2008 Album of the Year
For lack of better choices
2007 offered plenty to be excited about. Radiohead released a sophisticated new album. Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, in my minority opinion, blew their first release out of the water. But this last year has been a flood of mediocrity with recycled relics from past decades sadly floating to the top.
First off, am I the only one who is rolling his eyes at the attention being paid to Guns 'N Roses' new album. For one thing, Axl is the only one from the original band, so it's a farce that they're even using that name. When Led Zeppelin picks a new singer, they're sure as hell not gonna be cashing in on the same name. But then again, those guys have integrity. "GNR"'s new one has been receiving some favorable reviews, but I'm wondering just how badly those reviewers were jonesing for a throwback to Appetite for Destruction. I think their praise came purely from withdrawal. Chinese Democracy is not good. It's a reformatted version of a twenty-year-old formula.
On that same note, Metallica and AC/DC should be ignored for their recent attempts at going back in time and dragging us with them. The guitars on Metallica's new album sound like stock riffs downloaded from the Internet. They sound like samples from the song-making program Garage Band. The lyrics would fit better coming from a teenage metal band that's just starting out, and Hetfield has never sounded so at a loss for ideas. AC/DC's sound is just as tired, and it's a shame these musicians have shown no capacity for evolution.
Rolling Stone just sent me a link to participate in their readers' poll to vote on the best songs, bands, and albums from this year, and at first I was excited to lend my opinion. But the choices were depressing. If I ever vote for Lil' Wayne for best anything, unless it's best example of pop culture's abysmal standards, please shoot me in the head. I didn't even complete the survey. This year wasn't all bad, though. There were a couple highlights.
Coldplay's Viva la Vida is, unquestionably, an accomplishment for that band. They received some significant criticism for their previous release, X & Y, and they have followed it up with a stunning worldly sound that has broken down doors and, I hope, insecurities for them. The song "42," for example, found me singing out loud with a big stupid grin on my face as I walked through Queens listening to headphones.
The Killers' fourth release (if you count the little-known collection of b-sides and rarities, Sawdust) is a step forward for them as well. Day and Age showcases by far the best production value they have been able to achieve to date. The soaring synthesizers paint a background of neon pink and glowing lights behind the album's soundscape, which makes me eager to hear what the songs sound like live. "This Is Your Life" became a quick favorite of mine, with a unique bass line and mix of vocal samples that suggest a new maturity. Unfortunately, Brandon Flowers' fragile, girlish ego promises to keep this band from being the top-tier showmen they deserve to be. If you like these guys, do yourself a favor and stay away from their interviews.
All that commentary aside, my award for Album of the Year goes to The Airborne Toxic Event for their self-titled debut. When I saw this fivesome perform over the summer in Portland, their album hadn't come out yet and they were playing a tiny, alcohol-fueled room. Their first effort at a tour was funded primarily by their single "Sometime around Midnight," which I have been thrilled to see getting airtime all over the country and even appearing in the movie Eagle Eye. Their music is just enough heart, just enough hook and polish, and is a great night of rock 'n roll if you ever get the chance to catch them in a small bar. Take your shot at it now, because they're gonna be getting big. Picture prose-like lyrics being howled in a scratchy voice over punky rock beats with guitars that pay off when they need to.
Although Airborne is a worthy recipient of this honor, it feels almost like I'm granting it by default. There is innovative music being made out there, but it's being forced to break through a thick layer of same-old sludge before it gets any air. As consumers, help me in the fight to reward the good guys and ignore the rest.