In many years, I have a tough time coming up with 10 albums that are worthy of being on a “best of” list. Not so in 2007, as these selections easily ranked as my favorite releases of the year.
Please keep in mind that my tastes tend to be a bit more mainstream than say someone like Cory or Jeff, but I stand by my picks, and I think most of them are albums you would enjoy if you rush out today to purchase a copy.
10. The Reminder by Feist
Even though I enjoyed the ubiquitous single “1234,” I delayed listening to the entire album until late in the year, fearing it was nothing more than a collection of ho-hum tunes surrounding one breakout song.
This singer/songwriter blends catchy melodies, interesting word play and pretty vocals into a surprisingly good collection.
Highlights: “Brandy Alexander,” “Honey Honey,” “Sealion,” “My Moon My Man,” and “1234”
9. American Gangster by Jay-Z
Brushing off his recent retirement, Jay-Z returned with an instant classic built around his impressions of Ridley Scott’s film, American Gangster. Jay-Z (or Hova, if you will) interweaves a story of building (and then losing) a major drug empire, all while delivering the inimitable flow we’ve loved from him since his debut, Reasonable Doubt.
With American Gangster, Jay-Z drops the “big pimping” lifestyle and returns to the streets of that debut, making this easily his strongest overall collection since his early albums. There’s nary a bad track in the bunch.
Highlights: “Roc Boys,” “Blue Magic,” “Fallin’,” “Hello, Brooklyn” and “Sweet”
8. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse
Forget the jokes. Move beyond the tabloid headlines. Winehouse gave us a soulful sound, using classic R&B with modern sensibilities. The horns on the album are big, but nothing tops her voice, which is used to brassy perfection on songs like “Tears Dry on Their Own.”
Highlights: “Rehab,” “Back to Black,” “Tears Dry on Their Own” and “Me & Mr. Jones.”
7. In Rainbows by Radiohead
I’m not sure you can call me a Radiohead fan. Oh, sure, I appreciate them and respect what they do, but I’m definitely not going to defend things like Kid A or Amnesiac.
I will, however, tell you that OK Computer is brilliant, and In Rainbows isn’t far off.
The music sounds like “old Radiohead,” which means it’s not like anything else you’re currently listening to. That also means it’s incredible.
Highlights: “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” “Nude,” “All I Need” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”
6. Washington Street Serenade by Steve Earle
At first listen, I wasn’t completely sold on Earle’s major change of direction from his previous efforts. This one is an unabashedly folk take on his new location, moving from Nashville (where he was a total outcast) to New York City (where he’s probably still an outcast). Repeated listens, though, unveiled the subtle genius of a man seeking to find a place to call home.
Earle doesn’t easily fit into any musical genre, usually bouncing from rock to country to folk to bluegrass, and that makes it all but impossible for him to exist anywhere on the radio.
Their loss, I guess.
This album features Earle’s specialty – amazingly great lyrics, some of which are political, some of which are romantic, all of which are heartfelt.
Highlights: “Oxycontin Blues,” “Come Home to Me,” “Tennessee Blues,” “Sparkle and Shine,” “Down Here Below” and “Steve’s Hammer (For Pete).”
5. Icky Thump by The White Stripes
I liked their last album, Get Behind Me Satan, but I’m not sure I loved it. There were too many maudlin tunes and not enough just pure White Stripes rock.
Welcome back, Icky Thump.
The opening track, which is also the titular track, might be the rockingest song released all year by any band. After that, they go all over the map of their influences, including what’s perhaps their biggest homage to Led Zeppelin yet: “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn.”
Highlights: “Rag and Bone,” “A Martyr For My Love For You,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As Your Told),” “Effect and Cause” and “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn.”
4. Graduation by Kanye West
The man is bold.
He backs it up.
Graduation tops his two previous efforts, both of which were stellar, and presents with his first ever album of great tracks from start to finish. Kanye zips from style to style, showing off his productions skills (which help offset what Cory calls some of the worst rap lines he’s ever heard).
Also, he has eliminated the tiresome skits that took up too much room on his first two albums, giving us instead 13 tracks that get better with each listen.
And considering they sounded fantastic the first time I heard them, that’s quite a bold statement, which is only appropriate considering it’s about Kanye West.
Highlights: “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Flashing Lights,” “Homecoming,” “Good Morning,” “Everything I Am” and “Stronger.”
3. Neon Bible by Arcade Fire
The first time I heard the first single off the album, I knew I was in love with it.
“Intervention” blared off my XM radio, and in between the organ featured throughout the song and the churning lyrics, my head couldn’t quite get around how different this sound was.
But as unique as it sounded, it (and the rest of the album) somehow sounded familiar, comforting almost, despite the horribly depressing nature of the lyrics. Almost every song managed to make you question the world in which we live, yet at the same time, there seems to be hope just around the corner.
Highlights: “Intervention,” “Windowsill,” “Keep the Car Running,” “Antichrist Television Blues,” “Black Mirror” and “Ocean of Noise.”
2. Magic by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Nothing can ever top the release of a Springsteen album, particularly when it includes the E Street Band and especially if it sounds like this.
Springsteen has returned to his “wall of sound” productions from the Born to Run days, and the result is a stupendous achievement for an artist who is in his fourth decade of performing. At a time when many musicians fail to live up to the promises of the past, Springsteen is surging forward with some of the best songs of his illustrious career.
The man is angry about the world today, but instead of condemning it, he’s searching for hope, he’s praying for faith.
And we’re right there with him.
Long ago, Springsteen crafted one of my all-time favorite lyrics: “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night/You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.”
We’ve shown faith and found our Magic. This one, though, is a beauty.
Highlights: “You’ll Be Comin’ Down,” “The Devil’s Arcade,” “Long Walk Home,” Gypsy Biker” and “Livin’ In the Future.”
1. Sky Blue Sky by Wilco
It takes quite an album to knock a Springsteen release from the top perch, where it usually sits upon any of his releases.
Friends, this is quite an album.
Wilco somehow gets better with each record they put out, but I had a difficult time thinking they could ever improve upon A Ghost is Born. Initially, Sky Blue Sky didn’t reach that peak, but after repeated listens, I realized that this is a perfect album. It features my all-time favorite Wilco song (“Impossible Germany”) and several others (“Hate It Here,” “Walken” and “You Are My Face”) that show off the best features of all the members (God bless drummer Glenn Kotche).
I wish I could somehow sum up how wonderful this album is, but words are suddenly failing me. Maybe I should let the music do the talking. Go buy this album now.
Highlights: The whole damn thing.