Looking back at my rock & roll ’06, employing a list of lists . . .
So, 2006 was a decent year for songs, but not as great for albums. As you know, this has been the case for quite some time.
Nevertheless, there were some outstanding rock & roll albums in 2006. Even more, there were decent albums that would have made really unstoppable EPs. All of which brings us to List #1.
? CHARMING MISFITS: Fun indie rock albums that deserved way more lovin’ than they got last year.
1.L.E.O., Alpacas Orgling (Cheap Lullabye). A supergroup (featuring members of Chicago, Hanson, the Black Crowes, Jellyfish, et al.) gathered to do one thing: record exuberant songs in the style of Electric Light Orchestra and the great Jeff Lynne. (Did I dream this?) At a time when everyone was borrowing from the ’70s and ’80s anyway, it was awfully refreshing to see a group admit their methods up-front, and do it all for nothing but love. Neat trick: E.L.O. novices and devotees alike can dig. Fave rave: “Goodbye Innocence.”
2.The Nice Boys, The Nice Boys(Birdman). This new glammy-pants Portland band reached beyond its grasp, sure — but what a tasteful grasp: T. Rex, Bay City Rollers, Ramones . . . With good hair and cool pants to boot, this is exactly the kind of indie-rock band we should be encouraging, people! Fave rave: “Teenage Nights.”
3.Citay, Citay (Important). Stoner rock for nonstoners like me, I guess. Largely instrumental, heavily Zeppelin- and Heart-based; undeniable gnome influence. Tonsa harmonized guitars. From the Bay Area. Fave rave: “What Never Was and What Should Have Been.”
4.Mohair, Small Talk (Grunion). Weird record — hard to define, exactly. Power pop-ish, with harmonies to please any Beach Boys head, odd structures — but a highly verbal, overly caffeinated delivery. Recorded in a barn in Scotland by a bunch of Londoners. A song about L.A., too. (I told you it was hard to explain.) Fave rave: “Life.”
5.The Ark, State of the Ark (Virgin). Glam-rock disco from Sweden, the kind of music Erasure and the Sweet would back. Cocksure leader singing politicized anthems to pan-gender liberation (“The Others”), love and the romantic potential of mortality (“One of Us Is Gonna Die Young,” my fave rave).
6. The Mother Hips, Red Tandy EP (Camera). You hear this music — “California Soul from the Golden Coast,” they call it — and you go, Excuse me, but what the fuck? Is there a reason this super-harmonic roots-rock sweet-potato pie wasn’t a bigger deal in ’06? And is there a reason this incredibly well-oiled veteran band of survivors still play the Mint when they come down from NoCal? Not a good one, anyway. Fave rave: “Red Tandy.”
?CURIOUS EXPERIMENTS: In 2006, several of my mainstream pop heroes released notable, risky projects — and most proved to be intriguing disappointments (which are preferable to boring ones!).
1.Pharrell, In My Mind (Interscope). Love Pharrell as a producer and collaborator, but this solo venture didn’t quite cut the ketchup. Of course, any album receiving that much pre-release hype (a “pre-quel” album to the real album?) is probably pushing it. (I dug the fluffy-wuffy “Angel,” with that fake Curtis Mayfield falsetto Pharrell does so well.)
2.Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere(Downtown). The delightful pop-art spirit (and heroic costuming) get super high-fives. Musically, though, I got problems. I actually found St. Elsewhere difficult to listen to as an album, front to end, partially because it lacked genuine hooks to match its populist heart — and partially because it was pretty bleak lyrically. I think I actually prefer solo Cee-Lo. Does that make me crazy? (Possibly.) For anyone new to the Cee-Lo phenomenon: Check out “The Art of Noise,” a psychedelic-gospel collab with Pharrell (off 2004’s Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine).
3.OutKast, Idlewild(the movie, mostly). I adore OutKast, but this overbusy one didn’t quite work for me. I feel like they were trying to make a Baz Luhrmann film when they would have done better with Bugsy Malone.
4.The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers (V2/Third Man). Kind of a jumble-sale of good but unfulfilled song ideas, lacking a cohesive sense of band-identity. For me, a head-scratcher. But I ain’t hating. People got to try new things.
5. The Beatles’ Love(the soundtrack, not the Cirque du Soleil show). There will always be room in the world for skillful reinterpretations of great music — like this ProTools-y pastiche of Beatles recordings by their producer, George Martin, and his son Giles. More than anything, this one’s a portrait of Martin’s mind, and of his vision of the Beatles’ music, shot through the prism of time, and of digital technology. He’s the one for the job, if anyone is. Then again, for me this mashup is too much a cleanup — which is ironic, since it culls heavily from alternate takes originally omitted from the more “perfect” studio albums. In the end, I miss the rough edges of those records. I need the rough edges.
?HAPPY SURPRISES: Along with disappointments, last year offered numerous moments of pop-cultural surprise.
1.Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive).The title pretty much guaranteed success for this album (see also: BloodSugarSexMagik, Love.Angel.Music.Baby). The pandrogynous genre-bending helped. Fave rave (duh): “Sexyback.”
2.The Stones actually had a decent single: “Streets of Love,” off late-’05’s A Bigger Bang (Virgin).Sort of a Some Girls castaway. Never thought I’d see the day.
3.Beck wrote a pretty good Stones song too! “Strange Apparition,” off The Information, was surely an Exile castaway. Loved it.
