A few weeks ago, there was a leak that Muse, the Foo Fighters and Eminem would headline Lollapalooza this year. In previous years, when band names have been leaked well before the official announcement, they’ve been accurate, so let’s assume that those are your headliners. Pretty cool and eclectic group, if you ask us. We’ve seen some dyed-in-the-wool alt rockers scoff at the idea of Marshall Mathers playing Lolla, but why the hell not? Snoop Dogg did it two years ago, and no one complained about that.
The festival’s organizers are a good month away from unveiling their lineup, so while we’re in the lull between the leak and the formal announcement, we decided to have a little fun. Here are some bands that we’d love to see take the stage in Grant Park this summer.
Don’t laugh – this makes more sense than the decision to invite Metallica in 1996. They rock harder and faster than anyone alive today, and courtesy of their appearance on “The Young Ones,” they were instantly grandfathered as alt rock forefathers (Ministry’s Psalm 69, anyone?). Still think it’s a long shot? Consider this: Head Foo Fighter Dave Grohl loves Lemmy and has recorded with him, plus the band just released a new record (The World Is Yours), which means a tour is sure to follow. Come on, Perry. You know this would be awesome. Lemmy shows up, drinks all the other bands under the table, and wipes the floor with them onstage. That’s the way we like it, baby.
Of the big UK bands of the last five years, only Franz Ferdinand and Coldplay have yet to play Lolla, and we’re not sure why. It looked as though the stars were aligned for them to play when the band released Tonight, Franz Ferdinand in 2009, but for whatever reason, it never happened. Considering the heavy nature of the three headliners, both musically and lyrically, the festival could use a party band. The only catch is that the band is not working on a new record, and therefore will not likely be on tour this year. Pity.
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
Itâ€™s a pretty consistent tradition that my #1 slot on my Best Albums list of any given year belongs to an artist whose career Iâ€™ve followed for quite some time, but Sir Tom earned his spot fair and square. Kicking things off with a stark cover of Bob Dylanâ€™s â€śWhat Good Am I?â€ť which will leave listeners spellbound, the Welsh wonder goes gospel with this record, and while itâ€™s admittedly not the sort of career move that generally results in the shifting of mass units, itâ€™s a creative success, one which befits a man entering his seventies far more than, say, another retread of â€śSexbomb.â€ť Having already secured legendary status (not to mention a knighthood), our man Tom can afford to step outside of peopleâ€™s perceptions, and for those whoâ€™ve been paying attention, thatâ€™s what heâ€™s been doing for the past several albums, including 2008â€™s 24 Hours and his 2004 collaboration with Jools Holland. But while Praise & Blame is a continuation of an existing trend, itâ€™s also arguably the first time Jones has made absolutely no commercial concessions. Thereâ€™s no wink-and-a-nudge cover of â€ś200 Lbs. of Heavenly joy.â€ť Thereâ€™s no song by Bono and the Edge nor uber-hip production from Future Cut. Thereâ€™s just Tom Jones, age 70â€¦and, by God, heâ€™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.
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”
3. Prefab Sprout: Letâ€™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: Itâ€™s Not How You Start, Itâ€™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”
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”
RIYL: Roxy Music, Thievery Corporation, The Blue Nile
Bryan Ferry’s post-Roxy Music solo career exists in a coccoon of sorts, with few fingerprints from the outside world sullying their beauty and timelessness. Before anyone mistakes that for overblown hyperbole, let’s look at those words a little more closely. His records are beautiful in the sense that they are impeccably played and produced, and they’re timeless in that Olympia, his latest solo record of (mostly) original material, could have come out the same year he released his last solo album Frantic (2002), or Mamouna (1994), or even Bete Noire (1987). Likewise, Mamouna and Frantic could have come out this year without anyone batting an eye as to when they were recorded.
So they are beautiful and timeless, yes. But truth be told, Ferry hasn’t written a really compelling song in quite a while – that might explain why he hasn’t made back-to-back albums of original material since 1987 – and Olympia does not buck the trend. There are some nice moments, like the bouncy “Shameless,” the haunting “Reason or Rhyme,” and his convincing cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren,” but there isn’t a “Slave to Love,” or even a “Limbo,” to be found, a point only exacerbated by opening track “You Can Dance,” which begins with a sample of Avalon track “True to Life.” Likewise, “Me Oh My” is built on the bones of “My Only Love,” from Roxy’s Flesh & Blood. Neither song is bad, per se, but they’ve been done before, and better. There is also the matter of Ferry’s voice. He sings the entire album in that whispered hush, rarely testing his upper range or even his falsetto.
No one expects Ferry to churn out hard-charging numbers like “Both Ends Burning” anymore, but Olympia is awfully sedate, even for a man known for his lounge lizard cool. It’s more or less interchangeable with his recent work, which is a bit of a letdown considering Ferry was able to get four other Roxy veterans (Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, Andy Newmark) to appear, but the overall effort is good enough. If you’re content with good enough, that is. (Astralwerks 2010)
RIYL: The Bee Gees, Hercules and Love Affair, Giorgio Moroder
The Scissor Sisters were putting the finishing touches on their third album when a funny thing happened – they realized they hated it. So they scrapped it and started from scratch. The Beatles did this once; the end result was Abbey Road. Then again, Duran Duran did this too, and the end result was Red Carpet Massacre. Results, as you can see, may vary.
Thankfully, this is no massacre. Night Work contains all of the band’s trademarks – the discotastic bass lines, the finest falsetto work since the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack – but it comes with an extra dose of sleaze. This is easily the randiest album the Sisters have made to date (“Take me in front of my parents,” singer Ana Matronic begs at one point), yet strangely it also contains some of their most conservative songs. It’s as if the band has recognized that they will not achieve the superstar status in the States that they enjoy in the UK and Australia and decided to let their freak flag fly – for all the advancements we’ve made as a society in terms of gay rights, the Hot 100 is downright hostile to openly gay acts, certain American Idol winners excepted – but still gave it one last shot by writing a couple songs that sounded “less gay.” It should surprise no one that those are the album’s weakest moments.
That’s right, anthemic Killers wannabe “Fire with Fire,” we’re looking in your direction. Besides containing one of the laziest choruses singer Jake Shears has ever written (it basically repeats ‘fire’ and ‘desire’ over again), the song is like a rented tux, with the band getting dressed up for an event they’d rather not attend. Even odder is the title track, which sounds like a standard Scissor Sisters song but tries a little too hard to sound like a standard Scissor Sisters song. With those two songs out of the way by track three, the album takes off from there, from the ultra-funky “Any Which Way” to the Kraftwerk-riffing “Something Like This.” Shears even does a remarkably effective Chris Difford impression on the rockin’ “Harder You Get,” but the album’s final two tracks are its finest. “Nightlife” is fast but moody and sports the album’s best chorus, while “Invisible Light,” which features a spoken-word interlude from Sir Ian McKellen, builds into a dizzying, Trevor Horn-style climax like a next-gen “Welcome to the Pleasuredome.”
Night Work is a lean, mean dancing machine of an album, eschewing the theatrical element from their earlier work in favor of full-on disco bliss. All bands should be required by law to nearly implode if it results in more albums like this. (Downtown 2010)