Eric Clapton – Back Home (2005)
It’s been a long time since the world sat up and paid attention to a new album from Eric Clapton, and I guess he probably likes it that way. He made his bones early on and has absolutely nothing left to prove; if he likes making wine-sipping albums like Pilgrim, more power to him. But then again, Clapton was never God to me — he was just a guy who made moderately soulful, low-key pop. That’s what he’s been for about 20 years now, so I think everybody can stop holding their breath for another “great” Clapton record. Journeyman is about as good as we’re going to get.
Me, I liked Journeyman — I still listen to it every once in awhile — and I think Back Home is his best effort since. There are a couple of dreadful ballads (like “Love Don’t Love Nobody,” ugh), but for the most part, it’s the sunniest and most consistent record Clapton’s made in recent memory. It’s also less reliant on covers than most latter-day EC albums, though he does make room for Stevie Wonder (”I’m Goin’ Left”) and George Harrison (”Love Comes to Everyone”). My two immediate favorites are “Say What You Will” (download) and “Lost And Found” (download) (which even rocks a little!) This album will make a great Christmas present for your dad.
The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema (2005)
Hype, hype, hype. Am I the only one in Blogville who thinks this band is totally overrated and really, really dull? I can’t go one week without reading something about how A.C. Newman is a brilliant songwriter and Neko Case is also totally awesome. Argh. Fuck this shit. I’m listening to the tenth song right now — “Broken Breads” (download) — and I’ve had enough of this stupid album. It’s pop music for people who have no understanding of what makes pop music great, and I wish burning red death on the careers of everyone connected with it. For what it’s worth, “Sing Me Spanish Techno” (download) might be the least annoying song on Twin Cinema, but I’m not sure if that even means anything.
Kanye West – Late Registration (2005)
It was pretty difficult to get through 2004 without hearing any of Kanye West’s songs, but I did it. I don’t hate rap per se, it’s just that — regardless of his talent — the guy is clearly an egomaniac, and I liked bragging rappers better when they came with a sense of humor. Aside from his relentlessly self-aggrandizing music, Kanye West is constantly getting press for making demands (like cash payments for his picture on magazine covers) or throwing tantrums on the radio or television. Bling bling blah blah blah. But hey, I’m not the target audience for this stuff, so it doesn’t matter what I think.
Or maybe I am. No, I’m not suggesting that West made Late Registration with thirtysomething white guys in mind, but it does seem to have been crafted with the sort of world-spanning hubris that goes into gazillion-selling career statements. There may not be something here for everyone — I’m guessing Barry Manilow fans may not like it — but it comes pretty close. For starters, it was co-produced by Jon Brion (yes, that Jon Brion!), suggesting that not only does West want to conquer the world, he’s also got smart pop taste (or at least good business sense). It’s also got a shitload of guest stars. In and of itself, this means nothing for a rap album — the ones that don’t list a gazillion “Featuring…” credits probably get more press now — but they’ve been carefully selected for maximum impact. You’ve got Jay-Z and Common for cred, a couple up-and-comers to suggest prescience, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine to make the TRL girls scream, and Jamie Foxx to make me wish Ray Charles could return from the dead to crush his windpipe.
Back to the production. It’s impressive, in a confusingly dense-yet-sparkly clean sort of way. As the line between pop and rap producers continues to blur — Mike Elizondo manned the boards for Fiona Apple’s upcoming album — I suspect we’ll see guys like Brion crossing over more often, and that isn’t as weird as it sounds. Tracks like “Touch the Sky” (download) and “Heard ‘Em Say” (download) represent the full fruition of what Rick Rubin started twenty years ago.
Stryper – Reborn (2005)
There is no place for irony in heavy metal, and for proof of this, one need look no further than the continued success of Stryper.
Sure, they never sold as many records as the true titans of the genre, and even as ten-year-olds, the kids of my generation knew there was something inherently ridiculous about a metal band that dressed like bees and rocked for Jesus — but they still made a career for themselves, and that’s because you can get away with almost anything in metal as long as you totally fuckin’ mean it. Ted Nugent was dead serious about sweet Nadine the teenage queen and her wang dang sweet poontang, Ozzy really was the Ironman, and MÃ¶tley CrÃ¼e really wanted to shout at the devil.
Well. Maybe not as much as Stryper wanted to, but still. The point is, the yellow and black attack is back, and there are probably still people who can listen to this music without laughing. I am not one of those people, and for me, songs like “Passion” (download) and “If I Die” (download) are even funnier than the new Dane Cook. I suppose that means I’m going to hell, but if this is what’s playing in heaven…well, you know the joke.
Richard Thompson – Front Parlour Ballads (2005)
Richard Thompson is one of those artists I listen to every few years, remember I don’t like, and don’t listen to again for another few years. I feel like I’m supposed to be a Richard Thompson fan, I guess, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the rave reviews his records always get, or his guitar-god status, or all the people who say he’s a great songwriter. Or all of the above. Point is, his music doesn’t do anything for me, and at this point I suppose it probably never will.
Front Parlour Ballads is basically an ‘acoustic’ album — though it isn’t totally devoid of electric guitar, it’s mostly used as a tasteful, amped-down dressing — which means it sounds sort of like Mark Knopfler, just without Knopfler’s sleepy charm. Though I personally feel that Knopfler is far too aware of his own limited strength as a vocalist to ever record anything as ponderous as “How Does Your Garden Grow” (download) or “Cressida” (download).