If 2011’s musical harvest represented anything, it was that you can unite, re-unite, and de-unite but if the songs aren’t there, none of it matters. That was true overall, from the Cars reunion I was hyping for the first quarter of 2011, to the breakup of R.E.M., to Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne. Configurations mean nothing if the material doesn’t work.
That’s not to say the music was bad necessarily, but it does mean that it wasn’t sticky—there have been so many albums that flew into and out of the car stereo this year, many being appreciated in its short-term state and subsequently forgotten afterward, that my main choice criteria has been whether I came back to the records. Did they have any kind of staying power?
The Cars Move Like This is a good record for what it is, being at heart a Ric Ocasek solo record. Some will say it is an unfair knock because he was always the songwriter for the band and, if we’re being picky, it was always his vision. The album still lacks that group dynamic and one may have underestimated Ben Orr’s contributions, which are sadly in need here (where are all the backing harmonies?) But the album is enjoyable nonetheless, with songs like “Too Late” and “Soon” springing immediately to mind. “Soon” is a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about though. It would have fit perfectly on Ocasek’s Quick Change World, but would never have fit on other Cars recordings.
Urge Overkill had a more satisfying return with Rock and Roll Submarine. On first listen it sounded too raw and seemed to lack the hooks I’d come to expect from UO, but the record stuck with me. Perhaps the best reunion disc was Yes’ Fly From Here, and I attribute my enthusiasm partly to my extremely lowered expectations. There was no reason for the regrouped Drama lineup to deliver as fully as they did, but I think they went far above and beyond. It could have been an awful mess. Instead, they provided tunes that really felt like they were a part of the group, not apart from it.
Adele came roaring back with 21, and as I groused behind the scenes that it sounded like New York radio was only playing “Rolling In The Deep” (A LOT), the collection was fully aware of the difference between music that sounded like “Soul” and music that was full of soul. This one is squarely in that latter category.
I heard Dawes’ Nothing Is Wrong playing over a record store sound system, specifically the track “Little Bit Of Everything” and had to have it. I asked the clerk what album was playing. He gave me the wrong album, title, band, and completely failed the brick-and-mortar record store test. I took the snippet of lyrics I recalled to the Popdose Staff and asked if they knew what this was. They did. Most of us have been positively infatuated with the album since (although I was late to the party).
The Olympus Sound by Pugwash is not the band’s best album (that remains Jollity) but is still a fantastic piece of pop comfort food. The E.L.O.-ness of “Be My Friend Awhile,” the melancholy of “Dear Belinda” and the sheer repeatability of “Fall Down” represents a block of music that stayed with me for months and I have yet to truly grow tired of. That said, I felt the album had a sameness across the songs that probably required a couple more tunes in between; things with a punchier, more rocking attitude. Even so, in the midst of the summer heat, this was the record that got me through.
The debut from duo Kerosene Halo (Mike Roe and Derri Daugherty) may have been mostly comprised of covers, but each song is so lovingly chosen and rendered, without the nagging obviousness that hampers most efforts of the kind, that the takeaway is that of two old friends just playing music they love. Their choices are mostly deep cuts from Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, fellow Lost Dog member Terry Taylor and Leonard Cohen, and no, it is not “Hallelujah.” If only everyone took as much care with this sort of project, it might not be such a throwaway category such as it has become.
The album that really met my expectations this year has to be Tom Waits’ Bad As Me, which was everything you could expect, and Waits has not sounded as clear as he does on so much of this record. He still has moments of sounding like the trash compactor from the underworld though (like on album highlight “Hell Broke Luce”) but this album presents an invigorated Waits and yet another solid entry in a very strange musical journey.
(Check out our Popdose Year End wrapup for a listen to “Hell Broke Luce”)
- Kerosene Halo – Happy Campers (castleqwayr.wordpress.com)
- The Popdose Podcast – Popdose Presents: Songs of Freedom, Episode One (popdose.com)
- The Popdose Podcast: Episode 20 (popdose.com)