As you may have surmised, part of my job in compiling thismuch-loved weekly blog comes in anticipating which new releases are the onesmost likely to excite the entire world, sell the most copies, and/or have thebest covers!
Just a few weeks ago, I scratched my head, looked at athen-current release list, and determined that--in the absence of any surefireblockbuster-sellers like Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, or Alicia Keys--new albumsby Animal Collective, Andrew Bird and even Antony & the Johnsons wouldlikely be among the week's biggest winners! And as a special bonus, they allstarted with "A"!
Heck--I was right!And even Antony & the Johnsons entered the charts at No. 65! Who could haveimagined this three years ago?
Some would say it's an indicator that independentmusic is finally taking its rightful place as a sales leader! Others would sayit's an indicator that sales have gone so far down the tubes that only indieartists with loyal followings--which is to say not Hoobastank--actually sell records anymore!
All I know is, any week where Morrissey has the biggest new release is OK by me!
Morrissey: Years Of Refusal (Attack/Lost Highway) When it comes to contemporary pop albums featuring infants and toddlers with facialdecorations, it's Morrissey and Lil Wayne all the way! Arriving with his bestalbum in several years, a fine cover illustration and title, and more than afew songs that suggest the glories reached in his former band the Smiths, he simply hasn't lost it!Best track to these ears--the ones that my thumbs are now pointing to--is"It's Not Your Birthday Anymore," which aside from bearing a catchytune, features the snazzy lyric "there's no need to be kind to you,"a sentiment that in contemporary songcraft is rarely expressed and, when youcome right down to it, encapsulates all that is unique about the man. That andthe fact that he once featured cowsmooing on an album!
Annie Lennox: The Annie Lennox Collection (CD/DVD)(Sony) Well, if you haven't figured it out, here's what's happening: Recordcompanies introduced CDs back in the '80s and a generation of vinyl buyersstarted buying their collections all over again on CD! Then they got old!Meanwhile, a younger generation of cassette and CD buyers--who watched a lot ofMTV--also started getting old, sloppy, and sentimental! And now that their eldershave stopped buying music entirely, it's theirturn to step up to the plate and relive their past! So why not pick up thispackage, which features a worldwide superstar admittedly past her commercialpeak, an entire batch of great video clips, and two brand new recordings aswell? And it is a quality package,any way you look at it--but it's also a reminder that the next generation coming up probably won't be able to be servicedwith a similar package in a few years because nobody has distinguished careersanymore--just short term peaks! Then they vanish into oblivion! It's kind of cool!
Various Artists: Dark Was The Night (4AD) A stellar andcomprehensive collection of exclusive tracks put together by Aaron & BryceDessner of the National to benefit the Red Hot Organization--a charity devotedto raising AIDS awareness--this 2CD set features 31 tracks by what would appearto be the hippest artists imaginable. Not to bore you with a simple list, butfeatured here among many others areBon Iver, Iron & Wine, Feist, Arcade Fire, Spoon, My Morning Jacket, AndrewBird and just about every indie-rock senstion of noteemerging in the past few years. PlusYo La Tengo! Now more than ever, in a playlist-driven world, this set seemsmade to order in terms of quality content, a great cause, and offering a way to figure out if Yeasayer and Beirutare as hip as they're supposed to be! Buy this and it'll be OK to be mean for a few minutes--you've earnedit!
Al Kooper: 50/50 (Sony Legacy) Al Kooper is a skilled musician who's had a hand in some of the biggest and bestalbums in pop history--Highway 61Revisited, Let It Bleed, and The Who Sell Out among them--but more importantlyhas a vastly impressive recording catalog of his own. A former member of NewYork's Blues Project and the founder of Blood Sweat & Tears--whose Child Is Father To The Man album, the only one featuring Kooper, is one of the finest pop recordsever--Kooper released a string of excellent albums beginning with 1968's I Stand Alone, and most of them can besampled here. A 50-track digital only release, the set is artfully sequencedand without a single moment of filler. I would suggest you find all hisalbums--especially 1969's You Never KnowWho Your Friends Are, which approaches the BS&T album in itsgreatness--but in the meantime, check out this collection for a taste of thisartist's fab greatness. It's easier to file than ever!
Charlie Wilson: Uncle Charlie (Jive) It would be theheight of crassness to actually use another human's opinion as the basis forone's own review, but as one consumer review on Amazon astutely asked, "IsCharlie still a funkateer or a modern day R&B mackdaddy?" And that indeed appears to be the questionwith this new release by former Gap Band dude Wilson, who oozes charisma,class, and at times, the very mackdaddiness of which that reviewer spoke! Featuringguest appearances by T-Pain and Jamie Foxx, a fine single in "There GoesMy Baby," and some welcome flashes of funk, this collection is healthy,positive in spirit, and in its way, quite classy. Perhaps you'd like it!
Robyn Hitchcock &The Venus 3: Goodnight Oslo (YepRoc) The highly credible, long-lived and still pretty good career of RobynHitchcock proceeds according to plan: His combo the Venus 3 includes PeterBuck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin, guests include the Decemberists' ColinMeloy, and the batch of songs he's assembled are even sturdier than usual. Hisfriendship with director Jonathan Demme, documented in the latter's excellentconcert film a while back, has continued and resulted in the appearance of"Up To Our Nex," heard here, popping up in the soundtrack to Demme'swell-reviewed Rachel Getting Married film.Hey, considering how long the dude has been around, he's quite good!
Steve Kilbey: Painkiller (Second Motion) In a week in which some of the hottest newreleases are by such '80s notables as Morrissey, Annie Lennox and RobynHitchcock, it's worth mentioning that the latest album by the Church's SteveKilbey--his first solo set in seven years--is out and surprisingly groovy. Mindyou, he's rarely been less thangroovy, but as career trajectories go,he came from the fringes with the Church, entered the mainstream in oneblinding flash in the '80s with "Under The Milky Way," thengradually, methodically, headed toward the fringes once more. The music hereswirls, as you might expect if you're familiar with his work, but there aremelodies that catch your attention, rhythms that pulsate, and some fairlybiting lyrics popping up that will remind you of his artistic worthiness, ifthat's slipped your mind. Do check this out.
Soft Machine: Drop (Moonjune) Fans of this pioneering,much-loved British band will be thrilled with the unexpected release of thisdisc, a live set recorded in Germany in 1971, as it captured that brief sliverin the band's history when departed drummer Robert Wyatt's replacement, Phil Howard, joined the band and raised its overall energy levelabsurdly high. A continuous slab ofcacophonous playing--10 tracks running together consecutively--the music ispowerful and at times oddly nerve-racking, as Howard's free-jazzy drum poundingis a jarring complement to that portion of Soft Machine's music which dwelled in soothing drones and precise songstructures. Familiarity with this material, which surfaced in the band's third,fourth and fifth albums (Howard played on only half of the latter), will makethis fascinating listening for fans of the band regardless. Highlyrecommended.
N.A.S.A.: Spirit Of Apollo (Anti) In the samemanner that the Dark Was The Nightcompilation brings together just about anybody who is anybody, this bouncingset has a guest list like you wouldn't believe, includingTom Waits, Karen O, the ghost of Ol' Dirty Bastard, Kool Keith, DavidByrne, Chuck D, Kanye West, Santogold and countless others. But the 17 trackshere have been put together by one pair--SqueakE. Clean and DJ Zegon, calling themselves N.A.S.A.--and the overall effect is less a personality circus andmore a complete, multi-rhythmic work that radiates personality on a track-by-tracklevel. Intricate but always surprisingly accessible, this is a "wave of thefuture" kind of thing, if you're keeping track! Some people are!