A Party For Your Ears

Published December 29, 2005
A party for your ears

Listening to music is supposed to be fun. And in 2005, it was. From Neil to Kanye, the Lovemakers to the Gorillaz, there was plenty to groove to.

Before diving into this year’s Best of Pop extravaganza – where Kanye West rules, the Gorillaz get down, and the Pussycat Dolls lap up my last shred of credibility – I’d like to take a moment to thank the strange drunk woman I met at the Rolling Stones show in October.
There I was, the new guy at a new job, alone in a press booth at the St. Pete Times Forum – and so dreadfully serious about making Jagger jokes before DEADLINE – when this besotted brunette barged in, sloppy drink in hand.
“Can I tell you a secret?” she said, dropping her voice to a slurry hush: “I don’t know a single Rolling Stones song!”

If this 20-something told me her name, or where she was from, or why she was in a restricted press area splashing beer on my Stan Smiths, I can’t remember now. But what I won’t forget is what she did just before giggling away with her pals: She planted a big wet smacker on my forehead.
Not in a lewd way, mind you. Like an aunt. A drunk, really attractive aunt.

What does this have to do with critiquing pop music? Well, for me, everything.

After caravaning the family to St. Petersburg from Washington, D.C. – ever driven 19 hours with a 2-year-old? – I started this job July 11. New editors, new readers poking me with sticks, new insecurities. Oy, the pressure.
But a few months later, my tipsy pal at the Stones show reminded me that rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be stoopid and fun and reckless. Serious? Pressure-filled? Not so much.

The following list of the best CDs, songs, live shows, moments, etc., from 2005 is dedicated to my besotted savior, whose only criticism of the Stones show was that they didn’t play Yellow Submarine. I miss her.
Okay, are we ready? Set? Let’s go . . .

20) Neil Diamond, 12 Songs. The king of schmaltz strips off the sequins and gets naked for this album of full-frontal honesty.

19) Internet music-download giant iTunes became one of the top music retailers this year, proving that the death of the CD is nigh. Cue taps. Better yet, download it.

1 Kanye West Moment No. 3: The Chicago hip-hopper was nominated for 10 Grammys in 2004, making him the noms leader. He won three in February, including the trophy for best rap album for his debut The College Dropout. “Everybody wanted to know what would I do if I didn’t win,” he said, holding the statue high. “I guess we’ll never know.”

17) The Pussycat Dolls, PCD. Ten years from now – or maybe tomorrow – I might regret putting the debut album from these cabaret sex kittens on this list. But thanks to hot pop single Don’t Cha, I’ve been blinded by Pussycat power.

16) Veteran rockers. Bruce Springsteen put out a good album (Devils & Dust) and put on a tremendous Tampa show. Paul McCartney put out a great album (Chaos and Creation in the Backyard) and put on an even better Tampa show. U2 had the world’s best-selling tour and stuffed a sold-out Times Forum with anthemic goodness. Why do veteran rockers still rule the touring landscape? ‘Cause they’re really good at what they do.

15) Elton John, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. This year’s remastered deluxe edition (complete with original album art) of Sir E.’s 1975 achievement somehow improves on a masterpiece.

14) Alicia Keys, Unplugged. My gushing about exceptional R&B crooner Keys and this lovely live album has reached restraining-order territory.

13) Doves, Some Cities, and Graham Coxon, Happiness in Magazines. Coldplay’s X&Y, the most anticipated disc of ’05, was a bit of a dud. But before pronouncing the death of Brit-pop, check out the latest from gauzy trio Doves and former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon. Layers and layers of jangly goodness.

12) On the day his multiplatinum smash album Time Well Wasted was released, trad-country star Brad Paisley was performing an intimate acoustic set for 700 fans at Tampa’s Dallas Bull. The show was fun and comfy and made a dusty honky-tonk bar feel like the center of the world.

11) Miranda Lambert, Kerosene. This Nashville rookie is a feisty bottle-rocket blond who writes as well as she sings.

10) Nic Armstrong & the Thieves, The Greatest White Liar, and the 22-20s, The 22-20s. Swaggering, riffs-aplenty albums from the best of the U.K.’s New Stones movement.

9) Fiona Apple’s piano-pounded Get Him Back is one of the great bitter-ex breakup songs, as Apple figures out how to “kill what I cannot catch.”

Gorillaz hit track Feel Good Inc., recently Grammy-nominated for record of the year, sure gets my vote. It’s twisted, it’s catchy, it’s just plain f-u-n.

7) The Lovemakers, Times of Romance. One of the best new acts of 2005. Industrial-strength new wave, in which the lead singers are bickering ex-lovers. Perfect for dancing with the lights off. Clothing optional.

6) Danger Doom, The Mouse and the Mask. 50 Cent’s The Massacre was the top-selling album of ’05. But if the kids really want to look cool, they’ll check out knob-twiddler Danger Mouse and mad-rhymer MF Doom mashing up spacey loops, offbeat flow and animated oddities from the Cartoon Network.

5) Kanye West Moment No. 2: I expected a good show when I saw West in October at the USF Sun Dome. I also expected a surly reference to his September skewering of the president on NBC’s Hurricane Katrina telethon. But what I didn’t expect was a jaw-dropping, seven-piece, all-female string section and Kanye simply letting his music do the talking.

4) Martin’s Scorsese’s 207-minute documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan celebrates the reluctant Voice of a Generation by smartly highlighting his musical strengths and his persistent personal weaknesses.

3) Kanye West Moment No. 1: Late Registration. With all the pressure of a sophomore album jinx, West goes two-for-two in a big way. West, Mariah Carey, and R&B crooner John Legend all earned eight noms at next year’s Grammys. Smart money’s on the rapper they call the “Louis Vuitton Don.”

2) M.I.A., Arular. A quick tutorial on Maya “M.I.A.” Arulpragasam: Sri Lankan rapper, tribal-beat-spinning DJ, runway-worthy London club kid, all-night party girl. To sum it up: 2005’s most promising hip-hop newcomer. Pay attention.

1) With Put the “O” Back in Country, Waylon’s kid Shooter Jennings had one of the best albums of the year. But nothing in pop music gave me greater joy than playing (and playing and playing) Shooter’s first single, 4th of July, until the song started soundtracking my dreams. It’s 41/2 minutes of rollicking radio perfection about love and memories and road-tripping with girlfriend/femme fatale Drea de Matteo. The very essence of rock ‘n’ roll.

– Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or 727 893-8467. His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/popmusic
? Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

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