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2008 top albums

May 14, 2012

The best of 2008 – Here’s Tim Cain ’s 24th annual year-end list of favorite albums
Herald & Review (Decatur, IL) – Friday, January 9, 2009
Author: TIM CAIN ; H&R Entertainment Editor
For more on music, including Tim Cain ’s picks for albums No. 21 through 30 and video clips of many of the acts listed here, see Cain’s “Crouching Weblog Hidden Baldwin” blog at, and his “At My Desk” vlog at

The best of 2008

Here’s Tim Cain ’s 24th annual year-end list of favorite albums


H&R Entertainment Editor

It wasn’t until a friend sent an e-mail that I realized how long I’ve been indulging myself in this arguably self-important list.

My friend wrote, “One of the highlights of my year for, what? 20-plus years?”

That indicates (a) how old we are and (b) how long this list has been a priority in my life. In fact, this is the 24th year-end favorite albums list I’ve compiled.

Apart from setting up a nifty anniversary celebration for next year (and 24 blog topics as I lead up to this year’s list by looking back at past No. 1’s), this list is top-to-bottom the most consistent I’ve compiled in years. In a few weeks, the 20th album could be in the top 10 and the No. 8 or 9 could topple off the list altogether. But we have to stop sometime and somewhere.

Take a look at my blog entries from Thursday and today to see how spectacular a year this has really been.

1. Kaiser Chiefs, “Off With Their Heads”

With their herky-jerk rhythms and smart-aleck lyrics and very, very British-ness, it’s like these guys were created to appeal to me. This is the third straight album of their to appear on my year-end lists, and this is far and away their most consistent and best, the one that holds up to repeat plays.

LISTEN TO: “Never Miss a Beat,” “Can’t Say What I Mean”

2. Sheryl Crow, “Detours”

I admit to a weakness for Crow’s work, especially the early stuff. But this is so much more solid, both musically and lyrically, without really changing the core that much. Some might hear preachiness, but this comes across to me as a storyteller using every tool in her bag to get the listener’s attention.

LISTEN TO: “Gasoline,” “Peace Be Upon Us”

3. The Lackloves, “Cathedral Square Park”

My buddies from Milwaukee have put out another tasty piece of pop-rock influenced by 1960s British Invasion bands. At their best, they sound like John Lennon singing Beatles songs. And it makes them happy when you tell them that.

LISTEN TO: “Dance With Me,” “Marlena”

4. Duffy, “Rockferry”

I still don’t hear Dusty Springfield as much as some other people do, but she’s still got a great voice. If you wanted to say she sounds like she fits in with the great pop/R&B singers of the 1960s (Springfield, Dionne Warwick, even Aretha Franklin at points), you’d get no argument here. It would all be meaningless without top-notch songs, which are also all over the place here. It wouldn’t surprise me if this were the album that holds up the best 20 years from now.

LISTEN TO: The whole thing, really, but in particular, “Rockferry,” “Mercy” and “Warwick Avenue”

5. Jenny Lewis, “Acid Tongue”

Some reviewers blanch at what they see as Lewis’ country affectations. Others think the songs aren’t completely there. For me, a fully rounded band, sensible (and sometimes unexpectedly surprising) arrangements and songs with a beginning, middle and end are plenty. This is like a really good Linda Ronstadt album from the 1970s, only less annoying.

LISTEN TO: “Carpetbaggers,” “See Fernando”

6. The Handcuffs, “Electroluv”

From majestic ‘70s stadium pop-rock (“Fake Friends”) to ‘80s female-singer pop (“Somebody Somewhere”), from sneering punk pop (“I Just Wanna’ Be Free, Man” and “Gotta’ Problem With Me?”) to a twisted little Joan Jett-meets-Duran Duran number (“God Is Sure One Funny Girl”), a slinky little stripped-down early Blondie tribute (“Baby Boombox,” with a Jethro Tull flute in the mix), and an opener (the title track) and closer (“One More Song”) that are pure Handcuffs, this may be the most varied and joyous album on this list.

LISTEN TO: “Fake Friends,” “One More Song”

7. The Feeling, “Join With Us”

This is denser than last year’s “Twelve Stops and Home,” my pick for album of the year and admittedly lighter-weight piece of melodic pop. They’re darker now, but it’s still heavily influenced by softer 1970s-style pop, still melodic and enjoyable.

LISTEN TO: “Join With Us,” “I Thought It Was Over”

8. Aimee Mann, “@#%&*! Smilers”

After a Christmas album and a weak concept album, I thought maybe Mann had hit a creative wall, but the voice behind ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” and the Academy Award nominee (“Save Me” from “Magnolia”) bounces back in style with another adult album. If you’re familiar with Mann’s better work (“I’m With Stupid,” my 1996 album of the year; “Bachelor No. 2,” third on my 2000 list; and “Lost in Space,” second of my picks in 2002), this compares favorably and fits in stylistically. If you’re not familiar, this is a good place to start.

