark album, and, for my money, the best hip-hop ever recorded.

Best Song: “Stan.” Kyle (and the rest of London) may remember a furious drunken tirade during which I went crazy on anyone who wouldn’t agree that ‘Stan’ was the best song ever made (this was on the night of the album’s release so it should be noted that most of the folks I verbally assaulted had no idea what I was talking about). But I digress. I pulled my car over the first time I heard this song for fear that my head and my heart might simultaneously explode. The torrid 2nd last verse with the Phil Collins stuff is beyond belief. And I know we’re talking about hip-hop, but his vocal performance on this song is devastating.

Fun Fact- Do you notice the lack of guest spots on this album? I guess when you have 3 personas to choose from and a dozen or so different voices at your disposal other people just get in the way (D12…I’m looking, pointing and screaming at you). A lack of guest spots is a consistent trend on great hip-hop records. Conversely, an increase in guest artists on an album is directly proportional to an increase of shitty songs…its math.

Runner-Up: Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia By The Dandy Warhols: For the record, I want Stankonia to be here. But I’m already ‘double-dipping’ two artists on this list, so I’ll go with a sentimental pick instead. If you want to know what cool music will sound like tomorrow, listen to the Dandy Warhols today. Or, in this case, if you wanted to know what the next decade of cool, underground music would sound like, you should have been listening to this record in 2000. I think I just recommended time travel…but I’m not sure. ‘Bohemian Like You’ is the best Rolling Stones song of the last 25 years. Somewhere (and by somewhere I mean on top of a soon-to-be-pregnant teenage Bolivian model) Mick Jagger is still trying to sue. On behalf of K.D. Lang, Chuck Berry, any old time blues musician and –in reverse I guess-The Verve, go fuck yourself Mick Jagger. Smart, adventurous and well written, 13 Tales is a psychedelic tour de force. It has also helped sell more beer, cars, and cell phones than any artist not named Moby. On a side note, anyone with a real interest in music needs to see the documentary DIG starring The Dandys and the insanely talented (and just plain insane) Brian Jonestown Massacre…then go buy the BJM’s amazing ‘Tepid Peppermint Wonderland’.

Kyle: you, good sir, are a genius, and this is a genius pick. Only someone hopelessly out of touch with modern music would fail to recognize the brilliance of Emi—oh, hey, Shuk! (Kidding, of course.)

I don’t really have anything to add here, except to say: now that’s it been eight years, I can safely say: Music @ Work was ridiculously, laughably bad, so we can’t give total credit to Eminem for ending my love affair with the Hip.

Mark: Eminem, boy, I don’t know. [/Governor Ritchie] I do agree that we’re just about reached the saturation point about guest appearances on rap albums. Especially when it isn’t established rappers dropping by, but rather the artist’s “protégé” trying to build his/her name up. This guest appearance is inevitably followed by their own album a few months later. It’s like when NBC has Rena Sofer appear on a sitcom a few months before her latest shitty pilot makes the round.

Misha: I feel like this is an After School Special, where Kyle and I are behind the portables of some seedy public school trying to get Shuk to ‘just try a little Eminem’, because ‘everybody’s doing it’. I respect Shuk’s ‘Just saying no’, so we’ll move on. Does anyone remember March of 2003, right after Em won the Oscar for ‘Lose Yourself’? If someone had said that this decade would not have revolved solely around Eminem they would have looked insane. But, alas, here we are. I just really believe that his talent is too abundant for him not come back strong at some point. I think he has the ability to play a similar role in hip-hop that Dylan now plays in rock, where Eminem could be the guy who becomes the oldest artist to make relevant music in that genre. Now, take a minute to sit back and think about what a 65 year-old Eminem’s hip-hop album might sound like…just blew your mind. Complaining about the weather and Bingo never sounded so fucked up.

2001: Is This It? by The Strokes: I’ll start my review of this album with a complaint. Seeing as how the album was due to be released in the Fall of 2001 (right after 9/11) the band chose to replace the killer ‘New York City Cops’ (which isn’t even really about cops) with the competent ‘When It Started’. The record would be damn near perfect if this switch had not been made. That being said, it is still a stellar album. I admit it…I felt REALLY cool when I bought this. The songs are sleek and stylish and Julian Casablanca drunkenly slurs his way through surprisingly insightful lyrics about relationships, friends, enemies and, well, being drunk. The musicianship on the album is well beyond the years of the players involved, and Casablanca’s songwriting is second to none. On this record, The Strokes have everything going for them. They have Casablanca’s dark, deliberate (and sometimes ferociously intense) vocal delivery spread over the bands’ absolutely perfect, hook-filled garage rock, as if channeling Jim Morrison’s crooning about death and incest over The Doors completely unrelated bubble gum, carnival pop. They have the black leather, New York swagger straight from the Velvet Underground’s ‘Guide to Being Cool’, and (most importantly) they have the ‘Us against the world, and if you don’t like it fuck you’ attitude of a young Guns N’ Roses. Basically, the perfect Rock N’ Roll Molotov Cocktail. A lot of bands have tried (unsuccessfully) to duplicate this record in recent years (including The Strokes themselves), but I fear that an album this fast, exhilarating and fun only comes around once a generation.

Best Song: “Last Night.” I love how they introduce each band member via their respective instruments at the beginning of the song, like a roll call, just checking to make sure the whole band is present and accounted for…terrific stuff. The song is musically top notch and the lyrics are awesome, a linear story about breaking up with a girlfriend and then some lunatic ramblings about how ‘grandsons’ and ‘spaceships’ ‘won’t understand’. I also really like how the video for the song is them playing live, on an empty sound stage, with Casablanca wandering around like he just happened to be passing through on the way to (or from) a bar…classic.

Runner-Up: Love and Theft by Bob Dylan: ‘Mississippi’. Game over. I really shouldn’t need to write anything else. At the age of 60, Dylan decided that he needed a new personal top ten song (and phenomenal album) to add to his already overflowing cannon. What a greedy old prick. The back story is that Dylan had wanted this song to be on his ‘Time Out Of Mind’ album, but producer Daniel Lanois told him it was ‘pedestrian’. Apparently furious, Dylan kept reworking it (as evidenced by the multiple versions of the song from those sessions recently released via Dylan’s new Bootleg Series album) but he didn’t get it right until Love and Theft. On a side note, the first released version of this song was a cover by Sheryl Crow on her 1998 album ‘The Globe Sessions’. If you ever want to hear an otherwise talented artist sound shallow and lost check out Crow’s soulless interpretation of this song. ‘Love and Theft’ has numerous strong points (‘Moonlight’, ‘Honest with Me’, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum etc.) but Mississippi is THE song. It is the antithesis of the ‘Blonde on Blonde’ classic ‘Visions of Johanna’ which appears to be about a million different things, but is really, at it’s core, a simple song about lost love, whereas ‘Mississippi’ appears to be a simple song about lost love, but is really, at its core, a song about a million different things. Crazy. I don’t want to give anything away about my list, but we will see Dylan again later…when I name his ‘Modern Times’ the #1 album of 2006…wait…I just gave it away…okay…forget what you just read…and in five ‘list years’ from now, act surprised.

Kyle: Truth be told: I just spent five minutes googling “The Doors” and “incest.” Ick.

Can’t really complain about the selection of Is This It? (Though I can’t believe you included it without mentioning the obvious Smell The Glove connection with the album cover!) It’s a pretty catchy album…and I agree completely about the greatness of “Last Night.” Question: has any band (indie darling or otherwise) fallen harder than The Strokes? Is This It? was followed by Room on Fire two years later, which answers the question: “what if we release a second album that, at first glance, seems virtually identical to the first, except, secretly, will surgically remove all its awesomeness?” (A: It’ll suck.) Then they released a third album (First Impressions of Earth) that a I had to look up online to see if it actually existed. (A: barely.) And now they’re on hiatus? What the hell is going on?? You could make a case for The Killers, but I actually kind of like Sam’s Town.

Mark: The only musician I can think of with comparable “what happened?” status is Lauryn Hill, but yeah, the Strokes went from being the poster children of the garage-rock era to being surpassed by literally everyone else from said movement. The trouble is that they went all-in on being cool, and given how quickly the zeitgeist changes, suddenly they weren’t cool anymore and didn’t have the musical chops to back it up. On the bright side, they were just famous enough that Drew Barrymore (of all people) married the drummer. To quote Sean Avery, the drummer had to settle for Tom Green’s sloppy seconds. Then again, all the drummer had to do was mention that he had two testicles and that was probably enough to clinch it.

