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2007 top albums

May 14, 2012

Tim Cain ’s 2007 top 20 albums
Herald & Review (Decatur, IL) – Friday, January 25, 2008
Author: TIM CAIN ; H&R Entertainment Editor
Let’s start this out by settling a discussion that seems to come up way too often about these lists.

These are my picks. They are my 20 favorite albums from 2007, my favorites out of everything I heard. There were a number of albums on my list and on my iPod that I either didn’t listen to, or didn’t listen to enough to fairly evaluate.

And these are my favorites, not the “best,” however much the word “best” might come up in discussion. If that happens, simply regard it as MY “best.”

Who would have the hubris to declare their favorite art as the “best,” anyway?

Also, a couple of albums that have appeared on others’ lists for 2007 are a year late for me, and my top pick is a year late for some others.

Lily Allen’s “Alright, Still” album was an overseas sensation in 2006, and wound up ninth on my list last year. It was released domestically this year, with one extra track (a remix of a single from the album), and made a number of writers’ lists. Same with K.T. Tunstall, whose debut album came out in 2006 and was discovered by many last year.

The Feeling, my pick for 2007 album of the year, was actually out overseas in 2006. Somehow, it missed my radar.

This doesn’t mean that either group is “wrong” for listing the albums as the best in either year. It’s just another example of how confused the recording industry is right now. (And it’s not likely to get any better for the business, either.)

Albums come out in one country but not another, promotional copies of albums are sent out and get into the online sharing community, but are never legitimately released. Singles come out months in advance of albums, and the albums don’t sell when they finally come out because people were looking for them earlier.

When it comes to evaluating this list, take everything with a grain of salt. This list is somewhat different than the one I submitted to a year-end survey of critics through online site Idolator.

Ultimately, to quote a brilliant and insightful blogger (that would be fellow Minnesota Vikings fan Big Daddy Drew from Kissing Suzy Kolber –, “Top 10 lists are useful because they help readers find out if they’ve missed anything interesting over the course of the year, or if there’s a good recommendation for what’s out now.”

1. The Feeling, Twelve Stops and Home

Sounds like: The best of pop: Paul McCartney, XTC, The Records, Squeeze, Moxy Fruvous.

This album had me tapping my feet from the opening notes. My weakness for Beatles-style melodic pop is well-documented, and this lands right in that wheelhouse. The music is joyous even when the lyrics are not (the title of “Love It When You Call” is rhymed with “but you never call at all”). The Feeling probably would have been much more successful 30 years ago. It’s not going to change the world, but it added plenty of brightness to mine.

2. Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Calling

Sounds like: An intelligent folkie who’s disappointed with what the world has come to.

Carpenter is one of those consistent artists who always amazes me. She’s maintained an almost dogged individual path, putting out a great album every three years or so. Once in a while she’s caught the intersection of what’s popular, but just as often has found herself playing to that core group of fans. This is more rock-folk than rock-country, but as always, it’s thoughtful songs and intelligent lyrics and a pleasure to hear.

3. Fountains of Wayne, Weather and Traffic

Sounds like: Cheap Trick, melancholy McCartney, guys who know exactly how clever they are.

These guys are amazingly consistent. They’ve thrown in a few new tricks on this album (an electronica-style track, a mariachi band), but on the whole, it’s intelligent, catchy pop songs. There’s no novelty tune like “Staci’s Mom” (although the guy who pimps out his “ ‘92 Subaru” is close), which is probably why fewer people heard this.

4. Mika, Life in Cartoon Motion

Sounds like: Some kind of bizarre mashup of Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Scissor Sisters.

Mika amused and tormented music hipsters throughout the year. Even if you didn’t hear the album, you inevitably heard the songs, used continually in commercials and behind television and movie promotional pieces. Bombastic and flamboyant, Mika brought back even more ridiculousness to music in 2007, and that’s a good thing.

5. Hanson, The Walk

Sounds like: Intense pale soul, kind of like if Hall and Oates were brothers and there were three of them.

And here come the first snickers produced by this list. Yes, these are the “MmmBop” boys 10 years down the line, still making catchy pop music, only it’s a little more worldly and a little less obnoxious than their most well-known tune. Inspired at least in part by a mission to Africa, purchased downloads of “Great Divide,” the album’s first single, go to fight AIDS on that continent. How about that – using your influence to support something almost no one could oppose?

6. Jason Isbell, Sirens of the Ditch

Sounds like: An intelligent solo album from a Lynyrd Skynyrd member.

Isbell writes songs about people we all know. The most moving piece here is “Dress Blues,” about a Marine Isbell knew who went overseas and came back in a coffin. It’s a simple portrait of how one can support the troops and not the battle. Elsewhere, there’s the love-torn, broken-hearted men in “Try” and “Hurricanes and Hand Grenades,” the guilty observer in “Shotgun Wedding,” the frightening woman in “Brand New Kind of Actress.” Isbell’s lyrics are so good they make me want to stop people in the street and read to them.

7. Tori Amos, American Doll Posse

Sounds like: Tori Amos rediscovering backbeats and her crazy creative voice.

Amos has always seemed to come from another planet. Her voice does crazy, ridiculous things, and she sings about things that would occur to few others. It’s more of the same here, with a concept piece sung by five different personalities. The conceit works to an extent, but what’s more impressive is there are 23 largely solid songs here.

8. Rickie Lee Jones, The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard

Sounds like: The “Chuck E’s In Love” woman, love her or hate her.

Here’s another unlikely concept album. Largely religious in content, Jones sings about a “one of us” kind of Christ, but the songs work even if you’re not aware of their base (like me during my first listen). It’s kind of like a 1970s Van Morrison album. It’s got religion, it’s got a little bit of a jazz feel to it, and it’s something that grows deeper musically, lyrically and thematically the more you hear it.

