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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OMD: History of Modern

RIYL: old-school OMD, Kraftwerk

One could make a strong case for OMD as one of the most overlooked bands of synth pop’s first wave, and ironically, it was their commercial success that diminished their profile. Before the band struck American gold with “So in Love” and “If You Leave,” OMD were more inclined to mess around with their new toys just to see what kinds of sounds they could make. Hit songs were a bonus, but the band was more concerned with making art with a capital A. Then those hits came, and damned if it didn’t feel nice and warm in the spotlight. The band wanted to stay there a little longer, so they made 1986’s The Pacific Age. They were rewarded with one Top 20 single in “(Forever) Live and Die” and declining record sales on both sides of the pond. Not even a support slot on Depeche Mode’s stadium-filling Music for the Masses tour could stop the band from imploding, as singer Andy McCluskey watched the rest of the band walk away. Whoops.


McCluskey ultimately grew tired of carrying the OMD torch by himself after 1996’s Universal, but it was ten more years before McCluskey and co-founder Paul Humphreys buried the hatchet and embarked on a special tour featuring the band’s Architecture and Morality in its entirety (which makes them trendsetters on the ‘full album live’ front). At long last, McCluskey and Humphreys, along with original rhythm section Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper, are releasing History of Modern, their first album together since The Pacific Age. The good news is that they clearly recognize that there was magic in the sound of those early albums that was missing from their later work. The bad news is that they seem content to use their old songs as the framework for their new ones. And Humphreys doesn’t get a single lead vocal.

Sometimes the similarities to earlier songs are subtle, like the vocal in ther verses to “The Right Side.” The track itself is pure Krautrock goodness, but the vocal melody in the verse bears a strong resemblance to “We Love You.” Other songs are a bit more outspoken in terms of their origins; “RFWK,” another Kraut-ish gem (the title references the first initials of Kraftwerk’s best-known lineup), is essentially the 2010 version of “Souvenir,” while “Sister Mary Says” is a little bit “Enola Gay,” a little bit “Dreaming,” with a vocal melody in the verse that recalls the unintelligible vocal snippet throughout “Flame of Hope.” Interestingly, this song’s origins go back to 1981, and McCluskey revisited it for inclusion on Universal, but decided against it because it sounded too much like old OMD. That the song would be acceptable for inclusion now is either amusing, cynical or sad – we’re honestly not sure which.

Sonically, History of Modern chugs along like the long-lost follow-up to Junk Culture. Musically, it could have used a little more time in the oven. There are glimmers of hope here and there, like the shimmering “Sometimes” (dig the Macy Gray-ish vocals by Jennifer John), but the next time McCluskey and Humphreys decide to make a record together, let’s hope that the collaboration is a mutual one, rather than Humphreys agreeing to perform a bunch of songs McCluskey has already written. (Bright Antenna 2010)

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Click to buy History of Modern from Amazon