Misha: Goddamn, I can’t believe I didn’t mention the original album art!! Well played, Kyle. A lot of things went wrong with The Strokes, but here is why they still might have a chance. They tried to make ‘Room On Fire’ with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, hoping to expand their sound and make a progressive step after ‘Is This It?’ and they couldn’t make it work, so they went back to Gordon Raphael, who produced ‘Is This It?’, and came up with a VERY similar sounding record, but, Kyle is right, not nearly as good. Imagine if ‘First Impressions of Earth’ had come out after ‘Is This It?’ and before ‘Room On Fire’ instead. ‘Room On Fire’ would have been hailed as the dreaded ‘Return To Form’. They probably would have made more records like ‘Room On Fire’ and that would be it. But now, they have had 3 years off (they are regrouping in January to start recording) and they can start from scratch without any expectation. What’s funny is that the people who passed them (as Shuk mentions) owe so much to ‘Is This It?’ and don’t acknowledge it, and The Strokes will always be able to say “We made the record you all wish you had made”. It comes down to songwriting, and Julian Casablanca is a fine songwriter, so there is always a chance. The Lauryn Hill thing is just cruel. I have a habit of calling things: ‘A goddamn shame’, but I mean it when I refer to Lauryn Hill…really sad what’s happened to her…is career the word…maybe life? Brutal.

2002: A Rush Of Blood To The Head By Coldplay: Somewhere Kyle is smiling. [Kyle: I like this because it makes me sound like I’m in heaven.] Have I called an album sweeping yet? No…okay…this album is sweeping. Every single song is wonderful in its own unique way, and placed side by side they amount to a tremendous body of work. ‘The Scientist’, ‘God Put a Smile Upon Your Face’, ‘Clocks’, ‘Daylight’, ‘Warning Sign’…the list goes on. The only song that doesn’t do it for me anymore is the first single ‘In My Place’. I would kill for Coldplay to write a song of this quality today, but on this record it is not good enough. I remember being on a golfing trip with Kyle and he asked if I had ever listened to the title track, and I told him that I didn’t think I had. 50 or so consecutive plays later, Kyle asked politely for me to turn it the fuck off. The best chorus Coldplay have ever put together. Listen to the piano. He is not playing it in the chorus, he is stomping on it…or bludgeoning it with a blunt object of some sort. Glorious. Listening to this album now makes me sad, because the band has (kind of) turned to mush. Chris Martin said it best himself in Rolling Stone this year: “Sometimes I feel like they [Radiohead] cleared the path with a machete, and we came up afterwards and put up a strip mall”. Exactly. They are an Adult Contemporary act now. X & Y is unforgivably boring, and the new record (although an improvement) is still relying on the same old tricks (falsetto vocals and the piano) to bail out the lack of new ideas. Have you seen Chris Martin interact with the paparazzi? He is a fucking lunatic!! Why can’t he bring that temperament to the music? Now, he has become that guy at your High School dance who jumps around like ‘Back in Black’ is playing even during the slow songs. Have you seen him doing this? It’s a slow song bro…no matter how hard and crazy you dance you will never convince me that your songs rock. The sad fact is that they once did.

Best Song: “Amsterdam.” Like I mentioned, all of the songs are great. This is the one that is my favorite today. A beautiful and sad little song that explodes into a truly exciting (and unexpected) climax. This song comprises all of the elements that make the album great, and is therefore not only a great closer, but an accurate microcosm of the album as a whole.

Runner-Up: Phrenology by The Roots: Before we start, are The Roots really going to be the new house band for Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night show? Really? I wonder what the other Late Night Bands think of this. I assume Paul Shaffer is confused, Max Weinberg needs to ask Bruce about it, and Kevin Eubanks is just laughing…because…you know…he is programmed to just randomly laugh. Kevin Eubanks would be the worst person to bring to a funeral because you know at some point something is going to happen that reminds him of ‘Jay-Walking’ and he is going to erupt with inappropriate laughter. Phrenology. Okay, I have always seen this as more of a rock record than a hip-hop record. Cody Chestnutt’s guitar on ‘The Seed 2.0’ is tremendous, and the album as a whole bares a number of old school rock (‘Water’) and punk overtones. We played the clean version of ‘The Seed 2.0’ when I was on air, and, because the song is so rhythmic and has such a distinctive groove to it, the dead spots (where the bad words used to live) were glaringly obvious and terrible. There will be more on my God awful experience being a music fan in the radio business when we get to Outkast. A lot of sonic envelop pushing on this album, but not so much in terms of breaking new ground (rock and hip-hop have, of course, been fused before) as in properly navigating around this too often trampled terrain.

FUN FACT: I love the guy who reads this review and says that he can’t believe I would be so mainstream as to discuss ‘The Seed 2.0’. Do you know this guy? This is the guy who swears that ‘Territorial Pissings’ is the best song on Nirvana’s Nevermind, or that ‘Four Sticks’ is the best song on Led Zeppelin IV. Just because a song is popular or overplayed does not automatically mean it’s not great. Sometimes I agree that the hits are not the best songs on an album, but not as a rule, as is the case with the type of person I’m describing. Popularity should not matter.

Kyle: word, re: mostly everything here. I continue to be utterly horrified by Chris Martin’s need to incessantly bound around the stage in some sort of 18th century gay sailor suit. Awful.

One thing: the more I think about it, the more I prefer X&Y (which was, admittedly, pretty slow…but also downright beautiful in places) to Viva la Vida (derivative and unmemorable—which is a bit of a kiss of death as far as I’m concerned).

Mark: I’ll discuss Coldplay a bit more in Kyle’s list, but that quote kind of sums up one of my problems with the band; how often do you read an article about them or interview with them that doesn’t mention Radiohead or U2? Granted, I guess Martin or the other three guys (a.k.a. the most anonymous three men in rock) can’t just ignore a question about Coldplay in regards to those other bands, but….man, just do your own thing, guys. I mean, U2 were heavily influenced by the Who and Radiohead were heavily influenced by Talking Heads, but then they went out and made albums that sounded completely different than those of their idols. There’s a fine line between ‘influence’ and ‘let’s do what they did.’

The Seed 2.0 is one of the best songs of the decade, no question. And, wait, the Roots are going to be a house band??? For Jimmy Fallon??? What the hell? If I’m Jay Leno, I’m taking the Roots for myself and swapping Eubanks to Fallon, just so the two inappropriate laughers can be together as God intended.

Misha: Great comments, although I’m not sure I like Kyle ‘Blueing up’ [Kyle: “there’s gotta be a better way to say that…”] my actual review with his handy work. The Chris Martin outfit might have a chance at dignity if the dancing wasn’t involved. I think the problem with ‘X & Y’ and ‘Viva La Vida’ is that, no matter how we slice it, we are talking about albums that do not belong in the same canon as ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’. As for what Mark is saying, I think you’re absolutely right about the Radiohead and U2 comment. The thing is that great bands (U2 and Radiohead) are influenced by a lot of older music, so people never really focus too negatively on a specific influence (or accuse them of sounding too much like another single artist). They are never just one old thing, but instead a combination of many old things…and it sounds unique, because these influences haven’t been combined before (or at least not combined this well). Coldplay is the child of U2 and Radiohead, and, because those two bands have a lot in common, Coldplay can’t escape sounding like one or the other all the time, and it’s really obvious. U2 and Radiohead find freedom in their influences, whereas Coldplay are trapped in theirs.

