Here is my annual rundown of the albums that came into my life this year and were treasured for various reasons. This year I’m choosing an Album of the Year as well as a Runner-Up for Album of the Year. And I’m blowing the wad right up front:
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Panic! At the Disco
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out
Sounds Like: The love child of Fall Out boy and the Killers, if they lived in the 1940s and did lots of coke, and sung lyrics written by the ghost of Allen Ginsburg as channeled through Denise Duhamel
Representative Lyric:: “Talk to the mirror / oh choke back tears / and keep telling yourself / ‘I’m a diva!'” (“There’s a Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered, Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of It Yet”)
Best Track(s): “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage,” “Nails for Breakfast, Tacks for Snacks,” “Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off,” “But It’s Better When We Do,” “There’s a Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered, Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of It Yet”
Notes: Panic! At the Disco are a really ingenious rock band. Long, narrative titles connect the songs on this disc into two cohesive narratives—one about patients in a mental hospital/disaffected youth, the other about a wedding and relationship gone awry—whose lyrics crack and pop with intellect, acuity, and their own music. Plus, they’re all cute.
Everything in Transit
Sounds Like: Ben Folds backed by a Beatles cover band
Representative Lyric:: “And every word / to every song I ever heard / that made me want to stay / is playing through the in-flight radio” (“Bruised”)
Best Track(s): “Bruised,” “Holiday from Real,” “MFEO Part 1,” “Dark Blue,” “I’m Ready”
Notes: It might be premature for me to elevate this album to this place on my annual chart, but like this year’s Album of the Year I have been unable to listen to virtually anything else since getting it.
OTHER NOTABLE ALBUMS:
Sounds Like: somewhat generic alterna-pop with catchy hooks and nice lyrics
Representative Lyric: “The phone rings / and she screams / ‘Stab my back / It’s better when I bleed for you.'” (“Stab My Back”)
Best Track(s): “Move Along,” “Stab My Back,” “It Ends Tonight,” “Dirty Little Secret.”
Angels & Airwaves
We Don’t Need to Whisper
Sounds Like: the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Opera
Representative Lyric:: “I can’t live / I can’t breathe / unless you do this with me.” (“The Adventure”)
Best Track(s): “The Adventure,” “Distraction”
Notes: This is one of the singers from Blink-182’s afterlife project. It’s good–so different from that original band, but very inventive and with a sort of familiar, vintage sound.
Sounds Like: Something you’d hear on Radio Disney: Deutschland
Representative Lyric: “I don’t want to settle down / I just want to have fun / I don’t want to settle down / I just want to chew gum” (“Chewing Gum”)
Best Track(s): “Me Plus One,” “Happy Without You,” “Heartbeat,” “Greatest Hit”
Notes: Although her accent is a little disconcerting, this is finely crafted power pop! She has a song called “Chewing Gum,” for Pete’s sake! With her saccarine vocals, inane lyrics, and irresisible hooks, this album will seduce you—and then take over your nation.
Back to Basics
Sounds Like: Somebody put their panties back on. Well, half on.
Representative Lyric: “Beautiful boy / How did I ever do something worth deserving you / My better half / How I cherish through and through every part of you.” (“Without You”)
Best Track(s): “Ain’t No Other Man,” “Back in the Day,” “Without You,” “Hurt,” “Still Dirrty”
Notes: An ambitious double-album of retro-influenced tunes, Aguilera’s new project oozes love, love, love—for her husband, who, from the sounds of it, is God’s gift to humankind.
Sounds Like: An unofficial soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain
Representative Lyric: “The way you stirred your coffee like an / angel in the morning / still you dare to change your mind / you’ll be sorry when it’s over / when you’ve had your taste of freedom / don’t come crying on my shoulder” (“Boy”)
Best Track(s): “Boy,” “Tenderest Moments,” “Stay,” “Alien”
Notes: As inventive as it is moving, Erasure’s new project revisions many of their old songs as slide-guitar acoustic meditations. Fantasti—breathtaking—inspired—and wonderful.
Sounds Like: Joss Stone + talent + heartbreak
Representative Lyric: “But I will still be here / I have no thought of leaving / I do not count the time / for who knows where the time goes?” (“Who Knows Where the Time Goes”)
Best Track(s): “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Fever,” “Imagine”
Notes: If you know anything about Eva Cassidy, your heart’s already broken. An amazingly talented singer who died far too young and before she could really hit it big in the music industry, she left behind a series of bootlegged concerts and small albums. This one, mostly covers, features Eva and some acoustic backdrops—which, really, is all she ever needed.
