I don’t even know why I’m here, frankly. I think it’s pretty well documented that all I do these days is write about television and interview people ’til the cows come home. Once upon a time, though, I used to be a music critic, dammit…and once you’ve had opinions about music, you’ll always have opinions about music. As such, here are my thoughts on the albums and songs that grabbed me this year. This may be the first time I’ve actually written about most of them, but you can damn well be sure that I’ve spent plenty of time listening to them.
1. Tom Jones: Praise & Blame
It’s a pretty consistent tradition that my #1 slot on my Best Albums list of any given year belongs to an artist whose career I’ve followed for quite some time, but Sir Tom earned his spot fair and square. Kicking things off with a stark cover of Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I?” which will leave listeners spellbound, the Welsh wonder goes gospel with this record, and while it’s admittedly not the sort of career move that generally results in the shifting of mass units, it’s a creative success, one which befits a man entering his seventies far more than, say, another retread of “Sexbomb.” Having already secured legendary status (not to mention a knighthood), our man Tom can afford to step outside of people’s perceptions, and for those who’ve been paying attention, that’s what he’s been doing for the past several albums, including 2008’s 24 Hours and his 2004 collaboration with Jools Holland. But while Praise & Blame is a continuation of an existing trend, it’s also arguably the first time Jones has made absolutely no commercial concessions. There’s no wink-and-a-nudge cover of “200 Lbs. of Heavenly joy.” There’s no song by Bono and the Edge nor uber-hip production from Future Cut. There’s just Tom Jones, age 70…and, by God, he’s still got it.
2. Glen Matlock & The Philistines: Born Running
It isn’t as though it’s surprising that John Lydon’s the member of the Sex Pistols who’s gone on to have the most successful solo career – he was, after all, the frontman for the group – but it continues to be equally eyebrow-raising that so few of the band’s fans have kept their ears open for the consistently solid material emerging from Glen Matlock‘s camp. It’s not quite as punk as the Pistols – which makes perfect sense if you believe the story about Matlock supposedly getting the boot from the band for liking the Beatles a bit too much – but the songs on Born Running still pack a fierce wallop.
3. Brian Wilson: Reimagines Gershwin
The older I get, the less I allow myself to feel guilty about enjoying an album that I could easily peddle to people my grandparents’ age. All things considered, I’d much rather have a full collection of new originals from Mr. Wilson, but the way he takes these Gershwin classics and arranges them to match his traditional sound is still music to my ears. Then, of course, there’s the added bonus that he’s taken on the task of completing a couple of previously-unfinished Gershwin songs. Unsurprisingly, they sound just like Brian Wilson compositions…not that there’s anything wrong with that. At all.
4. Farrah: Farrah
There’s Britpop, and then there’s power pop, but you don’t tend to find bands who can manage to comfortably keep a foot in both camp; I’d argue that Farrah succeeds at this task, but given that they don’t have a particularly high profile in either, I suppose it really all depends on how you define success. For my part, though, if an artist releases an album which contains a significant number of catchy-as-hell hooks, it’s top of the pops in my book, which means that this self-titled entry into their discography is yet another winner for Farrah.
Just when you thought there wasn’t an errant molecule left to be polished off Maroon 5’s squeaky-clean pop-funk sound, along comes legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange to add his layers of platinum gloss. Lange’s antiseptic stacks o’ tracks approach helped Def Leppard own the late ’80s (and made it acceptable for a snare drum to sound like a wet sack of potatoes being hit with a two-by-four in reverse), so when word got out that he was producing Hands All Over, eyebrows were raised in anticipation. What do you get when you cross Maroon 5 with the guy who produced world-beating hits for AC/DC, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, and Nickelback?
The answer, as it turns out, isn’t appreciably different from previous Maroon 5 records – not in terms of sound, anyway. Hands All Over is a little more arid than the band’s earlier material, and the nipping and tucking applied to lead singer Adam Levine’s voice is more obvious than usual, but they’ve never been anyone’s idea of a gritty band; Lange’s production style is unmistakably slick, but he’s also smart enough to know there are only so many layers of gloss you can add before the underlying material disappears.
And it’s on that underlying material that Lange seems to have had the biggest influence. Though the band’s songwriting has never really been an issue, Hands All Over presents Maroon 5 at their most radio-ready; even the filler tracks, of which there are a few, sound as sleek and lean as obvious singles fodder like “Misery” and “Never Gonna Leave This Bed.” Much as he’s been guilty of fattening up the sounds of the bands he’s worked with, Lange is a remarkably savvy songwriter with a sharp ear for a song’s inessential bits, and it sounds like he took a judicious scalpel to each of Hands All Over‘s dozen cuts. The end result is as slick as it is hummable.