2003: Elephant by The White Stripes: After a lengthy process Jessica and I finally agreed on a list of three people for whom she could leave me where I would do nothing but genuinely wish her and her new husband good luck. The three men are Bob Dylan, Barack Obama and Jack White. There is a big part of me that wants to have the White Stripes on this list four different times, but then this blog (with the exception of Kyle’s entries) would consist solely of The White Stripes and U2…and that wouldn’t be right. I was a big fan of ‘White Blood Cells’ when it came out, and was mildly disappointed when I was listening to ‘Elephant’ on the way home from buying it. ‘Seven Nation Army’ was already a huge hit at this point, and I had mixed feelings about that. It felt like when ‘Wonderwall’ became a hit almost a decade earlier, and everyone became an Oasis fan overnight, whereas Kyle and I were pretty lonely in the record store just a few months earlier on the day of Morning Glory’s release. Does this make sense? Maybe Kyle can comment here, but the relationship that we had with Oasis seemed very private and personal…and then it became very public and, for me at least, slightly less special. With Oasis this feeling became permanent, but with The White Stripes it was only temporary. I brought ‘Elephant’ home and decided to give it my undivided attention, but I also decided that I would skip all of the songs I didn’t like and revisit them at a later date. 49 minutes and 56 seconds later the CD stopped…untouched. For me, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had listening to a record. The album opens with three blazing, unhinged blasts of euphoric rock, then goes on to cover Burt Bacharach (because Jack White will do whatever the fuck he wants to do, thank you very much) and then enters an unexpected 3 three song suite of haunting, gorgeous slower songs. If anyone out there is still sleeping on Jack White the guitar player (which I would find impossible) ‘Ball and a Biscuit’ might change your mind. The album then goes into light speed, and never lets up. Jack White is the Tiger Woods of Rock Music when it comes to work ethic and priorities. Everyone wants Tiger to save the world and speak out on social issues, and all Tiger cares about is winning golf tournaments…golf is his life. If his leg is okay, I’m sure he’s somewhere hitting a golf ball (or thinking about it) right this second. While other musicians are trying to ‘Make Trade Fair’ (cough) or ‘Save Africa’ (cough, cough) all Jack White wants to do is make more great music…music is his life. I’m sure Jack White is somewhere playing his guitar right this second. I’m not saying there isn’t nobility in the causes being pursued by these other artists, but I just like knowing that when Jack White goes to bed at night he’s thinking about music, and when he wakes up in the morning he’s making that music. No distractions, no other interests, just a guy who is willing to consistently explore and nurture his enormous talent, and then is generous enough to share it with the rest of us.

Best Song: “Black Math.” ‘Seven Nation Army’ is a great song, but ‘Black Math’ is what first really grabbed my attention on this album. The guitars chug along like a freight train, Meg’s drums are crashing everywhere, and Jack White’s vocals are in top form. Where the guitar solo in ‘Seven Nation Army’ is interesting and effective, the guitar solo here is out of control, with White pulling out every trick he has ever learned about reverb, distortion etc. and throwing them all into this astonishing guitar section. The song feels like it might never regain its bearings, but then it slides perfectly back into place, like the whole solo didn’t even happen. It’s as if the regular part of the song excuses itself to use the restroom, comes back to find the obviously stunned listener and the following exchange ensues:

Regular Part of the Song: “What? Did I miss something while I was gone for those 45 seconds?”

Listener: “Yes, regular part of the song, you missed my face getting fucking melted!!!”

FUN FACT-Not so much fun…or a fact, but if you haven’t already heard The White Stripes cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ I suggest checking it out. Where a less secure artist might have switched the song around to suit their own gender, Jack actually plays the Dolly character straight up, and puts her version to shame (for the record, her version is pretty bad to begin with). Notice the gut wrenching vocal performance, and if you can get the live video of the song you’ll see Jack storm over to the mic in front of Meg’s drum kit to scream the chorus right in her face. Jess and I saw them play this live in Detroit a few years ago and were blown away.

Runner-Up: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by Outkast: Sweet fancy Moses…this record brings back some terrible memories. I was the Program Director for 106.9 The ‘X’ Urban FM my last year in College, and this album came out in the Fall of that year. We were having our weekly music meeting, where 5 of us would listen to new music which had been sent to us by the record companies, and we decided what we would add to our rotation and what would be left off. We would listen to the songs, discuss them, and (if necessary) vote. Because this album was divided into two sections (Big Boi’s ‘Speakerboxxx’ and Andre 3000’s ‘The Love Below’) we were sent two singles (one from each album). The first was Big Boi’s ‘The Way You Move’, a very cool track that was going to be a solid hit. We all loved it, decided to add it and moved on to Andre’s ‘Hey Ya’. Remember, this is the first time any of us had heard this song, and from the second it started I was in love. It was exciting, catchy, funny, musically interesting, with massive hooks relentlessly assaulting me at every turn…just an awesome song. Once it ended, I looked around the room at a bunch of shocked faces. I was pretty sure I had the same look, but then, to my surprise (and disgust), the room filled with laughter, and a person who (for the sake of their reputation) will remain nameless said “I don’t think so”. Horrified, I looked around to find every other head nodding in agreement. At that point I knew what the one O.J. Simpson juror who voted Guilty must have felt like when they lost that vote 11 to 1. I kept asking why we weren’t going to add this future #1 pop hit to our rotation and was told over and over again that ‘it’s not really us’. It was like everyone’s ears and brains had shutdown simultaneously…they were like zombies. I went on an admittedly unprofessional, profanity laden rampage (I had a bit of temper back then) and stormed out. Within days (although it felt like seconds) of this meeting ‘Hey Ya’ was on every goddamn radio station on the planet…EXCEPT THE ONE LOCAL HIP-HOP STATION!!! I think it even made Country and Christian radio for Christ sakes!!! In retrospect I think my love affair with radio died that day, and I still cringe whenever I hear that song. Oh…good times. The albums are both strong in their own right, but Andre’s half is by far the most accomplished. It’s not even really a hip-hop record as much as a hybrid of rap, jazz, funk, rock, and R&B. It sounds like nothing else, almost like it was made on a different planet. I like ‘Roses’ and the other song I’ve already mentioned (its name currently escapes me), but my personal favorite is ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’, a song Prince can’t believe he didn’t think of. This won ‘Album of the Year’ at the Grammys which was really bittersweet for me because, on the one hand, a hip-hop record won the award for the first time which was great, but it was also kind of sad because that honor should have gone to Eminem a few years earlier for ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’…which lost to that classic album we are all still talking about by Steely Dan…I can feel the anger sharks swimming…and biting!!

Kyle: these, White Stripes, boy I don’t know…

(1) Interestingly, the two of you have taken turns heaping lavish praise on their catalogue save for the one that I really like (Get Behind Me Satan).

(2) Oasis becoming really famous never really bothered me, actually. What did bother was that, roughly nine years ago, they suddenly (and inexplicably) started to suck…and never got any better. This continues to perplex me. It’d be one thing if they gradually got worse over time, but no, it was: Morning Glory (my favorite album ever), Be Here Now (certainly no MG—but with several above-average tracks, plus “Do You Know What I Mean?”—one of their five best cuts), then The Masterplan (outstanding…but all old material), Standing on the Shoulder of Giants a year later (very good—except for “Little James,” which never fails to make me want to rip my own ears off) and then three piles of total shit (Heathen Chemistry, Don’t Believe the Truth, and Dig Out Your Own Soul). Literally, I haven’t liked an Oasis single (no, I’ll go one stronger: I haven’t not hated an Oasis single) since 2000. This is like in 2007 when Misha expected Notre Dame to go the Sugar Bowl again…and they went 3-9. Totally blindsided. Hell, they’re not even the first entry for “Oasis” on Wikipedia anymore. That’s deplorable!

Mark: No beef about either of these selections, as my list will reveal. I think Eminem is to me what the Stripes are to Kyle. But the Stripes are just so, so awesome. I love that ‘Seven Nation Army’ has become an anthem for, like, half the soccer clubs in the world. “Get Behind Me Satan” is a good album but perhaps a bit lacking in real rockers. GBMS is notable for being a bit jump forward for White lyrically; I remember Misha coming to a poker night raving about how clever ‘The Denial Twist’ was.

Misha: Good memory on ‘The Denial Twist’ comment. The lyrics in that song are fantastic. ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ is a great album. I have a horrible memory of buying that record and bringing back to the radio station in Sarnia and telling Teolis how great it was. He said “Oh yeah, let me see it for a second”. He proceeded to play the first 10 seconds of every song and said: “With the exception of maybe ‘Blue Orchid’ there is not a hit anywhere on this album”. He was right, and he has great taste in, and knowledge of, music, but it was the most disgusting way to evaluate an album. He was no longer ‘Jeff, the really intelligent music fan’ he was ‘Jeff, radio programming prick’. A simultaneously horrifying and impressive moment. It should be noted that Jeff, still one of the smartest music people I know, is now a huge White Stripes fan. Kyle, that Notre Dame thing is a cheap shot. All I watch is NBC, and they told me that it was going to be another great season of Notre Dame Football. Besides, winning/competing in Bowl games in sooo 1988.

