2004 In Review:
Muse, Gwen Stefani, Green Day top best of 2004
U2 bought itself an instant hit by selling its first single from its latest disc to a commercial campaign before the album was even released. Ashlee Simpson released a debut that put her sister to shame but then got the lip sync rug pulled out from under her on "Saturday Night Live," to public ridicule. And members of Guns 'n' Roses pooled their talent with a former Stone Temple Pilot to unleash Velvet Revolver.
Fastball, Matthew Sweet, Duran Duran, Richard Marx and BoDeans all released comeback albums after years of silence. The Cure marked its comeback after four years with a Curiosa summer festival that didn't exactly pack 'em in, but did better on the ticket trail than the canceled comeback of Lollapalooza.
Los Lobos, Mark Knopfler, Casey Chambers, Cowboy Junkies and John Fogerty all delivered solid folk/roots-rock discs, while Jools Holland and Ollabelle offered refreshing takes on classic gospel and R&B. The Killers started a new retro-wave revival, while Hillary Duff, Jesse McCartney and Lindsay Lohan played well to the teen crowd and The Hives, Good Charlotte and Green Day kept the nouveau punk banner held last year by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jet flying high.
It was a rewarding year in music on many fronts.
The Pop Stops column reviewed or noted more than 150 CDs over the past year, and at least that many other discs made it in and out of my CD player. I heard a lot of music in 2004.
Following are my favorite 25 albums of the year, including their original Pop Stops review star ratings.
* * * TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2004 * * *
(Warner Bros.): Buoyed by the electroclash bassline and handclaps of "Time Is
Running Out," Muse leapt out of obscurity last summer. While that single is truly
an exceptional '80s-techno-meets-modern-gen-X rhythm track, the rest of the band's
3rd album, Absolution, is equally as entrancing.
2) Gwen Stefani Love.Angel.Music.Baby
(Interscope): Stefani's first full solo CD, outside of No Doubt, is a celebration
of bubble gum pop and urban groove, with a heavy nod at the music from the '80s
she grew up on. It's both a fresh, new collection of sassy songs and homage to
the best synth dance pop of days gone by.
3) Green Day American
Idiot (Reprise): The punk-pop trio's first album in four years finds the
boys still firmly in control of their infectious three-chord songcraft. The disc
includes nods to the '60s harmonies of The Who and the thematic ferocity of Bad
Religion. Billie Joe has never sounded so cynical.
Matthew Sweet Kimi
Ga Suki (Superdeformed/RCAM): Originally released for his fans in Japan,
Sweet's first solo disc in five years is filled with raw guitar leads and reverb-heavy
vocals. Spotlighting Sweet at his most raucous, this is a garage-rock album that
feels like the best of his older catalog, from Girlfriend to Altered
5) Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra
Friends 3 (Radar/Warner/Rhino):
This is the third rollicking album of covers and original songs by Holland to
feature a different lead singer on every song (everyone from Buddy Guy, Ruby
Turner and Smokey Robinson to Bryan Ferry, Paul Rodgers and
Ringo Starr turn up). Friends 3 recaptures the energy of big band
soul, gospel, boogie-woogie rock and R&B.
6) Secret Machines Now Here Is
Nowhere (Reprise): Merging bombastic rhythm tracks with a parade
of serpentine guitar leads, Brit-pop-tight vocals and a progressive art-rock vibe
from the early days of Rush, Secret Machines unleashed an album like no other
this year. It delivers more with every spin.
Elysian Fields Dreams That Breathe
Your Name (Diluvian): Elysian Fields' first full CD got a wide release
back in '96 through Radioactive Records. However this, its third, only found release
on a minor label in Europe last year, and finally made it to these shores this
year. This is one of the most entrancing CDs of 2004.
8) Los Lobos The
Ride (Hollywood/Mammoth): The classic Mexican-American roots rock band's
latest effort takes a cue from Santana, bringing in a series of guest artists
on almost every track. Unlike Santana, however, these guests aren't just pop star
luminaries. Los Lobos pairs with a series of artists known for creating inventive
roots and blues rock. The result is inspired and magical.
9) Keane Hopes
and Fears (Interscope): Fans of Palo Alto, Gerry Rafferty and early Radiohead
will find touchstones in this wildly evocative soundscape of Brit-pop melancholia.
The entire album is a warm wash of emotion that is defies categorizing.
