On the off chance that you were interested in obtaining (legally or not) some new rock-and-roll music, 2007 wasn’t so bad a year. What makes a year good? How do you compare a whole year’s worth of music to another year’s? I don’t know and I don’t know, respectively. One way to go is to just stick to your wholly idiosyncratic opinions and say what you liked best. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Critics are always trying to assign a “theme” to a year. I don’t know what 2007 would be the “year of.” (Radiohead would like it to have been the year of “In Rainbows.” I think that would require, well, a better album.) Maybe the “the year of the death of Oink.” Oink (the much maligned “online pirate pre-release music club”) was heaven on earth. Now it’s in heaven.
But rock-and-roll itself long ago ceased to have cultural or social relevance or vitality as a self-propagating force. There are no viable genres, per se, anymore. So to say that this was the year of such-and-such rock “sound” really just means that the record industry (this includes the musicians) felt it could market this or that particular sound (e.g., “garage rock revival”) at this particular moment to the diminishing ranks of those who will pay for music. So if you find yourself getting heavily into a prevalent sound — maybe that slick, dancy Franz Ferdinand vibe or even the much-lauded LCD Soundsystem’s electro/disco groove — it’s safe to assume that you’re being seduced by the big boys. You’ll see. The big corporations have made deals with each other. Listening to LCD Soundsystem will actually hypnotize you into spending large sums of money at predetermined retail locations.
What’s good? Not much at all, says Lou Reed — and Lou knows. All I require from a year is a small handful of albums that I will come back to again and again for years. They don’t have to embody anything in particular. Here are some highlights of the year, all very different:
The Fall is “always the same, always different,” according to their biggest fan, the late British DJ John Peel. Mark E. Smith, the leader of the legendary Manchester group, has stayed true to his ferocious vision for thirty years. This March’s record, “Reformation Post TLC,” came after Smith sacked all his musicians while onstage (except for his hot wife) and hired a completely new band; Smith is the only consistent member of the group, which has had over forty members. His impetuosity, black humor and near-psychotic paranoia, which are central to the Fall’s ethos, have somehow managed to sustain him through all these years. The new record is hilarious. Smith makes fun of everything in his inimitably English, thuggish, surreal way.
Another elder statesman: Thurston Moore’s new solo album “Trees Outside the Academy.” This is a very cohesive, catchy record in the mode of recent Sonic Youth. It has lots of contemplative, quiet moments, lots of acoustic guitar. But also plenty of driving rock and those distinctive long Sonic Youth crescendos. Very little noise, which is okay by me. Noise rock, at least as purveyed by the early Sonic Youth, was really a dead end: not all that subversive or interesting. Glad they got over that.
Dinosaur Jr. somehow managed to return from the ‘90s and release a record as loud and balls-out as anything they’ve ever done. “Beyond” is maybe even a little bit better, musically, than the early records. The production is way better, the band is extremely tight and rocks as hard as ever, and there is even some variety to the sonic onslaught. J Mascis and Lou Barlow are a truly great rock duo. Let’s hope they’re back for good.
Lucinda Williams’ “West” is a typically heavy, profound record. Nobody in popular music today is as harrowingly emotional as Williams. She is constantly preoccupied by love and, usually, disastrous relationships. “West” shows a touch of her softer, sweeter side. But her ferocity is amply displayed in great songs like “Unsuffer Me” and “Come On.” This record is a true classic.
Ian Hunter never really made it big. He led the band Mott the Hoople in the early ’70s. Their only hit, “All the Young Dudes,” was written by David Bowie. It’s really a mystery why they never caught on. Now, at the age of nearly 70, after not having done very much for 30 years, Hunter released a true masterpiece. “Shrunken Heads” is simply a great rock-and-roll record in the vein of the Stones and ’60s Dylan, but uniquely Hunter. He’s a very witty lyricist, and he tackles contemporary life with typical crankiness. And he’s got a great rock voice, a mix of Dylan, Bowie and Rod Stewart.
There were quite a few very good albums in 2007 that were just a little less memorable. Deerhoof’s “Friend Opportunity” is extremely manic and consistently enjoyable. The group has carried the indie mantle previously held by Pavement into the 21st century. If they had a singer like Stephen Malkmus they’d be a truly great band. But then they wouldn’t be Deerhoof. Ex-Television guitarist Richard Lloyd’s “The Radiant Monkey” is a classicist rock-and-roll record (Stones, Hendrix, Zeppelin) with high-level guitar playing and real groove. Some other standout records included those by Springsteen, Black Francis (Frank Black), Miranda Lambert and Happy Mondays.