2004: American Idiot by Green Day: Where did this come from? I think part of the success of this record has to do with the fact that it blindsided everyone. Who knew these guys were capable of making such a beast. Quentin Tarantino said it best when introducing Green Day’s performance at the 2005 Grammys…paraphrasing… “Here is a band that has made a really interesting concept album. The concept is that all of the songs are awesome”. He’s right, all of the songs are awesome, and they all work seamlessly together to tell a story of alienation, anger, regret, loss and ultimately hope. The story goes that Green Day had finished an album and that it had been stolen from their record company. As the band saw it, they had two choices, re-record the stolen album, or break up. Oh, but there was a third option, get away from each other for a while, and come back with 30-90 second song snippets to see if they could make an album worth recording. If those snippets weren’t great, the band was thru. When they regrouped, Billie Joe announced that he wanted to make a concept album, and that one of the songs would be the band’s own ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. We’ll get to that in greater detail during the ‘Best Song’ portion. And the rest is history. 13 songs which are musically stunning and emotionally riveting. I remember hearing ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ for the first time on the Rogers Cable Rock Station during a poker game at Kyle’s old house and almost falling out of my seat…it was spectacular. This bad boy went 5 singles deep…think about that for a second…and all were hits for the band. Is this the best 4 song intro to any album this decade? No doubt about it. This album is so great, that it actually puts the rest of Green Day’s catalogue into a very logical context. Look back over their albums and you realize that this is a record that they had been building towards since the beginning, and it is chronologically accurate in the sense that you can see the characters in the songs evolving over the course of their career, going from the snot-nosed brats described on ‘Dookie’ to the grown-up, disillusioned adults found on ‘American Idiot’. To truly understand the magnitude of Green Day’s achievement, you have to try and think of another musical act that had their most critically acclaimed and commercially successful album trumped on both fronts by an album they released ten years later. Can’t think of anyone fitting this description? That’s because the feat had never been accomplished prior to ‘American Idiot’. This is my choice for album of the decade.

Best song: "Jesus of Suburbia" - This is actually 5 different songs (the aforementioned 90 second snippets) mashed together into one epic track. Each section is so good that the band could have expanded all of them into full songs and released the material as its own, amazing, EP. Because of the way the song is constructed, it is impossible for the listener to guess what is coming next. “I Don’t Care” shouts Billie Joe during one of the middle-sections, and that is why this song is so unreal. The band knew they would get flack from the So-Cal punk scene and assumed (incorrectly) that critics would be equally vicious. But, as has been seen over and over again, the best music is made when the artist DOES NOT CARE what the audience will think. If Green Day was going down, it would be on their own terms. Listen for all of the musical styles used throughout the song as well…punk, metal, rockabilly, pop, and then the achingly gorgeous final section with just Billie Joe and a piano. That might be my favorite couple of minutes of music from this decade, when Billie Joe says “I don’t feel any shame/ I won’t apologize/when there ain’t nowhere you can go”, or “I’ve walked this line/a million and one fucking times/ but not this time”. Right on! In their estimation, they needed to make this kind of statement or quit altogether. When the song climaxes (with Billie Joe saying “HOME!!” and the band exploding into one final free-for-all) if your eyes aren’t welling with tears, and if your jaw is not firmly on the floor, you may want to check your pulse.

Runner-Up: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb by U2: I haven’t seen Mark’s list, but I feel confident that after this selection we now have at least one album in common. If it hadn’t been for a Seinfeld-esque ‘Desperado’ moment about 3 months ago, this album probably wouldn’t be here. I was in Staples (usually a Mecca for great music) and I was getting some copies made when the most beautiful song came on over the store’s sound system. I was in a trance…couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, and, apparently, couldn’t communicate my thoughts very well, because, while my only goal was to get the cashier to just finish the remainder of our transaction in silence, she acted as if I had just shouted “Shut up, bitch!!” at the top of my lungs. I didn’t say that, but I did give her a look that let her know there would be no more talking. The song was ‘City of Blinding Lights’, and the chorus was stuck in my head for days. It made me go back and revisit the entire album, and I fell in love with ‘All Because Of You’, ‘Crumbs From Your Table’ and ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’ all over again. U2 know their way around a song, and they know their formula, and this album even rocks a little, which is nice. This is the best U2 album since Achtung Baby. But this is where it starts to get a little messy. I love U2, but let’s not pretend that U2 didn’t concede (or, in the best case scenario, compromise) about eight years ago. They got their wrists slapped in the 90’s (post Achtung Baby) by fans and critics alike for taking certain musical risks and said “you want the older sounding stuff?…Fine”. Hello, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, a record that could have been released in 1988. Fans and critics hailed it as a return to form, and any chance U2 had of breaking new ground and growing as a band died. (Note: Either Mark’s computer or my house has just been set on fire). I’m sorry, but when you remove risk taking from the process of creating something, it is almost impossible to discover anything worthwhile. How can you find that which you steadfastly refuse to look for? Fans like the familiar, and always want bands to sound the same, and I know that for any artist there is a definite pressure to please the people who have always supported you, but I thought U2 was confident enough to ignore these frivolous external demands and focus on fresh, exciting, new music. We are rapidly approaching Rolling Stones territory here, where a new album is just an excuse to tour, nothing more, nothing less. So after all of that why are they on my list? Because they work really well within the confines of this tiny artist room in which they are now forever locked, and this particular album gets the most blood from that stone. I admire their talent, but miss their ambition.

QUESTION: If Green Day is #1 and U2 is #2 on my list, shouldn’t ‘The Saints Are Coming’ be the greatest song ever made? It’s not, but my math equation says it should be.

Kyle: This is an excellent selection, and, were it not for Funeral, American Idiot would be my pick in an extremely competitive year. I vividly recall listening to “Jesus of Suburbia” as we drove to the Sarnia casino back in ’04 (this is also the night where I was chastised by the dealer for my drunken table talk/color commentary during hands where I’d already folded. Good times!)

Mark: I can’t really fault you about the U2 criticism, since the band themselves have admitted that HTDAAB worked as a collection of songs, but not as a cohesive album. ATYCLB was indeed a return to their classic sound, though I’m not sure it was as outright a concession as you make it sound (plus, I’d argue the album owes a lot more like Achtung Baby than it does to Joshua Tree). HTDAAB, however, was supposed to be a bit more adventurous, but the problem there was that there were just too many cooks; Chris Thomas, Steve Lillywhite, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Jacknife Lee, Flood, Nellee Hooper, Officer Barbrady, Chef, the Denver Broncos and I believe Keyser Soze all had production credits on the record. So no wonder it was overproduced. The odd thing is, U2 left some of their best material from the recording sessions (Mercy, Fast Cars, the original version of Vertigo known as ‘Native Son’) on the cutting-room floor, and that’s stuff that might well have made the cut if one consistent production voice had been in the room for the entire time. For U2’s upcoming studio record, they’ve been working with Eno and Lanois for virtually the entire session, even to the point of giving those two co-writing credits on the material. I’m excited to see what they’ll cook up. U2 will only hit Stones territory when they start touring and their new single is the only song in the setlist released in the last 20 years. And, y’know, going for perfection every time out leads to…..well, let’s just say that U2 have released four albums of good-to-great material in the time it took Axl to make Chinese Democracy.

