Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums and Songs of 2010: Associate Editor Will Harris’s picks

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.

Favorite Albums

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.

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Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Senior Editor David Medsker’s picks

Having children has had a profound impact on my musical tastes. Will it make them cry? Will it teach them naughty words? Will it bore them? Then it doesn’t get played around the house, which has resulted in my sharp turn towards the poppier side of modern. And really, once you’ve seen your three-year-old completely lose his shit when hearing a song with a chorus of “Na, na na na, na na na, na na na na na na na,” it’s hard to push anything on him that doesn’t come armed to the teeth with the pop hooks. Mind you, I think the Ramones are a pop band too, so I’m painting with a pretty broad brush here. But make no mistake – these bands are pop bands, of varying stripes and shapes. If you fancy yourself a hipster, you’d be best to move on and check out one of the other writers’ lists. I gave up being hip a couple years ago, and let me tell you: it’s extremely liberating.

Note: Some of the notes at the end of the write-ups will offer suggestions of which songs to check out. Others actually offer the songs. If you see “Click here for a free download…”, those songs are on our server, meaning you won’t be dragged off to some site that asks you to give up your email address for a song. These puppies all come with no strings attached, so please download away.

Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Mark Ronson: Record Collection
Ahhhhhh. If I get to heaven, this is what the radio station will sound like. Tasteful drum beats paired with even tastier synth tracks, highlighted by brilliantly chosen guest contributors from Q-Tip and D’Angelo to Simon Le Bon and a devastating performance by Boy George. Definitely gonna ride this bike until we get home.
Download these: “The Bike Song,” “Somebody to Love Me,” “Record Collection”

2. Hey Champ: Star
I’m a sucker for any band that justifies my love for New Order and the Buggles, and this Chicago trio threw down synth pop/rock that, in an ideal world, would have Passion Pit opening for them, not the other way around.
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ’s “Neverest”
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ’s “Cold Dust Girl”

3. Prefab Sprout: Let’s Change the World with Music
Man, what a sweet surprise this was. Originally scheduled to be the follow-up album to 1990’s Jordan: The Comeback, the album was scrapped despite Prefab leader Paddy McAloon already finishing studio-quality demo versions of every song. Eighteen years later, the songs finally see the light of day, and the result is instant nostalgia. He supposedly has dozens more albums on his shelves from the same period. Please don’t make us wait 18 years for the next one, Paddy.
Download these: “Let There Be Music,” “Ride,” “God Watch Over You”

4. The Hours: It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish
This one is knocked down a few rungs on a technicality, in that it’s a Franken-album consisting of the best songs from the band’s two UK-only releases. But hot damn, are those songs good. Shimmering, sky-high, piano-driven pop that addresses the darkness in people’s lives but strives for hope and change. No wonder Nike used one of these songs for their unforgettable “Human Chain” ad earlier this year. Favorite lyric: “I can understand how someone can go over to the dark side, ’cause the Devil, he’s got all the tunes.”
Download these: “See the Light,” “Big Black Hole,” “Come On”

The Hours – “See The Light” 2010 Edit from Adeline Records on Vimeo.

5. The Silver Seas: Chateau Revenge
I’m still pissed about this one. I got a sneak peek of the record months before its release because our publicist is tight with the band. We played the daylights out of it, and couldn’t wait to sing its praises when it came out in April…only April never happened. Then it was July, and when it came out, the damn thing was buried. Why, why, why? Not enough irony or cynicism? I see no reason why the Shins can sell millions while the Silver Seas still toil in obscurity. The phrase ‘criminally underrated’ was written about bands like this.
Click here for a free download of the Silver Seas’ “The Best Things in Life”


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Prefab Sprout: Let’s Change the World with Music


RIYL: China Crisis, Belle & Sebastian, Stephen Sondheim

Music industry cynics joke of how death is a hell of a career move, but that only applies to the maladjusted and self-destructive. What can a sane, well-balanced songsmith do to raise his profile while maintaining a pulse?

The answer: pull a Brian Wilson. Make a great record, then shelve it.

Paddy_Prefab

Mind you, this was not Paddy McAloon’s intention when he began assembling Let’s Change the World with Music in 1992. At the time, he fully expected to make this record with his bandmates Martin McAloon, Wendy Smith and Neil Conti, with longtime producer Thomas Dolby behind the boards. He was merely assembling demo versions of the songs in his traditionally fastidious manner so the others could flesh them out in the studio…only the fleshing out never happened. The label felt the album’s religious overtones were too strong – which is pretty funny considering that the band’s previous album and BRIT Award nominee Jordan: The Comeback dedicated its final five songs to religious overtones, including one song from the point of view of the Devil begging the archangel Michael to put in a good word with God for him – and the album was scrapped.

McAloon only released two Prefab albums after that, and despite continuing to record, he has no plans to release another album. But when his former home Kitchenware begged him to let them release Let’s Change the World with Music, McAloon decided that late was better than never. And with that, Prefab Sprout has released its best album in 20 years.

Sonically, the album sounds like the tracks that Stephen Lipson produced for Prefab’s 1992 singles collection A Life of Surprises – sequencers and drum machines rule the roost, which makes sense since McAloon assembled the entire record himself – and the dated nature of the electronics works in the album’s favor, as it evokes a time when Prefab was a force to be reckoned with. (Rolling Stone didn’t write an article about McAloon, called “The Last Pop Genius,” for nothing.) Musically, the album is Jordan: The Comeback‘s kissing cousin, with a couple nods to the band’s breakthrough album Steve McQueen (called Two Wheels Good in the States). “I Love Music” is cut from the same cloth as “Horsin’ Around” (the name drop of Irving Berlin is no coincidence), while “Ride” would have been a perfect double A-side for “Scarlet Nights.” The most refreshing thing about Let’s Change the World is how hopeful it is; there isn’t a “When Love Breaks Down” or “Ice Maiden” to be found, as McAloon is too busy turning a song about the earth into a plea for affection, and he even writes a love song about music itself, where he swoons of how “music is a princess, and I’m just a boy in rags.”

The commercial prospects of an album like Let’s Change the World with Music in today’s climate are admittedly are not optimistic – though it did crack the UK Top 40, and probably would have gone higher had the Beatles not re-released their catalog the same week – but that is hardly the point; McAloon has been preaching to the choir for years, and for them, Let’s Change the World is like Santa Claus going back in time to deliver the Christmas gift you wanted 18 years ago. Proof positive that indeed nothing sounds as good as, “I remember that.” (Tompkins Square 2010)

Click to buy Let’s Change the World with Music from Amazon

  

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