If you click here you'll find the link to Rolling Stone Magazine's Top 50 Albums of 2006. Turns out I had about 21 of the albums listed. So instead of coming up with my own Top 10 or 50 or whatever list, I thought I'd provide you, the wonderful and incredibly sexy and intelligent reading audience (11 and rising!) mini reviews of the albums I do know and, if they suck, provide some of my own alternatives from the wonderful year that is 2006!
Reviews are in order of rank, from Rolling Stone:
1. Bob Dylan: Modern Times - So this was the Best Album of 2006...I have to give credit where it's due - it's perhaps Bob Dylan's most fun record in years. Would I have made it #1? Doubtful. It's loose, fun, and you can actually understand Dylan's lyrics. He's gotten more reflective and spiritual in recent years, but doesn't let that bog down the music - this is probably the best band he's used in years. Good, solid record, but no #1 by a long shot.
Alternative? Well, I still would put it nowhere near #1, but as far as rock legends who released new records this year, my personal pick, and the one I continue to listen to, is Tom Petty's Highway Companion.
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium - I cannot BELIEVE this ranked as high as it did. Out of the 28 songs spread out over 2 discs, maybe 8 are worth putting on record. That means there are about 20 songs that sound limp, soulless and flat. After the brilliant promise of rejuvenation that was Californication, RHCP fall further and further into middle-age mediocrity.
Alternative? Hells, yeah! One of my favorite records this year that Incorporated rock, disco, pop, you name it, was Muse's Black Holes and Revelations. Many people said it didn't match the greatness of their former album Absolution, but give it a couple more listens and you'll see a growing confidence and swagger to the songs. Plus the new stuff kills live.
3. Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped - Oh, yeah! Now here is something I can get behind. This came very close to being my #1 album of the year (two further down the list tie for that spot). Sonic Youth continue to make incredible music, except now their throwing in their own brand of accessibility. It's STILL Sonic Youth, it still growls and forgets to bathe and clean itself up, but you can sing along now. Kim Gordon steals the show with her songs here. Light, fast, and addictive as all get out. No Alternatives.
4. TV On The Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain - Bonus points for coolest album title in the list. Not quite sure what to make of this yet; after 2 listens I'm still intrigued enough to keep it in the player. Plus it helps to have a guest appearance by David Bowie on "Province." It wouldn't have ranked as high on my own personal list, but I like it - it's different, it doesn't scream out to be accepted by the wallet chain crowd, and also boasts a cool cover. No Alternatives.
6. Cat Power: The Greatest - I'm getting tired of the whole "let's make a country record" thing with pop artists nowadays. But I forgive Cat Power - her voice and lyrics work in the Memphis blues/country vibe she uses in her music, and the title track is damn powerful. We like, and approve. No Alternatives.
9. Mastodon: Blood Mountain - Holy Crap! A metal record makes the Top 10! Perhaps Rolling Stone is not the media bitch I always took her for? Blood Mountain is everything their previous album Leviathan was with the prog element ramped up to 11. This album is so dense and twisted, but at the same time so ballsy and full of the old fashioned rock it makes a perfect representative for Metal on this list (since it's the only one on their 50). No Alternatives.
10. Tom Waits: Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards - For sheer scope this is my tie for #1 record of the year. 3 discs of mostly-new material broken up into rockers, ballads, and experimental pieces. Tom Waits is rightly one of the most influential music artists of all time, and it's amazing that all these years later he's putting out the best music of his career. Completely essential to own. Accept no substitutes and allow No Alternatives.
12. New York Dolls: One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This - Bonus points for the most pretentious album title of the year. It's alright, but I definitely tired of it quickly. The songs are your basic old-school rock and roll, with plenty of guest vocals to ease the strain on David Johansson (Michael Stipe and Iggy Pop are on it), but nothings holds you except the feeling that you've heard it all before, and don't need to hear it again.
Alternative? If you want to a band that reunites to release something that sounds like you've heard it before, but wouldn't mind hearing it again, I would go with The Who's Endless Wire. Yeah, Pete's doing a little re-cycling of Quadraphenia and Roger's voice's isn't the powerhouse it used to be, but there's a sincerity that breathes through and lightens every song.
13. Pearl Jam: Perl Jam - Okay, here we go. For better or worse, this is my other tie for #1 album of the year along with Tom Waits. Just when you;re ready to write them off after the horrible Binaural and the just-okay Riot Act Pearl Jam comes out and releases their best record since Vs. The new self-titled album just rocks so hard! Plus there are plenty of solos and crunchy riffs, instead of the guitars that sound like they were recorded in a dumpster. And speaking of dumpsters, Eddie Vedder sounds like he finally crawled out of his - his voice is clear and strong. The lyrics bite, the songs all gel (personal favorites are "Marker in the Sand" and "Inside Job"), and Pearl Jam gets HUGE bonus points for doing something I wish every band would do - on their website they sell "bootleg" recordings of every single concert they play. Cheap. I downloaded their 2nd show of the tour in Albany, NY for $9.99 and got 36 songs in perfect quality, cover art, disc stickers, track lists, and pics from the show. No Alternatives.
14. Johnny Cash: American V: A Hundred Highways - I think it's become a law that you can't say ill of Johnny Cash - he's become the musical spokesperson of America. Well, that's okay because volume 5 of the American Recordings with Rick Rubin is maybe the strongest of the lot. "God's Gonna Cut You Down" is a sinister slice made even more haunting by the Cash's vocals, and "I'm Free from the Chain Gang" is a fitting cap to a brilliant career that spanned generations and genres. No Alternatives.