Misha: I remember the trip to the casino, and listening to ‘Jesus of Suburbia’, but you were also obsessed with the intro to ‘Holiday’? Do you remember this? You insisted on listening to the intro over and over again. You were really…really into it. You were awfully frisky with that dealer too. You kept asking me why you had to do what this stranger was telling you to do, and it was hilarious trying to explain that this person was an employee at the establishment in which we were customers, and that this person could have us removed from the premises. I’m pretty sure your response was a consistent “Whatever…this is bullshit”. That was a great weekend. I don’t even know what to say to Mark about U2. It’s hard because I love U2, I will buy the new record in March, but I just don’t know why they backed off the way they did/have. ‘Achtung Baby’ works for me because it is sinister. It’s got some really dark and haunting moments. I don’t think that’s the case with ATYCLB, or anything by U2 this decade, because these new albums are just desperate to be my friend. The points about too many people being involved is well made. The Rolling Stone’s comparison is because I feel that the average U2 fan is more interested in seeing the band play than in hearing new music. We all know what we’re going to get on the new album, it will be a solid, post ATYCLB, U2 album. If it’s not, I’ll be the first to admit it. Nice Guns N’ Roses dig (this cat Mark has claws). What’s funny about this is that Bono loves Axl, and Axl loves Bono. I’m sure we’ll get into this in greater detail during the 2008 selection discussion, but I would just rather have nothing than have ‘good-great’. I didn’t think that was the case for many of these 14 years, but now, having ‘Chinese Democracy’ I do feel that way. I would rather have nothing than have another ‘Appetite For Destruction’, because I already own that record. And when the new U2 album drops I’m sure it will be praised for a being the ‘good-great’ album it will be, but words like ‘ambitious’ and ‘totally without compromise’ will be missing from these reviews. And without those crucial ingredients, there are only so many things an artist can achieve.

Kyle’s Picks (2000-2008)

2000: The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem: I know that I made a point of singling Doggystyle out as the best rap record ever, but The Mathers LP makes a pretty strong case (bonus points to Eminem for releasing at least one additional album that wasn't absolutely terrible). Sure, it's puerile in places--the "Remember Me," "Ken Kaniff," "Drug Ballad," "Amityville" stretch in particular (and that was eight years ago, so I imagine it's even worse now)--but there's lots to love here: "Criminal," "The Real Slim Shady," "Stan," "The Way I Am," "I'm Back," "Bitch Please II," and others. In fact, the record was so good (and so explosive) that everything released the six months before and twelve after paled in comparison. And oh by the way, it's the fastest-selling hip hop album in history, with 1.76 million copies sold in its first week (it's currently hovering around nine million in the U.S. alone). I'm 100% certain that Misha has this as his 2000 pick, so I'll defer to him the rest of the way.

Best song: tough, tough choice, with four or five cuts that could make a strong claim. I'll go with "The Way I Am."

Runner up: Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams. God, I love this album.

Mark: Well, might as well get this out of the way now; I don’t think much of Eminem. He has a few good songs here and there (it’s hard to argue against the conceptual and lyrical brilliance of ‘Stan’), but overall, ol’ Marshall just doesn’t do anything for me. I’ve heard this album before --- my brother is, naturally, a big Eminem fan --- but it just didn’t strike me as anything special. Given how the two of you went on about this disc, I feel like Peter Griffin here: “I did not care for the Godfather….It insists upon itself.”

Misha: Obviously I agree with Kyle about this selection. How many times during that summer did we have extensive conversations about this album? A million times or so I would guess. Also, glad you mentioned how this album dwarfed everything else at the time, couldn’t agree more. I love ‘Drug Ballad’ though, the last verse is fantastic. Mark, Eminem was (and I hope will be again) the absolute real thing. I know a lot of people who don’t like him very much, but the lyrical gymnastics at work on this album and the production are beyond brilliant. I think it’s the goal of all artists to make something that is undeniably great, that doesn’t need anyone to say it’s great, it just is. ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ is absolutely undeniable.

Kyle: Shuk, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen that quote before. Three days later and I’m still laughing. That said, I’m kinda stunned you don’t like the album. (Also: have you and your brother ever agreed on anything? [Mark: We both like the Beatles. Ah, common ground.] I’m putting the over/under at “Shuk and his brother fight to the death in a makeshift steel-cage in their parents’ basement” at 4.5 years.)

2001: Rockin' The Suburbs by Ben Folds: [pause for Rob to pump his fist.] When he made Pulp's Different Class as his pick for 1995, Shuk talked about the adage that the music you listen to during your first year in high school will always have a special place in your heart. While I certainly agree with that sentiment, this affinity is eclipsed by "albums I wrote essays to in grad school." I have four favorites that fit the criteria--highly listenable from start to finish (thus no need to hit the skip button) and melodic without being overbearing (which can be distracting): Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams, Matthew Good's Avalanche, my 2002 pick, and this. I like that it's music set to small (even, arguably, mundane) stories. I like that Folds plays almost all the instruments. I also like that it's sweet without being sappy...and that you can listen to it over and over again without becoming bored with it. (Fun fact: released on 9/11.)

Best song: I'll go with "Annie Waits."

Runner up: Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever by Explosions in the Sky. I'll save both of you the trouble: they're a post-rock band from Austin, Texas.

Mark: I never listened to music when writing essays. I preferred the sound of my head banging against my desk. RTS is a wonderful album that, it seems, everyone at Western seemed to have a copy of by the summer of 2002. I heard it at many a party and/or social event in that time. It’s aged quite well compared to some of the other top college music of that era (I’m looking at you, Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson). Re: the runner-up album. Kyle (to nobody’s surprise) wins the award for ‘First List Entry That Nobody Has Ever Heard Of.’ I thought I had a shot with my 2005 entry of the Split Infinitives, the band that my pal Aron and I created in the Gazette office. He played guitar, and I sang a cover of U2’s “In A Little While.” Imagine Savage Garden meets two drunken hobos in the Toronto subway and you have a good idea of our sound.

Misha: I just wrote about this in my comments on Shuk’s list, and I agree that it is a very good album. Kyle will tell you that I was a huge fan of Ben Folds after I saw the album cover where he is wearing a GNR T-Shirt…he’s totally right about this by the way. Kyle, do you remember the episode of “Larry Sanders” The Ben Folds Five were on? If memory serves their performance was really good. I’ll look into finding ‘Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die’.

Kyle: you don’t listen to music while writing essays? Jesus! If I were left alone with my own thoughts, I’d go insane. (Moving on…) You may know Explosions in the Sky from their work on the Friday Night Lights soundtrack. (The Larry Sanders ep is the one in season five when Larry gives the interview for "Extra" and ends up, as Artie says, "crying like a bitch." Also known as the ep where Mary Lou hits Hank's Bentley but is too afraid to tell him, so she let's him hit on her.)

2002: A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay: as good as Parachutes was, Rush of Blood blows it away. I almost feel like I can simply list the number of great songs on this album--"Politik," "Green Eyes," "In My Place," "The Scientist," "Clocks," "Warning Sign," and "A Rush of Blood to the Head"--and move on...but, of course, I won't. Remember when Coldplay used to rock? No? They did. I swear. I listen to this at least once a month. Lately, it's started to bum me out. Not because it's worse than I remember, but because it's better...and it makes me sad that their last two efforts (X&Y and Viva La Vida--hate that title) have been so limp. Ah, well.

Best song: "A Rush of Blood to the Head"--how terrific is it that the best song this record is buried as the next to last track? I love when bands do that.

Runner up: The Rising by Bruce Springsteen: seems wrong that this came out in '02, but whatever. This is a beautiful album, and a welcome return to form after three misfires (Human Touch, Lucky Town, and The Ghost of Tom Joad). Shuk will no doubt retort that TGOTJ is the greatest fifty minutes committed to vinyl since Sgt. Pepper's, but it just puts me to sleep.

Mark: See, it’s weird, I actually think I like Viva La Vida (agreed about its stupid name) the best of all Coldplay albums. In general, I like the singles on ‘Rush Of Blood,’ but aside from the title track and ‘Politik’, I feel like everything could be sped up by about 20% and it would’ve resulted in a much better album.

Christ, I hate the Tom Joad record. That era was the only time of Bruce’s career where I think he got a bit big-headed --- on his theatre tour, he asked the audience to refrain from cheering and ‘Bruuuuuce’ing since the songs worked better with a silent atmosphere. Longtime Springsteen fans derisively refer to the Tom Joad concerts as “Bruce’s Shut The Fuck Up Tour,” which is kind of awesome.

Misha: Thank you Kyle and Mark. Sometimes I feel crazy for my own personal Coldplay backlash, and it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Interesting comment from Shuk about the speed of the music…never thought of it that way. This is another album (like the ‘Marshall Mathers LP’) where you could stick Kyle and I in separate rooms, force us to write a 10,000 word essay about the album, and what’s happened to the band since this album, and we’d hand in the exact same essay. I hated the ‘Springsteen is going to save America with this album’ attitude that preceded ‘The Rising’, but once you just get to the music it is excellent. That ‘Shut the Fuck Up’ tour story is hilarious for so many reasons…wow. You are also both right about ‘TGOTJ’, but I’m curious to see what you guys thought about Rage Against The Machine’s version of the title track on ‘Renegades’. I thought it was better than Bruce’s version by a mile.

