For me, 2008 was the year of the sad bastard comeback record. 2007 was a mixed bag of mainly solo newish acts, this year…well, it was old-fart-friendly for live music & albums. I’ve always loved sombre, mopey stuff, but this year delivered career-highlight (reliving) LPs in spades. It’s almost not fair, stacking up rock’s legends & road-tested stalwarts against the whippersnappers, but thems the breaks. (Well, a whippersnapper list couldn’t *hurt*. Mañana.) Too many indie-alt-hiphoppin-whatvea-rock followups were just…meh. Jenny Lewis, Hold Steady, Girl Talk, Nada Surf, Ryan Adams, Teddy Thompson, Black Keys, Martha Wainwright, Kings of Leon, Q-Tip – thanks for coming out, but the intangible-holy-crap-press-repeat factor of your last releases wasn’t there. FAIL.
Chuck a rock into your local record shoppe & no doubt you’ll ping an expert yakking about whoever’s early stuff being infinitely better than the money-grubbing sacrilegious recordings churned out in the 21st c. I’m gonna rhyme off ten records released in 2008 that prove that theory false.
1. Lou Reed – Berlin – Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse
Sample Mp3 – Candy Says Feat. Antony
Not to break the music rules, but you kind of need to buy Julien Schnabel’s work of art doc/film version of Berlin to experience the amazing rebirth of these songs (I am loathe to type ‘rock opera’ for all the baggage it dredges…). But the audio recording, which mixes the various nights’ performances, is a good start. Guest vocalists Antony & Sharon Jones shine through, Reed comes across as more gracious than rock critics’ portrayal & the material doesn’t just withstand the test of time (35 years!!!) – it offers the audience a new, dark, jaded, but ultimately hopeful lens with which to see the world – jealousy, rage, addiction, depression, hate, war & eventually love & redemption.
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig!!!
Sample Mp3 – Lie Down Here & Be My Girl
Religion, love & death, served up with the darkest of the dark wit – just another day at the office for Mr. Cave & his Bad Seed cohorts. Lacklustre live, but this record rocks in the master’s most authoritative bombastic righteous voice.
3. Billy Bragg – Mr. Love & Justice
Sample Mp3 – I Keep Faith
You should always have a Bragg record in the house in case of emergencies, he restores your spine, reminds you what’s worth getting upset about & tricks you into falling in love with piercing couplets using misleadingly simpleish melodies. (From ‘I Keep Faith’: “If you think you have the answer – don’t be surprised; If what you say is met with anger – and contempt and lies.)
4. Randy Newman – Harps & Angels
Sample Mp3 – A Few Words In Defense Of Out Country
If you think it’s lame to like Randy Newman you’re missing out. Bigtime. Man up & get all of his 70s classics & then listen to the brilliance that is this record already. A true American patriot: “The end of an empire is messy at best & this empire is ending, like all the rest. Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea, we’re adrift in the land of the brave & the home of the free.”
5. Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Momofuku
Sample Mp3 – Flutter & Wow
I still haven’t forgiven him for ‘North.’ But whatevs, we coolish after this. He knew I loved ramen & songs w/ metaphors re. stereo equipment (See When I Was Cruel’s ’45′ & this one’s ‘Flutter & Wow’).
7. David Byrne & Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Sample Mp3 – Life Is Long
Two geniuses made a hopeful bright piece of art that’s totally different than what their previous output’ed lead you to expect. Watch this video, catch your breath & download the record.
8. Beck – Modern Guilt
Sample Mp3 – Youthless
Too short. Too good. Hard to believe this is the same man to made the bleepy ‘The Information’ or Mexi-jaunty ‘Guero’ a coupla years ago. (Or Mellow Gold in ’94…) No samples. No synths. No problem.
9. The Breeders – Mountain Battles
Sample Mp3 – Walk It Off
This is not some affirmative action powerplay. The Deal sisters reign supreme & as much as I like fat bald dudes, let’s hope Kim never goes back to Frank & instead keeps her sister Kelley on the road, clean, putting out garage rockers that’re on par with Last Splash.
10. Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue
Sample Mp3 – Thoughts Of You
Oh, this doesn’t prove the comeback theory cause it’s a reissue of the only studio album recorded by the less-famous Wilson bro? You have something against drummers or dead hippies or The Beach Boys? Jerks. Originally released 11 years after Pet Sounds (’77) it has that somewhat too-earnest yacht-rock sheen, but listen longer, get past that, & dig into the bonus disc of songs that would’ve made up his 2nd LP – it’s worth it.
Honourable Sad Bastard Mentions: Louden Wainwright III – Recovery, R.E.M. – Accelerate, Radiohead – In Rainbows
Tomorrow….Old Souls/Newish Artists