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2004 top albums

May 14, 2012

Retro sounds – You’ve heard the styles before, but that doesn’t mean the quality isn’t there
Herald & Review (Decatur, IL) – Friday, February 11, 2005
Author: TIM CAIN ; H&R Entertainment Editor
This may have been a year of stagnancy or backsliding, because there’s little here that advances music in new and profound ways.

My list of selections for top albums (or “discs” — whichever word you prefer) first began appearing on these pages in 1993, and a lot of these albums probably could have been released then. Or in 1983.

But that doesn’t take away from the quality. There are another dozen discs that would have made my top 15 or 20 in a number of other years.

As always, this is subject to change:

1 Rick Springfield, “shock/denial/anger/acceptance”

Yeah, it’s hard for me to believe this is on here, too. With this release — as stripped down and raw as the cover — Springfield has managed to match the essence of the anger and frustration of his lyrics (especially “Jessie’s Girl” and “Don’t Talk To Strangers”) with a sharp musical sound that wouldn’t be out of place on today’s radio, but still retain a sound distinct to him. But the attitude isn’t what makes the album great. It’s a superb collection of tunes.

2 Lackloves,

“The Beat and the Time”

The Milwaukee band owes a lot to 1960s pop acts — a couple of tracks echo The Beatles, and another (“I Could Be”) might as well be a Monkees outtake. Never anything short of tuneful, this is just a fine rock and roll record that could have been released in 1964, 1974, 1984 or 2004.

3 Jill Sobule,

“Underdog Victorious”

One of the great songwriters known much less well than she ought to be, Sobule brings heart and/or humor to her subjects, whether it’s about getting high (the “Saturday in the Park” rewrite “Cinnamon Park”), 1960s pop icons (“Joey,” about Joey Heatherton) or prostitutes (“Tel Aviv,” one of the most heartbreaking songs of the year). Sobule’s “Pink Pearl” was my pick for album of the year in 2002.

4 Brian Wilson, “SMiLE”

Although you’ll recognize some song titles, this isn’t a Beach Boys album . It’s an almost baroque-style song cycle, with some pieces that you’ll recognize (include a re-worked version of “Good Vibrations,” which frankly probably doesn’t belong here) and some that you won’t, even if you’ve listened to the piles of bootleg tapes that have escaped since they were recorded in 1966 and 1967. This, however, is more than a historical artifact — it’s a timeless set of compositions. Besides, it’s darned purty.

5 Tift Merritt, “Tambourine”

Upon first hearing Merritt, the comparison to Dusty Springfield is easy to make, however much one might want to resist. (The only thing that could put more pressure on her would be the revelation that her last name is really “Carter,” and she’s part of country music’s first family.) Merritt is no Springfield — yet. But her effortless country pop has more depth than almost anything else on this list.

6 The Killers, “Hot Fuss”

You know you’re getting old when the stuff you still find current and vital is actually 25 years old and being paid tribute in retro style by a new band. The Killers take New Wave pop and put a 21st century spin on it. Brief, clever, catchy rock.


7 Franz Ferdinand

See above. My feelings about The Killers and Franz Ferdinand are almost identical. Franz Ferdinand has a little more XTC in it, while The Killers are a little more generic New Wave, but they both have the songs, and that’s what’s important.

8 AJ Croce, “Adrian James Croce”

Very confusing. But very good. A.J. Croce (yes, the song of 1970s singer-songwriter Jim Croce) seemed to be building a career as a jazz-blues piano-playing singer, then comes this self-released disc, a poppy blend of some of the best elements of the 1970s and 1980s, particularly Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello. Pretty funny in some places and solemn in others.

9 Jessica Fletchers, “Less Sophistication”

This Oslo band takes the best of my favorite musical era — mid-1960s England — and stirs up a mix of insanely great tunes. This might strike some as retro. For me, it’s as fresh as it was 40 years ago.

10 Jolie Holland, “Escondido”

Sounds like it was recorded someplace where electricity is a novel concept. It’s one of the few albums released last year that — given its highbred of jazz, country and blues — sounds as if it could just as easily have been recorded 60 years ago. And that’s to say nothing of the quality of the songwriting. Get in on the ground floor of this up-and-comer.

11 The Bees, “Free The Bees”

This release provided me more fun than any other album on the list. Again, a throwback stylistically ( writer Bruce Eder said, “It could be the album of the year — the only question is if that year is 2004 or 1968.”), but this is solid gold for those of who think the first British Invasion was where it’s at.

12 Libertines

The album isn’t quite as good as the soap opera behind it, and the band doesn’t exist in this form any more. Singer Pete Doherty spent six months in jail for burglarizing the home of guitar player Carl Barat. The duo wrote most of the songs together. They’ve got a British pop-rock sound, owing a lot to bands like The Kinks, The Clash and The Jam. It’s a stunningly solid record, especially given its history.

13 N.E.R.D., “Fly or Die”

As genre-breaking in its own way as OutKast’s release was last year, N.E.R.D. provide some driving rock sounds that won’t be as familiar to fans of their Neptunes production style. It’s a jumble of styles, all done well, making for an intriguing listening experience.

14 Mull Historical Society, “This Is Hope”

More quirky, addictive pop, with lyrics so Scottish-based they may be too difficult to grasp without a translator (or maybe “Tobermory Zoo” means something to you). Its musical focus is the poppier portion of the 1970s, like a lot of other things on this list.

15 Mike Keneally, “Dog”

Keneally is arguably the greatest guitar player on the planet, and this album shows him in an all-rocking form. The one-time Frank Zappa sideman isn’t afraid to show off his chops, and his band charges through complex time changes the way The Hives tear through The Ramones’ back catalogue.

16 The Hives, “Tyrannosaurus Hives”

While their last album left me indifferent, this combination of thumping, silliness and punk attitude is charming and likeable. Punk for those who weren’t there the first time around.

17 AC Newman, “The Slow Wonder”

Upbeat, poppy and varied in style, Newman turns out yet another in a series of swell albums loved by a small segment of the population. His band The New Pornographers made my top 20 last year with their “Electric Version.”

18 Nelly, “Sweat”

Generally regarded as the better of his two September releases, this one finds Nelly in full dance mode, making sure the beats come fast and furious and trotting out every guest star possible. (Jazze Pha! Christina! Missy Elliott! Lil’ Flip! John Tesh!)

(John Tesh?)

19 Candy Butchers, “Hang On Mike”

Almost brutally confessional, Mike Viola winds Paul McCartney-like melodies around lyrics about his first wife’s death from cancer, child abuse suffered by his mother and dissatisfaction with his own life. But it never becomes too dark or self-involved to be fascinating. (And that word is chosen only because ‘entertaining’ seems too flip.)

20 The Winnerys, “And …”

The pride of Madrid, Spain, they appear to have stopped listening to music when they reached The Beatles’ output from 1965. Not that there’s anything WRONG with that … (site in Spanish)


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