The Best Little Secrets Are Kept
Sounds Like: Five dirty fratboys playing with some instruments, a karaoke machine, and poor British accents in 1968
Representative Lyric: “Ah bang a gong or get it on / We don’t need to take off our clothes to get it on / Pull your skirt up a little bit / Pull down your top and show me a little tit” (“Paper Doll”)
Best Track(s): “Pledge of Allegiance,” “Illegal Tender,” “A Letter to Dominique,” “Paper Doll,” “God Killed the Queen”
Notes:Raucous and raunchy, Louix XIV is out of control. This album is totally fun but totally concerning with all its lyrics about tying people up, torturing them, and, in the immortal words of Reese Witherspoon in Freeway, “Doing sex to their dead bodies.”
Sounds Like: Daniel Bedingfield in a dress and an attitude
Representative Lyric: “Read some Byron, Shelley, and Keats / recited it over a hip-hop beat / I’m having trouble saying what I mean / with dead poets and drum machines.” (“These Words”)
Best Track(s): “Unwritten,” “Single,” “I Bruise Easy,” “These Words”
Notes: All right, it’s catchy, but it’s also all over the map. Bedingfield plays with hip hop, R&B, pop, ballads, etc, etc, etc, pretty much trying on everything in her musical closet but not able to choose quite the right thing for her night out.
Sounds Like: Typical Nelly Furtado, dipping into the Well of Many Sounds, but coming up with keepers
Representative Lyric: “She’s a maneater, make you work hard / Make you spend hard / Make you want all of her love” (“Maneater”)
Best Track(s): “Afraid,” “Maneater,” “All Good Things Come to an End,” “Say It Right,” “No Hay Igual,” “Promiscuous”
Notes: I like Nelly Furtado and I’m not sorry. She’s interesting and different and this is a fun album, but I think it has a little more substance than your typical pop disc, although this is dumbed down from the depth of her debut album.
Begin to Hope
Sounds Like: Björk singing Tori Amos songs on Rufus Wainwright’s piano
Representative Lyric:: “On the radio / we heard ‘November Rain’ / That solo’s awfully long / but it’s a good refrain / We listened to it twice / because the DJ is asleep” (“On the Radio”)
Best Track(s): “Fidelity,” “Better,” “Samson,” “On the Radio”
Notes: Regina is weird and different, but very interesting. Her arrangements are inspired, her lyrics strange and wonderful, and her sound completely individual.
Sounds Like: Elton John giving CPR to various members of the Bee Gees while Donna Summer looks on disapprovingly
Representative Lyric: “It’s a bitch convincing people to like you / If I stop now call me a quitter / If lies were cats you’d be a litter” (“I Can’t Decide”)
Best Track(s): “Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” “I Can’t Decide,” “She’s My Man,” “Might Tell You Tonight,” “Everybody Wants the Same Thing”
Notes: This album took me a long time to appreciate, but it was worth the repeated listenings. Although very retro—almost too much kitsch, not enough camp—the album encapsulates what I think is a very “now” perspective on pop music: a certain darkness, an edge, a disappointment…it’s an interesting collection, and one that shows them growing out of the roots of the first album.
She Wants Revenge
She Wants Revenge
Sounds Like: The guy you dated with the neck tattoo is back—the one who really liked Joy Division?—and he wants to marry you or bury you, your choice.
Representative Lyric: “I heard it’s cold out, but her popsicle melts /She’s in the bathroom, she pleasures herself / Says I’m a bad man, she’s locking me out / It’s cause of these things, it’s cause of these things” (“These Things”)
Best Track(s): “Out of Control,” “Red Flags and Long Nights,” “These Things,” “I Don’t Wanna Fall in Love”
Notes: It’s a little creepy, a little sexy, and a little subdued, but it’s a nice debut album by a group clearly influenced by 80s giants like Joy Division and Depeche Mode. The monotone singing gets a little old, but overall this is a nice album for nighttime desert driving past your ex’s house. Again and again and again.
Sounds Like: Mid-to-late 90s alterna-rock: poppy, snarling, and perfect
Representative Lyric: “It’s hard to argue when / you won’t stop making sense / but my tongue still misbehaves and it / keep digging my own grave” (“Hands Open”)
Best Track(s): “You’re All I Have,” “Hands Open,” “Chasing Cars,” “Close Your Eyes”
Notes: It took me a while to hop on the Snow Patrol train, but this album was worth the wait. It’s a nearly perfect pop album with great lyrics, great guitar riffs and hooks, and catchy but meaningful and interesting lyrics.
Stand Still, Look Pretty
Sounds Like: Michelle Branch calling you from her double-wide
Representative Lyric: “Now you can drag out the heartache / Baby you can make it quick / You can get it over with and let me move on / Don’t concern yourself with this mess you left for me” (“Leave the Pieces”)
Best Track(s): “The Good Kind,” “Cigarettes,” “Leave the Pieces”
Notes: Michelle Branch, famous for commenting on just how much C*CK one has to *ahem* in order to get a song heard on pop radio, foresakes her previous albums and goes full-tilt Dixie Chicks with her new singing partner Jessica Harp. The result is pure Branch—really, hasn’t she flirted with this all along?—and pure joy as Branch gives herself over to the melancholia and heartbreak that country music encourages.