I can’t believe the year 2009 is almost over. December marks the time to look back on the high and low lights of the year we are about to finish.
2009 was a pretty lackluster year for music and it seems that each year gets worse, but never fear – I was still able to come up with my favorite 9 albums of 2009. I’ll take them row by row as pictured above. Read my thoughts after the jump.
Yes by Pet Shop Boys. The other cds in this category are not in order of how much I like them, but the runaway #1 album of the year for me was Yes by the Pet Shop Boys. After a 25-year career, the Boys are big as ever in the rest of the world and are little more than a gay novelty act in the United States. It makes no sense to me! This album has bangin’ beats that 21 year olds can barely make, let alone by guys in their 50s! Every track on the record is solid from the opener Love Etc. to the gorgeous finale Legacy. Their lyrics are cheeky as ever and their musical textures just keep getting richer. They’ve released a few singles off the record and the B-sides and remixes are up there with their best work. If you’ve ever liked the Pet Shop Boys and lost interest over the years, I urge you to check out this album as it is really fantastic. The limited edition version Yes Etc., features a bonus disc of dub versions and one b-side (a track called “This Used To Be The Future” with Human League’s Philip Oakey). I saw the Pet Shop Boys live three times this year (twice in New York and once in London) and all three shows were awesome. You can see pictures here.
Living Thing by Peter Bjorn and John. My favorite Swedes. PB&J had a worldwide smash a few years ago with the song “Young Folks” and each of their albums seems to get better and better. This album is a bit uneven (with the beginning half of the record being a bit stronger than the end of it), but it has a few tracks that will make you hit repeat. Notibly, the catchy “It Don’t Move Me,” and the melancholy “Just The Past.” Plus the album features the track “Lay It Down,” whose lyrics state – “Hey! Shut the fuck up boy, you are starting to piss me off!” I also saw them live three times this year: once as a headliner and twice as the support act for Depeche Mode. Pix can be seen here.
Years of Refusal byMorrissey. Mopey Morrissey returns to his rockin’ roots with an album about heartbreak, drug addiction and depression. For most artists, these topics would be career suicide, but for Morrissey, it’s one of his stronger points. The lead off track “Something is Squeezing My Skull” literally lists a half dozen drugs that are available to combat depression, but as Moz so rightfully points out, they just make you numb instead of solving your problems. Another key track is “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” because “only steel and stone accept my love.” Hard to argue with that logic. I saw Morrissey live twice this year, but that was pre-blog.
Tonight! by Franz Ferdinand. Franz Ferdinand started their career with a strong lead off album and then sunk into mediocrity with their second record. For Tonight!, their third album, they are back. The album has a mixture of rock and funk, which are two things I love. The tracks Ulysses and No You Girls are the stand out songs on the record.
Sounds of the Universe by Depeche Mode. When I first heard this album, I was not impressed. I don’t easily give up on Depeche Mode and my perserverance paid off. After a few listens, Sounds of the Universe quickly became my favorite DM album in over 10 years. The album opens with “In Chains,” a song that tells of some of the trials and tribulations lead singer Dave Gahan has been through (i.e. drug addiction). Songs like “Fragile Tension,” and “In Sympathy” recall the synth-roots of the band and the song “Come Back,” has enough isolation and longing to make you remember why people buy Depeche Mode records. For the die-hard fan, a deluxe box set was issued that features really cool things such as the entire album in 5.1 Surround Sound, a disc of remixes and B-sides (including the best track that they’ve done in over ten years “Oh Well“), plus a disc of demos from various stages of their career. Most of the demos are sung by Martin Gore, the bands primary songwriter. Hearing his vocals on tracks such as “Clean,” “Walking in my Shoes,” and “I Feel You,” make you realize that he is definitely the brains behind the band. The deluxe box set has 2 neat books and stickers as well! I saw DM twice this year in concert and both shows were fantastic as always! Pictures can be seen here.
LaRoux by LaRoux. This is the only new act that earns a place on my top 9 list. The British synth-based band has a sound similar to early Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Human League. LaRoux is French for “The Red,” which is the color of lead singer Elly Jackson’s unique hair style. The album has standout tracks such as “I’m Not Your Toy,” “Quicksand,” and “Coulourless Coulour.” Their hit single “Bulletproof,” features my current mantra: “This time baby, I’ll be bulletproof.” Again, logic that’s hard to argue with. I saw LaRoux’ debut live performance in New York earlier this year and I enjoyed it. Pix can be seen here.
It’s Not Me, It’s You by Lily Allen. The second album from the hot mess Lily Allen is just as good as her first album. Songs such as “Everyone’s At It,” and “The Fear” deal with plastic surgery and tabloid scandals (which Lily Allen has fallen victim to). The album has pop sensibility, but also flirts with reggae and Amy Winehouse style throwbacks to an era gone by. My favorite track off the album is called “Fuck You,” and talks about what she says to haters. That was such a fun song to hear when she performed it in concert as the entire audience was flipping the bird for four minutes.
Lotus Flow3r / MPLS Sound by Prince. Everyone knows that I am obsessed with Prince, so he could pretty much crap on record and release it and it would make my best-of lists. Well, he pretty much did that with this triple CD set that was released only at Target and through his own website. The first disc “Lotus Flow3r,” attempts to be the rock record his fans have been dying for him to make. Sadly, though the album is definitely rockin’, most of the tracks are forgettable. He covers “Crimson and Clover,” and throws in the chorus to “Wild Thing” for good measure. This from a person who has a reported 3,000 unreleased songs in his vaults collecting dust. A song called “Dreamer” is so thinly disguised as a Jimi Hendrix tribute, he practically steals the riff from “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” for another forgettable track. The song “$” is funky as hell though, so while Prince has many missteps, songs like this one let you know he’s still got it. The album “MPLSound” is the funk album fans were dying to hear. Again, instead of truly giving us the funk, it sounds like Prince covers his old material with new lyrics. But MPLS sound has enough great moments to make my best of the year list. The track “Chocolate Box,” the name of a Prince bootleg, is not preaching hateful Jehovah’s Witness crap and instead is just a funk jam that will definitely shake a few asses on the dance floor. Speaking of dancing, the song “Dance 4 Me” is another classic Prince song, with funk that will make you contort your face, even in the most awkward moments. The final track “No More Candy 4 u” is also funky, as it recalls Prince’s funky-punk period (aka the Controversy era), but it just makes you want to run to your cd shelf and listen to “Ronnie Talk 2 Russia” instead. The 3rd disc of the set is by a new protege (read: the chick he’s banging at the moment) named Bria Valente. The cd is described by Prince as a Sade record that she hasn’t gotten around to making. Take the E off Sade and what are you left with?
At Your Service by Morphine. Why Morphine is not a household name (for music, not the drug!) is literally beyond my comprehension. The band consists of 3 people and together they make jazzy “low rock” that sounds like 20 people are playing on each track. Lead singer Mark Sandman died 10 years ago but was so prolific in his brief life, every few years, compilations of unreleased tracks finally get to see the light of day. This 2-CD set has 35 unreleased tracks. A few of them have been released in alternate versions, but on At Your Service, these versions (some live, some studio) are drastically different. Most notibly, a fast version of “Supersex,” and an early version of “All Your Way” (which is known on this album as “Put It Down (Wo-oh).” There’s also a slew of tracks that have never been heard before, such as “Lunch in Hell” and “5:o9,” and all tracks have that signature Morphine sound. Perhaps if you are just discovering Morphine, this might not be the compilation for you, but if you are as addicted to them as I am, this set will surely keep you high.