10) Charlotte Martin On
Your Shore (RCA): Martin wears her Tori Amos and Kate Bush influences
without apology. Her debut is a strong declaration of arrival from an artist who
hopefully will be around to sing us siren songs for many years to come.
The Cure The Cure
(Geffen): The kings of dark pop return with its first disc in four years, and
with a slate of songs that reference their various styles of the past two decades.
They prove that nobody melds insular lyrics with melancholic rock better.
12) Fastball Keep
Your Wig On (Rykodisc): The wild
success of the band's hit singles "The Way" and "You're an Ocean" sent this Austin
trio into hiding for almost six years. But its sadly unheralded, overdue return
is filled with the kind of warm, fuzzy, rootsy, Beatlesque pop that appeals to
13) BoDeans Resolution
(Zoe/Rounder): Eight years off hasn't dulled their pens; the BoDeans' 7th studio
album returns to the roots of this classic roots-rock band. Resolution
focuses on simple-but-powerful song writing and the sweet-and-sour vocal harmonies
of Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann.
Dogs Die in Hot Cars Please Describe Yourself
(V2): If you survived the alternative '80s, this disc will bring back fond memories
of the angular, intellectual pop of XTC, with the occasional shade of China Crisis.
If those bands don't mean anything to you, then this will be a refreshing dose
of quirky pop that's like nothing else on the radio today.
15) Mary Lou Lord Baby
Blue (Rubric): Her waifish, wispy vocal
delivery makes Lord an instantly comfortable friend on your speakers. Baby
Blue perfectly captures the complex emotions of being a "Long Way From Tupelo,"
revels in the pop cover of Badfinger's "Baby Blue" and cringes at the danger in
"Someone Always Talks."
16) Ollabelle Ollabelle
(Columbia): This jazz and blues-influenced sextet heavily mines the fields of
old spirituals, such as "Soul of a Man," "Elijah Rock" and "Jesus on the Mainline,"
on their debut, offering a complex mix of soulful emotion, style and vocal harmonies.
Inspired and inspiring.
Butterfly Boucher Flutterby
(A&M): Twenty-something Aussie singer-songwriter Butterfly Boucher delivers an
impressive batch of instantly catchy pop-rock songs on her debut album. She also
produced the CD and played virtually every instrument on it. There are a dozen
tracks on Flutterby, and almost every one offers a lyrical and musical
hook that sticks with you for days.
18) Duran Duran Astronaut
(Epic): Their first album with all the members who shot to stardom with "Girls
on Film" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" in almost 20 years is a non-stop party of
a synth-pop reunion.
19) Five For Fighting The
Battle for Everything (Aware/Columbia): John Ondrasik's second disc, as
Five For Fighting, is filled with the same heartachy vocal attack and adventurous
lyricism that took his first album of folksy pop songs to the top of the charts.
Richard Marx My Own Best Enemy (EMI):
Marx has matured as a songwriter since his '80s hits. His fifth album has a darker
edge to its lyrics than those early pop smashes, yet his knack with a catchy pop
hook is still overpowering.
21) Ashlee Simpson Autobiography
(Geffen): Move over Jessica; there's a Simpson with talent in town. She's less
shrill than Avril Lavigne and more naοve than Liz Phair, but she can sing pop-rock
as strong as either of them.
22) The Hives Tyrannosaurus
Hives (Interscope): While often their
lyrics seem nonsensical, their update of the Sex Pistols meets the Clash punk
sound makes meaning meaningless. This is an album about retro-feelin' rockin'
out. The words are loud, but superfluous.
23) I Am the World Trade Center The
Cover Up (Gammon): Mixing Blondie/Human
League style synthesizer instrumentation with a fresh 2004 vibe and the seductively
cool vocals of Amy Dykes, this independent CD offers a dozen tracks that sound
like they could have been produced by Yaz, the Human League or Blondie in the
Alanis Morissette So
Called Chaos (Maverick/Reprise): Musically, Morissette's third studio
album since her groundbreaking 1995 Jagged Little Pills CD is a rousing
pop affair, but its undercurrent of incessant female relationship victimization
remains steady. Long live the jaded Alanis!
25) Tony C. And The Truth Demonophonic
Blues (Lava): Led by a gravelly voiced singer who sounds like he should
be fronting a blues band (he's also a boxer and Mensa member), Tony C & The
Truth turn up the amplifiers and distortion pedals to crank out some fiery
delta blues-colored rock 'n' roll. Strutting riffs and strutting lyrics make this
a fun album of delta machismo.