Kyle: Umm…you don’t like “Clocks,” Shuk? Not sure if we can be friends anymore. I actually thought you might’ve been making up the “STFU Tour” thing, but, nope, it’s apparently true. That’s great stuff.

10,000 words on Coldplay, eh? Definitely doable (I’m assuming profanities count. Also: tears.) The more I think about the more I believe that the thing that undermined Coldplay is that they just had too much time on their hands. Say you’re EMI and you, back in January 2003, you lock Chris Martin in a 10’ x 10’ room with a tuning fork, a pad of paper, a pencil, ten cases of champagne, and a baby grand (note: it’s not too late to try this!) and there’s no way he doesn’t emerge in a drunken haze six weeks later with a masterpiece. Instead, you get them taking time off, starting to believe the press clippings (or, possibly, starting to doubt themselves), mistakenly believing they need to find a new sound, and 30 months later, a disappointing follow up. Frankly, it’s inexcusable for a band that released something of this caliber in 2002 to already be settling.

2003: Welcome Interstate Managers by Fountains of Wayne: it's easy (too easy, in fact) to write these guys off as straight-up power pop, but I think that totally misses the point. (This a rare instance where I actually side with Pitchfork. From their not-entirely-fair review of this album:
"I like TastyCakes. They're sugary, they're bad for me, but I like them. I wouldn't eat a boxful of them in one go, though; too much of a good thing, as someone who's probably dead once said. That's the biggest problem with Welcome Interstate Managers, and in many ways the entire Fountains of Wayne catalog. I don't fault the band for being disposable; on the contrary, these guys are so in love with being disposable that you can't help but have fun."
Yes (the last sentence, at least).

I'd like to think that this is the kind of criticism that the Beach Boys were subject to when they released Pet Sounds (something I re-listened to this week while going back and forth on this pick) back in '66. They probably weren't (ok, fine, I know they weren't--still...). And while I'll probably lose my music reviewing license (there's a license, right, Shuk?) for even mentioning Pet Sounds and Welcome Interstate Managers in the same breath, I think it's justified so that I can make this point: there was a time when it was perfectly acceptable for the biggest bands in the world to write sweet songs about absolutely nothing (see everything the Beatles released prior to Rubber Soul) and now, for whatever reason, it isn't. And I think that kinda sucks. (If you want to make the case that the heirs to this bygone era are actually pop stars like Britney et al., that's fine, but I'd point out that "catchy" isn't the same as "melodic," and that they've sacrificed "heartfelt" for "vaguely pornographic.")

Anyway, this album has a lot going for it: "Bright Future in Sales," the impossibly catchy "Stacy's Mom," "Hey, Julie," "Hackensack," "Mexican Wine," and my pick for best song. Look, I'm not saying I'm always in the mood for pure pop, but sometimes it's exactly what I (hell: we) need. And few do it better than Fountains of Wayne.

Best song: "Valley Winter Song"--sad, sad, sad, but ever so sweet.

Runner up: Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? by Metric--yay, CanCon!

Mark: Until you mentioned Stacy’s Mom, I had no idea what band you were writing about. Not that I hadn’t heard of FOW beforehand, but it’s just for some reason, they have the most forgettable name in music history. One night at pub trivia, one of the questions was “Who sang ‘Stacy’s Mom’?” and all of us (a group of eight people) were just racking our brains trying to remember the artist. We all knew the song, one guy even sang virtually the whole thing in the vague hope that FOW at one point name-dropped themselves in their own lyrics a la Snoop, but it took a good 20 minutes until someone finally got it. Hey, disposable power-pop? I love disposable power-pop! I have Pulp on my list, for god’s sake! Maybe I need to discover these guys.

Misha: I remember you trying not to be pushy, but demanding that I like this album back in ’03. The fact that I never got too into this is really your dad’s fault. Your dad makes such a convincing case for hating Rod Stewart (“He is a terrible singer, can’t write good songs, or play an instrument…why is he a musical legend?”) that I started to hate anything within six degrees of Rod Stewart. So, when I saw (the admittedly hot) Rachel Hunter as ‘Stacy’s Mom’, all I could think of is that she had sex with Rod Stewart, who Alex Wasko has convinced me is a piece of shit, and therefore whatever song this is must also be a piece of shit. I love the quote about disposability, and I agree that it always necessary to have it around. And on the Metric pick, I worked in Canadian radio and CanCon is atrocious. It’s like musical socialism. “Sorry good songs, but we have to stroke these artists who can’t compete with you on a level playing field.” Canadian Radio is like the short story “Harrison Bergeron’ by Kurt Vonnegut. CanCon is the handicapping device to make sure no one is special. This has nothing to with Metric, by the way, and I do like this album.

Kyle: a “Harrison Bergeron” reference! Wow!! Did you ever see the TV movie version, featuring—somewhat improbably—Sean Astin as Harrison? It’s dreadful. I so wish I’d been able to see the director’s terrified face the moment he realized that, at nine or so pages, HB, even with padding, can only fill about 16 minutes of screen time, yet the film had to be two hours long.

Anyway…I think you’ll like this album, and, if not, to borrow a line from Lucky Number Slevin: “fuck you both.” Fun fact: FOW frontman Adam Schlesinger wrote and performed “That Thing You Do” from That Thing You Do. (Also: “Way Back Into Love” from the underrated Music & Lyrics and all the songs for this year’s Colbert Christmas Special).

2004: Funeral by The Arcade Fire: That? Is the sound of Misha repeatedly banging his head against his keyboard (his pick is my runner up). Whatever...this is an amazing record, which completely blew me away upon my first listen, due--astoundingly--in no small part to my never having heard of them prior to Funeral coming out. (I know, I know.)

Moving away from my galling lack of knowledge, let's concentrate on the album, which goes from strength to strength (aside from "Crown of Love," a song I simply do not like at all): "Tunnels," "Laika," "Power Out," "Haiti," "Wake Up," and "Lies" to name just a few. There appears to be a misconception that Funeral is a concept album about death (the passing of three family members close to the band in the eighteen months prior to the album's release did lead to the album title), but careful listening suggests otherwise ("Laika," for instance, is actually about a
dog sent into space by the Soviet Space Program in the late fifties)--not that the album isn't dark, mind you ("Tunnels," in particular, strikes me as especially sorrowful). It's my great shame that I've never seen them live--definitely on my to do list for '09 (I think I deserve kudos for not saying "bucket list" just then).

Best song: Again: tough call. I'll go with "Rebellion (Lies)." Though, if Shuk ends up picking this album, he'll probably pick "Lies" as well, in which case I'll go with "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)."

Runner up: American Idiot by Green Day. Initially, I had Hot Fuss in this spot, but, playing it again, I realized there's a killer four song stretch ("Mr. Brightside," "Smile Like You Mean It," "Somebody Told Me," and "All These Things I've Done")...and then 26 minutes of crap. AI gets the nod as my #2 for coming out with an album that was giant "fuck you" to Bush...back when such an opinion was, believe it or not, relatively daring, as opposed to now, where's it basically a prerequisite to being a living, breathing North American. And "Jesus of Suburbia" never stops being amazing.

Mark: Very good pick, as well as a very good runner-up. As I said in my write-up, 2004 was probably the last really good year for music, as there were about 8-10 records that wouldn’t have been out of place on a best-of list. You don’t like ‘Crown Of Love’? Boy, had I picked Funeral, that would’ve been high in the running for best song.