15. Wolfmother: Wolfmother - In the immortal words of Richard Roeper when he reviewed the first JACKASS movie (which I watched last night while wrapping presents). "God help me, Thumbs Up." There are so many bands out there right now trying to do the 70's thing, and so many of them suck so bad. I don't know if Wolfmother sucks or not; all I know is when I hear "White Unicorn" I dance and sing lie a giddy 70's fool. One of the most catchy choruses all year.
Alternative? Not because I dislike Wolfmother, but because there are few other bands doing the 70's thing well and should get a shout-out above the dolts that are ruining it. So for the record let me add that the new album by Jet called Shine On is a bucket of rock fudge good for consumption any time you need to sing in your car.
17. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not - Wow, I think they just tied the New York Dolls for most pretentious album title of the year. Unlike The New York Dolls, however, this record doesn't suck. On the contrary, this is great indie rock that sounds like a punk/pop band that never got out the garage because they got too drunk on the lager they stashed in the corner. Fun, tight, and outta sight. No Alternatives.
18. The Roots: Game Theory - And I bet you thought there wouldn't be any rap on this list, right? Thank God Rolling Stone put this on, or I'd have put it on for them. One of the few rap bands I can consistently listen to, the new Roots record is great - so great that I listen to it more than their other stuff now. Real music, lyrics that don't advocate the same old gangsta attitude, and a soul that's genuine instead of manufactured in a studio. This is my favorite rap/hip-hop record of the year.
Alternative? No, but since this is the only rap in the list, I wanted to point out one other hip-hop record I enjoyed this year: Pete Philly and Perquisite's MINDSTATE. It doesn't beat Game Theory, but it's a good record.
20. My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade - It's pompous, it's catchy, there's lots of mascara, and there's no "I'm Not Okay" on tap. Rolling Stone compares it to Queen and Alice Cooper, but there's no Freddie Mercury or Brian May to be had here. Still not bad, and a fun pop/punk/rock record that doesn't turn me off, but so far doesn't make me scream in my car like "I'm Not Okay" or "Helena" did.
Alternative? Again, this isn't a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but if I were to suggest an alternative here, maybe it would be Suck Out the Poison by He Is Legend. Much harder rock than MCR, but there some catchiness and fun to be had. You could go either way here.
23. The Decemberists: The Crane Wife - I've gone on record a number of times with my indie friends (Sean and Victoria) that I was no fan of The Decemberists last album, Picaresque. Not at all. So why am I having a complete change of hear after listening to just the first song off the new album The Crane Wife? I firmly believe a corner was turned here, and this is fast becoming a personal favorite in my player. No Alternatives.
28. The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers - The first single "Steady As She Goes" is as catchy as anything Jack White's put out in his other band The White Stripes. But does that make this worthwhile for the list? Well, it's good. Not great - but good. Sounds a little like older White Stripes with the pop sensibilities and hooks you can hum along to. It reaches out to an older sound, and does a decent job of finding it.
Alternative? Well, they sound NOTHING alike, but if I were making my own list as opposed to critiquing this one I would take out this album and add in the new album by The Killers. Sam's Town is a great taste of the 70's sources The Raconteurs didn't tap when making this album.
30. Cold War Kids: Robbers & Cowards - Ahhh, How can I put this? Meh. That about covers it. This is one of the few times where I admire the lyrics much more than I do the vocals or the music. I haven't completely dismissed Cold War Kids yet; they're still in the player, but it's going to take a strange change of heart to keep them in there.
Alternative? How about the complete antithesis of the Cold War Kids? No Heroes by Converge is a devastating slice of rage and anger at an apathetic world that can no longer hear.
34. Thom Yorke: The Eraser - I really liked this record for the way it insinuates itself into the background. Not the greatest if you're looking for the immediacy that can typically be found on a Radiohead album, but the insistence of such tracks as "Analyze" and "Black Swan" burrow their way into you, which in my book always makes for a satisfying record. No Alternatives.
36. Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass - Apparently this is the year of the long-ass title! This is the most recent record I have, and I've only listened to it once so far. But I like it, which I would say was not the case with some of Yo La Tengo's previous work. There's a good mix of short pop gems and longer, drawn out jams that make the record a total experience. The jury's still out, but so fat I say this needs No Alternatives.
38. Tool: 10,000 Days - Ah, the mighty Tool graces us again after 4+ years. They've pretty much confined themselves to the same waters they tread for last album Lateralus, which isn't necessarily a bad thing is you like the more proggy direction they've taken. The one thing I still can't stand are the short nonsense pieces that are interspersed among the "real" songs, which tend to be pretty good - especially single "Vicarious" and hard rocker "The Pot."
Alternative? Strangely enough, yes. If you want a hard and heavy band that really returned to form this year, look no further than the mighty Iron Maiden's A Matter of Life and Death, which is the best stuff they've put out in probably 20 years. Bruce sings much more on this than on past outings, and the boys are embracing their inner King Crimson with long, long songs again. Up the Irons!
44. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones - The last album I won from the Rolling Stone Top 50 list. First song "Gold Lion" sounds okay, but this is another album that goes in one ear and out the other. Not bad, but nothing screams for me to listen again and again like the other choices on this list.
Alternative? Sure! Since this is the last entry in this year in review, I decided to throw on a genre that wasn't represented at all this year: Jazz. So if you're in the mood for something that sounds modern and avant-guard but still carries the heart of a bird nestled in a downy cloud, give the excellent duet album by Jack DeJohnette and Bill Frisell called The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers. It's as delicate and beautiful as its title, which wins for me as Best Album Title of the year (remember: TV on the Radio won for coolest).
And that's it, my Music Year in Review Comparison vs. Rolling Stone. They'll be a few more recaps over the next week, but for now I'm back to wrapping gifts and enjoying the holidays with family and friends.
Do the same!!!