9. John Fogerty, Revival

Sounds like: A good Creedence Clearwater Revival album, unlike a lot of what he’s done lately.

Fogerty has mined the same musical ground for so long, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was nothing new left. Fogerty’s best days seemed well behind him, which was fine, because there’s nothing wrong with creating a past so impressive and significant that you can never reach those heights again. Instead, something sparked his passion and anger, and he’s produced his best solo album in more than 20 years.

10. Aly & AJ, Insomniatic (Although it’s a little TOO pimped out, unless you have a 60-inch monitor)

Sounds like: Heart for the Naughties

OK, here’s where the snickering continues. If, like me, you know (knew) nothing about these young ladies, be aware that they’re part of the Disney tweener machine that produced the music careers of the Duffs, Lindsay Lohan and Mandy Moore. Some friends have taken me to task for liking this album, but they probably just aren’t listening to the lyrics. (A line from the chorus of “Potential Breakup Song:” “Our album needs just one.”) While the girls write or co-write most of their own material, it’s hard telling how much help they get from elsewhere. A large part of me doesn’t want to know.

11. Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight

Sounds like: A frighteningly poppy, spooky, warm and upbeat offering from Carole King or the Fleetwood Mac females.

Many of us are fickle in our musical tastes. We want growth and change from some artists, yet when others grow and change, we complain. Rilo Kiley has grown and changed and alienated much of their original fan base. That opened the door for people like me, who found their previous material too thin and repetitive. This features a group of solid songs in different styles, but all rooted in a late-1970s California feel. This could serve as a companion piece to Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” which may be the point that’s irritated their old fans.

12. The Red Button, She’s About To Cross My Mind

Sounds like: A collection recorded in 1965 and just discovered now.

The cover tells the story – a mini-skirt and a pair of white calf-high boots, legs crossed on a rainy street. The Red Button (great band name) want desperately to be in London in the mid-1960s. They owe a lot to The Beatles and The Who and The Kinks and a bunch of other British bands from that time period, and their songs are well-written enough to make the sound more than a parlor trick.

13. Velvet Revolver, Libertad

Sounds like: A better supergroup than the one of Stone Temple Pilots and Guns N’ Roses alumni that debuted three years ago.

Clearly, the tour worked. The band spent a lot of time on the road playing behind its debut album, “Contraband,” and three years later came up with this, a piece that sounds like it was truly recorded by a BAND. A band that likes its fast songs, a band that enjoys giving its audience stuff to pound its head to. Maybe Velvet Revolver is more than a stopgap for these guys.

14. Kaiser Chiefs, Yours Truly Angry Mob

Sounds like: 1980s New Wave bands crossed with 1990s Britpop crossed with this decade’s alternative acts. With melody.

The Kaiser Chiefs are a bizarre combination of ska and The Jam, the trend-setting late 1970s British Mod revival band. This album strikes me as more cohesive than their 2005 debut, and lead single “Ruby” had the best video of the year.

15. Alicia Keys, As I Am

Sounds like: A growing artist’s latest venture into new territory.

This is more pop than the Grammy-winner’s last album, which was more R&B and soul than her classically based debut. And some consumers appear ready for her to stop genre-hopping. Keys strikes me as one of those talents whose arc will be interesting to follow for decades, regardless of any missteps along the way.

16. Shriekback, Glory Bumps

Sounds like: The godfathers of goth coming back to claim their territory.

This is a very personal choice. These guys were my favorite group in the mid-1980s, combining synthesizer stylings and big, loud guitars and drums to make machine music with a menacingly and haunting human feel. This reunion is a return to that feel, and it sounds almost as modern now as it did futuristic 20 years ago.

17. Brandi Carlile, The Story

Sounds like: Beautifully voiced folkie writes beautiful songs that could have been penned in this century or the last two.

At first, this album didn’t pin my ears back the way her self-titled 2005 release did, but it’s a grower, something that’s all too rare in music these days. A powerful voice, singing strong songs. It’s exciting to think of how she might grow as an artist.

18. Oswalt Patton, Werewolves and Lollipops

Sounds like: One of the best standup comedians working today.

Normally, comedy albums don’t make my list. (Notable exception: Bill Hicks’ “Arizona Bay,” which holds up to hundreds of listens.) This earns its spot in multiple ways, but personal favorites are his bits about KFC’s “failure pile in a sadness bowl,” his outrage during a “Physics for Poets” test, and the way he deals with a heckler. He’s much more than the voice of Remy in “Ratatouille.”

19. Babyshambles, Shotter’s Nation

Sounds like: The late, lamented Libertines, run through a blender and really messy on the edges.

As much as it seems shameful to support a junkie’s habit, something keeps me coming back to Pete Doherty, the ex(?)-boyfriend of Kate Moss who’s more famous for his drug excesses (look online to see photos of him holding his crack pipe to his cat’s mouth) than his music. But The Libertines were a favorite, and just when the first Babyshambles album made it seem appropriate to write Doherty off, out comes this. It’s difficult to recommend to the population at large, though. Only fans of specific types of music will like this ramshackle effort, and they know who they are.

20. White Stripes, Icky Thump

Sounds like: Something raw, but you name it from there.

Story songs (with Jack and Meg White duetting), mariachi bands, bagpipes, pieces that border on rap metal – this isn’t your last White Stripes album. Is it bombastic? Sure. Are they an acquired taste? Probably – that lack of a bottom can be a little disconcerting. But if you love rock and roll, how do you not love Jack White’s voice?

Could have made it:

Rihanna, “Good Girl Gone Bad”

A Band of Bees, “Octopus”

1990s, “Cookies”

Ian Hunter, “Shrunken Heads”

Foo Fighters, “Echoes Silence Patience and Grace”

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, “This Is Somewhere”


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