4.Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Downtown). Same influences as all the other fake-postpunk bands (Gang of Four, Wire, etc.) — but none of the easy gloom. Just joy and humor and humanity infused into every bleeping second, crystallized in the lyric “We’re going to write a song as universal as Happy Birthday/That makes sure everybody knows that everything is going to be okay!” Fave rave: “Formed a Band.”
5.Drake Bell, It’s Only Time (Motown/Universal). Mostly known as the star of Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh (and all of 20 years old), Bell and band made an ambitious album of piano power-pop — then played it on MTV’s Total Request Live! (Did I dream that?) Fave rave: the three-song medley (about 8 minutes total!), seemingly inspired by McCartney’s underrated ’73 LP Red Rose Speedway.
6.Weird Al, Straight Outta Lynwood (Volcano). The pop album that gave, and kept on giving, embracing recent and old shit in ways you just couldn’t believe: A Smiley Smile tribute called “Pancreas” next to a Green Day spoof called “Canadian Idiot”? Oh no he didn’t! The full-length R. Kelly salute “Trapped In the Drive-Thru” alongside a Sparks takeoff called “Virus Alert”? Oh yes he did!
7.Eagles of Death Metal,Death By Sexy (Downtown). Who knew a half-serious, sleaze-rock side-project could be halfway decent?
8. Cobra Starship, “Snakes on a Plane.” I know, you’ve already forgotten about this. Funny song, though.
?UNHAPPY UNSURPISES: A few predictable bummers.
1.Fergie’s “London Bridge” was a major Gwen Stefani ripoff — but Gwen can take as good as she gives. More annoying was the way “Fergalicious” ripped off JJ Fadd’s early girly-hip-hop hit, “Supersonic.”
2.Chris Cornell got the chance to record a James Bond theme song, a rare opportunity to enter the realm of Wings and Duran Duran — and bunted.
3.Guns ’N Roses’ Chinese Democracystill didn’t come out.
? STADIUM-ROCK AMBITIONS: In 2006, the late ’70s/early ’80s was the cool era to embrace — which meant, for the intrepid, attempting stadium-rock opuses. (And Yes, there was a lot of prog-rock influence going on, even on KROQ.) My faves were the LPs that managed — one way or another — to combine the yang of stadium rock with the femininity of glam.
1.Wolfmother, Wolfmother (Interscope). My all-around favorite album of 2006, and not just for the huge guitars and drums and pop joys and all-around Zep/Sabbath goodness. The clincher was that listening to it, I felt I was in secure hands. I could relax and enjoy. There was a basic level of quality control, precision and consistency — no filler. Wolfmother had an ambitious but simple vision for this album, and they achieved their goal as well as any band in 2006. Fave rave: “Colossal.”
2.Muse, Black Holes and Revelations (Warner Bros./WEA) Like the gothic St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, this album had an almost absurd pomposity you had to admire — whether or not you even liked the music. In spirit, if not always style, it tried harder to be Queen than anything else I heard in 2006. Personally, I’ll never get used to singer Matthew Bellamy’s hyper-stylizations, but I sure ain’t mad at ’em. Fave rave: “Invincible.”
3.The Killers, Sam’s Town (Island). Not the strongest album of the year, if only because it lacked convincing choruses. But the Killers deserved respect for attempting to surpass themselves, reaching up toward Queen and Springsteen. Instead, they got critical hateration. I can’t figure it. This is what they call “tall poppy syndrome” in Australia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tall_poppy_syndrome] : The brightest, most ambitious kids get cut down. Ain’t right, I tell ya. Fave rave: “Help Me Get Down.”
? RAD OLD STUFF: A few non-new things I discovered this year.
1.Andy Kim, How’d We Ever Get This Way/Rainbow Ride; Baby, I Love You/Andy Kim (Collector’s Choice). Hearing these 2006 reissues was like finding a jewelry box buried in the backyard. A singer-songwriter’s spin on bubblegum — Kim cowrote the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” — these ’70s treasures were pure delight. Fave rave: “Baby I Love You.”
2.The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (Shout Factory). These DVDs — featuring uncut episodes of the astonishing late-night talk show — blew my very mind. Besides the sweaty, pimply, passionate, un-lip-synced performances (Janis, Joni, Sly, et al.), these shows featured gripping conversations between artists, actors, politicians — all of them as polite as they were outrageous. Cool.
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3. Os Mutantes, Tecnicolor (Planet Rhythm). After recording this album in November 1970, these Brazilian psychedelic rebels reportedly lost the tapes — for 30 years! This year they had their day in the sun, though, and also opened for the Flaming Lips. Fave rave: “I’m Sorry Baby.”
? OUR LOSS, HEAVEN’S GAIN. Finally, a grateful farewell to some of the shining stars who took their place in the sky: Syd Barrett, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Desmond Dekker, J Dilla, Ahmet Ertegun, Freddy Fender, Arthur Lee, Arif Mardin, Anita O’Day, Buck Owens, Wilson Pickett, Gene Pitney, Billy Preston, Lou Rawls and Sandy West. Thank you.
Shine on, you crazy diamonds.
Hear songs from this week’s column on the Super Fun Music Hour, today (Thurs., Jan. 4) at 4 p.m. on littleradio.com — or hear the podcast later at laweekly.com.