Misha: No, you know what Kyle? It’s my fault I don’t like this more. I know they’re great, I just can’t get around to really getting into them. The Arcade Fire seems like a cult (both band and fans) which reminds me of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, which, in turn, makes me happy. One day you will get a call from me telling you how much I love The Arcade Fire, and acting like I was into them first (you know I love to pretend I’m a fan of things before you like sushi, the dress shirt under the V-Neck sweaters etc.). You always get so mad…it’s one of my favourite pastimes. P.S. Have you ever seen ‘Flight of the Concords’? I love it, you should check it out…killing myself laughing right now!! Our friendship would have ended with ‘Hot Fuss’ over ‘American Idiot’, but your comments about both albums are 100% true. That stretch on The Killers album is excellent (especially ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’). I loved when you would drunkenly explain to me over and over again why ‘Mr. Brightside’ was the best song ever. It was like how I was with ‘Stan’…good times. Also, great point about the Bush factor with the Green Day album. I would argue that many artists were taking aim at Bush in ’04 (it was an election year, and the war was a disaster-even more so than usual), but every other attempt to slam Bush seemed directed at him personally, and that he was a dick. Green Day focused more on what was happening in individual’s lives which lead them to allow Bush to be president, and what his presidency meant to (and said about) them. Almost like one of those Dylan things, where a series of microcosms are used to tell a very large and complicated story. It’s like going door to door to 13 houses (one for each song) in a neighbourhood and watching what’s going on through a window, with the constant overtones of tensions that were going on nationally. Great stuff. Also, is there anything less punk rock than saying “I hate George W. Bush”? Everyone hates him. I want someone to go on a stage and yell “I fucking love George W. Bush and the Iraq War”…that would be punk rock…and that person would be instantly murdered.

Kyle: …you forgot “blogging.”

Everyone seems to adore “Crown of Love” (presumably to spite me), but I’ve always found it cloying. Such is life.

Mark’s Picks (2000-2004)

2000: You Were Here by Sarah Harmer: Mild asterisk on this one: it should be noted that some of the songs were originally released in the 1990's by Harmer's former band Weeping Tile. So YWH is in some ways a Sarah Harmer greatest hits album with some newer tracks added to the mix. Whatever, it's still great. Sarah Harmer has one of the loveliest normal voices in music. What I mean by that is, on the first listen you might not think it's anything too removed from any songstress you might hear down at your local coffee hut, but Harmer gets the absolute most out of it in terms of pitch and emphasis. If she were a baseball player, she'd be Brian Giles; not the best counting stats, but a tremendous OBP. (Note: this was written before the allegations about Giles abusing his ex-girlfriend came out. Oops.) I noted in the entry for Springsteen's Nebraska about how it's the perfect album to have on while you're driving in the country at night. 'You Were Here' is perhaps the best album for driving in the country (or, at least, down a rural highway) in the day. Or, oddly enough, while driving in east Toronto; I had it on while looking for apartments last spring up in the Danforth/Pape/Main area and the songs seems particularly suited to the day. It would've been fitting had I ended up renting a basement apartment, but no dice.

Best song: "Uniform Grey" takes the title by split decision over "Weakened State" and "Open Window (The Wedding Song)." Geez Kyle, you couldn't have used that one at the ceremony? It's got wedding right there in the title! Clearly that should've been the only criteria for inclusion.

Honourable mention for 2000: In the spirit of the Y2K virus, my honourable mention-atron has malfunctioned and spit out two options: U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind and the White Stripe's De Stijl. Both outstanding records, both tied for all of eternity.

Misha: I have actually heard YWH, but forever ago. Jess just told me that she sang songs from this record in her band (P.S. Give Jess 10 awesome points for having actually been in a real band). I’ll get her to sing it to me later to refresh my memory. I kind of slammed this U2 album in one of my entries, but I need to clarify something…it is a very good record. My problem is not with its quality, but with its TOTAL concession to the pressures that surrounded the band at the time. The album should have been called ‘We Give Up, And We’re Sorry…Please Love Us Again’. On a brighter note, Mark, are we White Stripe soul mates? Is it possible that when it comes to this band that you complete me? ‘De Stijl’ is a great indicator of what would come, and ‘Hello Operator’ and ‘Little Bird’ are awesome.

Kyle: very surprising! I’m a big fan of “Basement Apartment,” though, aside from that, I don’t really listen to Sarah Harmer. Perhaps I should. I’ll slowly back away now, lest I interrupt your White Stripes threesome.

Mark: Me, Misha, Jack, Meg….it’s technically a foursome, Kyle. GOD. Your orgy-accounting is abominable. (That’s probably the first and last time that sentence will ever be written.) The White Stripes are, indeed, awesome. Geez, maybe I should’ve taken De Stijl after all. Just thinking about it makes me want to put the record on again….ah, screw it, let’s give Sarah Harmer her day in the sun. Oh, and btw, Jessica was in a band? Which Harmer songs did she do? Does she want to join the Split Infinitives? Re: U2. Calling the album a ‘concession’ is a bit harsh. It’s not like they become total sellouts and hired Timbaland or something ---- Chris Cornell, I’m looking in your direction.

2001: Rockin' The Suburbs by Ben Folds: An eminently listenable album. It's almost a concept album about individual stories, with the exception of the title track (a song that, while catchy, really sticks out like a sore thumb on what is otherwise more of a sly album). This record is so full of catchy pop story-songs that it's a shame that Folds seems to have blown his wad and hasn't been able to recapture RTS's magic since. It's possible that Folds missed his chance at becoming a better version of Randy Newman, but, on the bright side, at least Folds hasn't started singing about cartoon families approaching him in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Best song: I've always been partial to 'Fired,' though 'The Luckiest' is a great wedding song. Too bad I don't know anyone who was recently married and could've played it during the reception, KYLE. C'mon, wouldn't you and Carrie have wanted to celebrate your love with a song cut from the soundtrack of the Jason Biggs-Mena Suvari classic 'Loser'?

Honourable mention for 2001: Songs From The West Coast by Elton John. Oh that's right. Elton John, bitches. What can I say, I enjoy the record. Let me check to make sure I'm not 50 years old.....nope. Huh.

Misha: I guess all three of us like the Ben Folds record, and he did play with the Ben Folds Five on ‘The Larry Sanders Show’, and I can’t say anything bad about anyone who ever had anything to do with that show. And for the record, I was the only (straight) 22 year old at the time running up and down the streets of London yelling “Bernie Taupin and Elton John are going to make a record again” when this album was in the works. It really is a great record, and I love the song (and video for) ‘I Want Love’. Downey’s best acting (if you don’t include ‘Tropic Thunder’). In the video, when he looks so pained, is he thinking of his drug addiction, or his stint on Ally McBeal? He looks really upset…so it must be the Ally McBeal thing.

Kyle: I bet he was thinking “oh, boy, I get to eat this month!” Now? He’s (deservedly…and something I called in the summer) Entertainment Weekly’s “Entertainer of the Year.” How about that?

Shuk, I’m fine with you clearly being unhappy with our wedding music, but was it really necessary to base a whole toast around it?

Mark: Your wedding music was awesome…it’s just that there could’ve been more of it. You forget, I’m going to die a male spinster, so I need to vicariously plan out my wedding music through someone else. Misha, I’m glad someone else dug that Elton album. It was the least-adult contemporary (so, really, the only non-adult contemporary) thing that Elton has released in the last 15 years.

2002: When The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash: The theme of this album seems to have been "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if Johnny Cash did a cover of _____?" This is certainly the most cover-filled of the American Recordings series, and yet despite its semi-gimmicky nature....damn, it really is cool to hear Cash deliver renditions of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Desperado, Personal Jesus, In My Life, We'll Meet Again, etc. The title track was also Cash's last classic original tune.

Best song: It's really, really, really hard to not pick 'Hurt,' and in fact I am going to pick it as the top song on the record. The surprisingly close runner-up, however, was 'I Hung My Head,' a little-known Sting song that Cash simplified (from a 9/8 time to 4/4 time), stripped away the horns and Sting-esque flourishes and basically just improved the thing 100 percent and made it sound bad-ass as hell.

Honourable mention for 2002: Night Bugs by Sarah Slean. In an odd quirk of fate, I've actually seen Sarah Slean play live more times than I've seen any other musician perform, save for U2. I've seen Slean (yay hidden rhyme) thrice; once as the opening act for Collective Soul, once as the opener for Sarah Harmer and once on her own up at Fanshawe's student pub. Another solid record of 2002 was George Harrison's Brainwashed, but I didn't want to be morbid and make both of my notable '02 discs from dead people. Then again, Sarah Slean claims she has some old spirit living in her body, so, who knows.