LISTEN TO: “31 Today,” “Freeway”

9. Martha Wainwright, “I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too”

Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle’s daughter and Rufus Wainwright’s sister was better know for her pedigree and a controversial song from her last album (cleverly titled “BMFA” on her MySpace page, and not for sensitive ears). Her voice has always been interesting, and the songs are better this time around. My experience has been that people who really loved her first solo album do not like this as much.

LISTEN TO: “Bleeding All Over You,” “So Many Friends,” “You Cheated Me”

10. Helen Love, “It’s My Club and I’ll Play What I Want To”

I love this album. Love it, love it. It’s electronica with AutoTuned vocals, it’s all fast, it all sounds so much the same that you may not know where one song ends and the next one ends. It’s dance music with dopey lyrics, and part of the joke may be that you need to be under the influence of something to truly appreciate it. I stay sober and laugh the entire time I’m listening to it.

LISTEN TO: “It’s My Club and I’ll Play What I Want To,” “Jet”

11. The Explorers Club, “Freedom Wind”

This is still the best Beach Boys album in 30 years. In fact, at one point when listening to this, I found myself thinking, “What album is this one on, anyway?” I’d gotten so caught up in the music, I thought I WAS listening to The Beach Boys. That will either appeal to you or not. It makes me very happy.

LISTEN TO: “Do You Love Me,” “Last Kiss”

12. Vampire Weekend, “Vampire Weekend”

Hipsters really like these guys’ combination of intelligent lyrics and flighty, almost baroque pop. Some people love both these guys and Panic at the Disco. I really don’t care for PATD. And a friend of mine worships PATD and doesn’t like this at all. Go figure.

LISTEN TO: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “Oxford Comma”

13. Donna Summer, “Crayons”

The queen returns. Almost everything current female pop princesses from Madonna to Janet Jackson to Beyonce and Rihanna and even Miley Cyrus are, they owe at least a little something to Donna Summer. This album suffers a bit from too many cooks (a producer for each track), but Summer’s voice wins out over all. Amazing.

LISTEN TO: “Stamp Your Feet”

14. Locksley, “Don’t Make Me Wait”

With their faux-British accents, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re the latest of England’s finest. But they call Brooklyn home, love The Beatles and have recorded an album of snappy, clever and tight songs, about three-quarters of which could have been hit singles 45 years ago.

LISTEN TO: “Don’t Make Me Wait”

15. Jack’s Mannequin, “The Glass Passenger”

The improbability of me listing some of Andrew McMahon’s whine and angst on this list is incalculable. However, the songs are striking, and the sweeping arrangements border on brilliant. There’s little likelihood this can be reproduced in concert, which makes it similar to other broad, studio-based landscapes. Breathtaking.

LISTEN TO: “The Resolution”

16. The Baseball Project, “Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails”

The performers include a couple of players from R.E.M. and Steve Wynn (not the casino owner), a legendary figure in the Paisley Underground (psychedelic folk) movement of the 1980s. The subject of each song on the album is (surprise) baseball. So what’s it doing on this list? Hey, write a song mentioning every major league pitcher to throw a perfect game (“Harvey Haddix”) or a tribute to Curt Flood or a song about Jack McDowell (“The Yankee Flipper”) and make them entertaining, and you have my interest.

LISTEN TO: “Ted (Expletive) Williams

17. Madcon, “So Dark the Con of Man”

A pair of Norwegians, one of Ethiopian heritage and the other born in Germany of South African heritage, do hip hop? Well, yeah. It’s with good reason that they’re wildly popular in their homeland — they do everything a current hip-hop is supposed to do. Danceable tunes, aimed straight at the mainstream.

LISTEN TO: “Beggin’ “

18. Gnarls Barkley, “The Odd Couple”

The biggest problem with this album is there’s no “Crazy” on it. But all that means is the gold takes a little more time to pan for. Cee-Lo may have the best voice of any guy out there right now.

LISTEN TO: “Blind Mary”

19. Mike Viola, “Lurch”

You might know Viola as the voice behind The Wonders of “That Thing You Do,” and the writer of a number of songs from last winter’s “Walk Hard” film. If you’re too hip for the room, you know his back catalog of excellent Beatles-inspired pop. This is more of that.

LISTEN TO: “The Strawberry Blonde”

20. The Raconteurs, “Consolers of the Lonely”

Thought of by some as Jack White’s side project away from White Stripes, it’s really more an interesting cross of White’s metal/blues ideas with the pure pop sensibility of band mate Brendan Benson, who’s done some solid work himself.

LISTEN TO: “Carolina Drama”


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