Of course, it’s also sheer product, but unapologetically so, and at least the product in question is one worth selling. If you’re the type of listener who looks for raw power in your music, Hands All Over is absolutely not for you, but if you’re just looking for a fresh batch of safe, hip-shaking pop to get you through your day – or if you have any kind of appreciation for that elusive sweet spot where airtight pop songcraft and unabashed commerce meet – this is one guilty pleasure you may not need to feel guilty about. (A&M/Octone 2010)
We’re admittedly late with this one (this was released in June), but better late than never when discussing the only album that came remotely close to challenging Thriller on the album charts in the early ’80s. Joe Elliott may make fun of Nick Rhodes for playing keyboards with only two fingers on those VH-1 “I Love the ’80s” shows, but as great as Pyromania is, it was Def Leppard’s ability to appeal to the fairer sex – a rarity for metal acts – that launched them into the stratosphere, and much like Rhodes and his mates in Duran Duran, Def Leppard’s music videos went a long way towards making that happen. (Come on, look at those pictures again of Joe Elliott in the sleeveless Union Jack shirt and his perfect hair. Dude’s the world’s first metrosexual.) Guys loved Def Leppard too because, let’s face it, they kicked ass. It was polished, obsessively overproduced ass, but ass just the same. There isn’t a band alive that wouldn’t claim “Photograph,” “Rock of Ages” and “Foolin'” for themselves. The album tracks, namely “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop),” “Stagefright” and “Too Late for Love,” were just as good.
What makes this deluxe edition of Pyromania a must-have, though, is the bonus disc. We normally dismiss the inclusion of live tracks on any expanded edition as filler, but the live performance here, recorded at the L.A. Forum in 1983, is smoking hot. The band is firing on all cylinders, and the set list is bulletproof. Along with the best moments from Pyromania, the band rips through “Wasted,” “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” “Let It Go,” “High and Dry (Saturday Night),” and they even bring out Brian May to play with them on, of all things, John Fogerty’s “Travelin’ Band,” with a verse of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll” thrown in for good measure. Rock, rock till you drop, indeed. (Mercury 2009)
The 23rd annual induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is coming up, and with it comes the annual bitchfest by music fans and critics as to which bands deserve to get in and which do not. The general public has no say in the nomination or induction process; instead, an anonymous committee chooses the nominations, which are then voted on by an equally anonymous group of 500 “rock experts.” Bands are eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Usually there’s little controversy when it comes to the artists chosen for induction, with the real debates circling around those artists who have yet to be recognized by the Hall of Fame.
The Hall has its prejudices when it comes to selecting those worthy enough for induction. Heavy metal, punk and prog rock have a hard time getting in, while anyone with an obvious blues or country influence seems to be a shoe-in. It also helps to be American or British; no artists from mainland Europe, Africa, South America or Asia have been inducted yet.
With that in mind, Bullz-Eye has selected 10 artists, listed in chronological order of their eligibility, that we feel have been given the shaft by the Hall. These are by no means the 10 “best” artists who have failed to be inducted; just 10 “of the best” who have not yet gotten their due.
Eligible since: 1994
The Stooges self-titled debut came out in 1969 and it’s hard to imagine just how abrasive and loud the Stooges must have sounded to audiences at the time. Try putting them in context: the biggest albums of that year were Abbey Road, Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled record that had the hit “Spinning Wheel” and the original cast recording of “Hair.” One of the biggest singles was “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. Contrast that with “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and a sense of just how far ahead of the times they were begins to develop.
Eligible since: 1999
We are loath to use album sales as a measure of a band’s true worth, but it’s worth noting that Rush’s first 16 studio albums, spanning 22 years, have sold a minimum of 500,000 copies each. The only band with a longer gold-or-better sales streak is the Stones. Aerosmith is just behind Rush, with 14 straight gold-or-better albums, and U2 will probably get there if the band doesn’t kill Bono first. Fittingly, Aerosmith, U2 and the Stones are all in the Hall; Rush, however, are not, and their exclusion can be boiled down to three words: critics hate prog.
Eligible since: 2002
They may have paved the way for Anthrax and their thrash metal ilk, but Motorhead’s influence can be heard in punk music of the ’80s and ’90s, alternative rock groups such as Queens of the Stone Age and even in electronic and new wave music (industrial music is basically thrash metal with keyboards). The Hall hates metal, for some reason – it even took them 11 years to get off their asses and induct Black Sabbath. And if Ozzy and company can barely squeak into the Hall of Fame, an underground act like Motorhead doesn’t have a prayer. Pity.