Misha: Wow, I really didn’t consider this album because it is mostly a covers album. His ability to interpret a song in unprecedented. All of the ‘American Recordings’ are essential listening. You’re right to make ‘Hurt’ the best song, and that video made tears explode out of my face…seriously…I thought I was dying. Is that Fiona Apple supplying the vocals at the end of ‘Desperado’? That is a great take on that song as well. I’ve now heard 3 great versions of ‘Personal Jesus’ and the song is so good that all three versions, though vastly different, make complete sense. The original is kind of ironic, Marilyn Manson’s version is kind of sarcastic, and Cash’s version is dead serious. Like, “Look, if you call me (literally) on the phone I will answer and put you through to God…and you will be a believer”. He was the best!! Side Note: I was on air the morning he died and was told by our News reporter. I asked that I be able to do a makeshift Eulogy on the air. Bad idea. I got through saying the words ‘Johnny Cash died’, and then broke down sobbing…it was horrible. And because I didn’t have a script (because I’m the best right…I don’t need a stupid script…what a douche bag!!) I was totally lost. Just a mumbling, weeping bag of goo. The only thing I remember was berating Hip-hop artists who pretend to be the rebel Johnny Cash actually was…this was made slightly less gangster because of all the crying…cringe.

Kyle: wow…I love this pick, actually. Wanted to point out that two of those tracks were used a great musical cues in the last couple of years. “I Hung My Head” perfectly kicks off Season 6 of The Shield and “When the Man Comes Around” closes out Generation Kill. Since I have nothing else to add: is anyone troubled by the fact that the parody of Walk the Line (Walk Hard) is actually much better than the thing it’s parodying? Troubling may be the wrong word—perhaps surprising is more apt.

Mark: Fiona dueted with Cash on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ not ‘Desperado.’ But, Don Henley actually showed up to play the drums for the latter, so it wasn’t bereft of some big-name help. Re: the parodies. I’m not sure why you’re so surprised. It’s not like Airport was better than Airplane!

2003: Speakerboxx/The Love Below by Outkast: Were I a cheekier bastard, I would've picked one of the sides as my actual #1 of the year, but as a whole, Outkast's double-disc was clearly the top record of the year. Just think: if Outkast's solution to creative differences had been adopted 35 years earlier by the Beatles, we could've been listening to triple-albums with one disc John, one disc Paul and one disc George (with a bit of Ringo) for another decade. Andre 3000 is right now working on a time machine so he can head back to 1968 and arrange this. So, I FINALLY got a rap album on the list, though to call S/TLB simply a rap/hip-hop record is heavily simplifying a project that was acclaimed for stretching the genre's boundaries. I've flip-flopped on this numerous times over the years, but at the moment I'd say that Big Boi's side is a bit better. Andre's disc has perhaps higher highs, though it also has more extraneous crap (i.e. the interludes....not to say that Big Boi's disc doesn't also have useless interludes, but the one featuring his infant son rapping and then dropping the MF bomb is pretty amusing).

Best song: 'Bowtie' was probably the best track from Speakerboxx, and it goes without saying that 'Hey Ya' (one of the classics of the decade) was the best from The Love Below.

Honourable mention for 2003: Elephant by the White Stripes. There
was a time when I briefly considered this album to be the best of the entire decade. The bloom has come a bit off of that rose (I don’t even think it’s the best White Stripes disc of the decade), though the album would probably be #1 in a lot of other years in this decade.

Misha: Only true geniuses would have selected these 2 albums (see my picks)!!! Well done. You make a good point that I didn’t talk about in my review of ‘The Love Below”, which is that, although it is great for the most part, there are some real duds. Big Boi’s side is great, and certainly steadier, but never comes close to reaching the highlights of ‘The Love Below’. But I understand what you’re saying. I give you an A- for these picks…the ‘A’ is for the picks being the same as mine…the minus is because they are in the wrong order…just kidding…but not really.

Kyle: get a room.

Interesting pick. Honestly, aside from the singles (one of which—“Roses”—I almost refuse to recognize because some of the lyrics are so juvenile), I can’t name a single thing off these albums…even though I remember listening to them constantly back in ’03. Still, the fact that these two gave us “Hey Ya”—my pick for song of the decade—has put me in a charitable mood. I approve.

Mark: Wow, this is a real love-in. Can I make an album pick or what? Here’s an interesting pop quiz: the common knock on double-albums is that almost all of them could’ve been better had the best 12-14 tracks been taken from two discs and melded into one uber-album. If you had to whittle Speakerboxx/Love Below into one record, what would you pick? Could it even be possible here, given how these two sides are so drastically different?

2004: A Grand Don't Come For Free by The Streets: In 2005, I was working on my computer late one night (VERY late, like 3:30 AM) while my brother was in the other room, passed out on the couch with the TV on. The channel was set to MuchMoreMusic, which by this time had given up on videos just like its sister network aside from its late-night programming block. Anyways, I'm in the other room when I suddenly notice a catchy tune from the other room. I walk in to check out the artist, and it turns out to the Streets' video for 'Fit But You Know It.' I kept a note of the title, found the album (AGDCFF) at the student radio station I was then volunteering at, and boom, I suddenly discovered my favourite album of 2004. I generally love the idea (if not always the execution) of concept albums, and Mike Skinner's idea to detail a series of incidents surrounding a soured love affair and some lost money perfectly fit his Cockney-hip hop style. Unlike most concept albums, there aren't any songs or snippets included just for the sake of advancing the 'story,' nor are there any songs that sound totally out of place or out of context if just heard on their own. (The one exception, probably necessarily, is the final track, 'Empty Cans'). Wow, this is back-to-back hip hop selections after going the first 22 years of my life more or less ignoring rap. Je suis urban.

Best song: There are a number of stand-out tracks here, but since it was the song that got me into The Streets in the first place, I'll note 'Fit But You Know It' as the tops of the lot. Ironically, this is also the track that most loosely fits into the rest of the concept album. Fun fact: the hot-but-vain girl in the song is allegedly based on Rachel Stevens from S Club 7. Right now, Kyle and Misha are frantically going back to their lists in order to add the S Club's legendary albums to the post.

Honourable mention for 2004: Hot Fuss by the Killers. Lots of good albums in '04: Set Yourself On Fire, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, Love Angel Music Baby, American Idiot, Night Bugs, Van Lear Rose, Tyrannosaurus Hives, College Dropout, Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, and Funeral. I hereby dub 2004 to be the last great year in music.

Misha: The Streets album is excellent, but I haven’t heard it in years. There is a lot of talent there, no doubt. And yes, Kyle and I are having an S Club Party…deal with it. 2004 was awesome!!! Look at all of those albums. ‘Love Angel Music Baby’ is a lot of fun, and ‘Van Lear Rose’ is really a great album. We all know how I feel about Green Day…and the U2 album. Is there any way for one of you guys to invent a machine that will both erase my memory and send me back to the beginning of 2004 (with Jack and Jess of course) just so I can hear all of this for the first time again? The list Mark has here makes every year since look horrible. Shame on you ’05-’08!!

Kyle: One of Carrie’s favorites! Nice bit of a trivia. [checking to see if Carrie is reading this…nope] I always thought Rachel was, far and away, the hottest of the seven (2nd place: Bradley). Did you know that S Club 7 is still around? Did you know that are only three members? Is the name now supposed to be ironic? Ben Folds could pull it off. Paul and Jo? Not so much. The video to “Fit But You Know It” is outstanding. Can’t say I listen to his stuff much anymore—I believe I heard that he’s retiring the persona: confirm or deny?—but this is certainly Skinner at his best. Nice choice.

Mark: Skinner has said that the next Streets album (to be released in 2010) will be his last release under the Streets name. This doesn’t mean he’s done with music, it’ll just mean that from then on he’ll release things under his own name. He also said that the 2010 disc will be the Streets’ equivalent to Lou Reed’s Berlin, which sounds interesting to say the least.

Claiming that Rachel was the hottest of the S Club is like claiming that Paul McCartney is the most talented musician in Wings. I mean seriously, did you see the other chicks in that group? I seem to recall there was one other one that looked pretty decent, but the others were a mannish blond that looked like 75% of the WNBA roster, and a brunette who looked like a poor man’s Sarah Silverman. And, since she was allegedly ‘the funny one,’ acted like a poor man’s Silverman too. By the way, we’re three grown men in our twenties and we know this much about the S Club 7. Yikes.