Before this year runs out, let's celebrate the five-year anniversary of albums that will surely be available in "deluxe" form in a few years when nothing else is selling. Bands, save your outtakes! You're going to need them.
Again, not my faves of the year but a general cross-section of releases that landed on sales charts or more likely critics' polls. By 2004, I didn't recognize most stuff on the music charts as music. For the record, my favorite album of 2004 was David Berkeley's After The Wrecking Ships and it remains a pleasure to this day.
25) Eric Clapton--Me And Mr. Johnson: To dullify the blues. Mr. Clapton removes everything that made Robert Johnson interesting and remakes him in the image of polite dinner music for people who would prefer that an overwhelming sense of emotion not spoil their meal. Yes, you may meet the devil at the crossroads, but at least wear your Manolo Blahniks.
24) Morrissey--You Are The Quarry: For a time, we all figured we would never hear from Moz again. Once you get a California suntan, who needs rainy day angst? But not even California skies could stop Moz from finding the rainclouds. Bless his morose heart.
23) Loretta Lynn--Van Lear Rose: Jack White of the White Stripes clearly wants to be Rick Rubin when he grows up. So he takes a living legend and introduces her to a new generation of kids. Sometimes even the thought counts.
22) Feist--Let It Die: I think some people figure she should be a big star. Not exactly sure why. She's fine, but I don't hear anything that makes me stop and ask "What was THAT"? Is there a secret here that someone needs to be telling me?
21) Arcade Fire--Funeral: Ah, yes, the band that when I first heard them (an advance CD) I immediately filed away as irrelevant and then watched them grace magazine covers everywhere. My opinion hasn't changed. But then I seem doomed to only like bands that sell no records and no one else likes. I don't mind being unpopular, though I fear it means dying in a squalid corner of the earth poor and unloved. Do movies ever end this way?
20) Brian Wilson--Smile: Like Chinese Democracy, I liked Smile more as a rumor than an actuality. But if it makes Brian Wilson and his fans happy, I won't complain. They deserve more happiness in their lives. (Do you think I should join a cult?)
19) Iron And Wine--Our Endless Numbered Days: Amazingly, Sam Beam has connected beyond the usual indie-folk graveyard where most sullen, tuneful types spend their lives releasing the same album over and over. Not sure why Beam sticks out, but damn glad to have him aboard. Most impressive, he's aware that we all die someday! Break out the party hats for this one!
18) Wilco--A Ghost Is Born: Like I've said elsewhere, every year it seems Wilco put out another album and lots of people--very many--go on to talk about how wonderful and groundbreaking it is. To me, it sounds like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with more noise and less hooks. But that's me. Perhaps someday someone will convince me otherwise and I will discover I was wrong. Maybe not.
17) Elliot Smith--From The Basement On The Hill: You'll notice that dead people do very well in the music business. I'd say just ask Jimi, Janis, Kurt, Tupac and Mr. Lennon but that's the whole point. They're no longer around to mess up their legacy. They leave that part up to their estate managers. Some have better managers than others.
16) Bjork--Medulla: She's weird. She's critically acclaimed. She makes music that makes me scratch my head. All good.
15) Kanye West--The College Dropout: Words cannot express how much I don't care about this guy. Well, maybe they can. Does "not at all" suffice? I know I'm at odds with millions on this. But I've been there before, too.
14) Danger Mouse--The Grey Album: Nothing says classic album faster than a legal argument. Danger Mouse took a capella Jay-Z tracks that were intended for remixes and whatever and applied them to the Beatles' White album that was intended for anything other than for EMI to make a ton of money. This annoyed EMI enough to stay "Stop That." Like Beatle fans would really stop buying Beatle records because now they could hear Jay-Z singing on top of them. I still intend on buying up all the air and charging you for it someday. Or at least putting up a parking lot.
13) Gretchen Wilson--Here For The Party: She plays up the "Redneck Woman" thing because you have to do something to stand out and, apparently, it isn't far from the truth. Deep down, she wants to be Tammy Wynette or Loretta Lynn with attitude. Nothing wrong with that.
12) The Killers--Hot Fuss: I love bands that sound like they were formed in the U.K. but are from the U.S. just as I love U.K. bands that sound like they're from LA.
11) Ray LaMontagne--Trouble: Is it my imagination or is the title track from this album being used to sell dog food? Whatever pays the bills, I guess. But don't let that turn you away from exploring this man's catalog. He's one of the few artists I recently reinvestigated and found myself nodding along. A true leader for the insomnia movement!
10) TV On The Radio--Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babies: Another band who many people I respect tell me are absolutely wonderful, but who make me wonder what's on TV instead. Radio's been useless for years.
9) Franz Ferdinand--Franz Ferdinand: Judging by how many bands come out of Scotland, I'd assume there isn't any more room for sheep.
8) KT Tunstall--Eye To The Telescope: Wouldn't you just love to lock this young lady up in your house with your teenaged son and shoot a video? That could never happen. Not these days. Unless your old man is nuts.
7) William Shatner--Has Been: Some like this because it's campy. I like it because it sounds pretty good. And "Real" is about as truthful a tune as you're likely to come by. And that's without irony, if you can stand it.
6) Kings Of Leon--Aha Shake Heartbreak: It might take me another 20 years to decide whether I like these guys or not. By then, I might have other concerns, like which foot should I wash first.
5) Drive-By Truckers--The Dirty South: Real simple, pick up a copy of Dixie Lullaby by Mark Kemp and relearn what it means to be from the south. You'll never make another lame Lynyrd Skynyrd joke again (except for yelling "Freebird," that one's eternal). Ronnie Van Zant died for somebody's sins and it might have been Patterson Hood's.
4) Patty Griffin--Impossible Dream: She landed on a lot of magazine covers making me wonder why all of a sudden she was considered such a hot commodity. This might be her best album, but since when does that have to do with anything?
3) The Libertines--The Libertines: Who doesn't love to listen to a junkie mumble? If it was good enough for Johnny Thunders, it should be good enough for Pete Doherty.
2) The Hives--Tyrannosaurus Hives: I love bands that are willing to bypass individualism for a group identity. Eventually, it feels stupid. But at first, it makes quite an impact.
1) Green Day--American Idiot: It's now been made into a play, but back in 1994 GD were one of the few bands willing to express their political displeasure even if it meant angering part of their fan base. GD had become mainstream enough to have people to anger.