Are music reviews out of place on a blog about urban parenthood?
Perhaps so. Music just ain’t what it was to us these days, is it? As teens and college students, it seemed to be intertwined with everything, ALL the time. What modern parent could possibly have the time to grab a cold one, pack up a bowl and really dive into a new album the way we used to?
Well, screw that, says I. Losing grasp of the musical zeitgeist is the first sign of aging irrelevance, and I shall not go easy into that dark night, my friends.
Well, possibly on a school night…
All that said, I am experiencing the classic first sign of Irrelevantitis: I think a lot of new music sucks. I mean, I dunno… I just grew up with music whose hooks HOOKED… That’s the main discrepancy, I think… And it worries me that maybe I’m finally out of touch with that elusive and ephemeral pulse that defines the Music of Now.
With that important background info I present to you my brusquely subjective take on the “Best of 10.”
Kanye West’s “My Dark Twisted Fantasy” was easily the critical circle jerk winner of the year. Every rockcrit from Cali to Caldwell was drooling over it’s deep emotional resonance and portentous beats. Well, sorry folks, but I ain’t buyin’ it… At least not with the same over-zealous fervor that the Herd is. And I should mention you’re reading the words of a man who would probably pick His Yeeziness as Artist of the Oughts, if I had to choose.
Few artists in the 00’s could pack his blend of innovation, audaciousness and sheer emotion into such great beats and hooks. And he backed up ginormous smash-hits like the super-fun “Gold Digger” and “All Falls Down” with ginormous super-funny statements like “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and, uh, “Beyonce should have won Best Video!”
But for me, somehow, MBDTW simply doesn’t compel like his best work has in the past. Album opener, “Dark Fantasy” bodes well, with it’s sudden beat-drop and stirring chorus but the hits don’t come fast and furious enough after that.
“All of the Lights,” for example, revisits the use of light as metaphor that Mr. West used so affectingly in Graduation’s “Flashing Lights” but without the formers killer chorus. (Lights are a fave metaphoric tool for Kanye much as relationships were for the Beatles and violence was for vintage Elvis Costello.) Its tale of a Dad trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter should amount to a far more touching track. And a New York Times piece on the album rightly pointed out that there may be an obvious reason the album lacks any real chart hit. Don’t get me wrong… it’s still a superb album and he’s still one of the best rhymer’s working today, but it simply does not reach the colossal heights of his previous works.
FYI: This is NOT a kid-friendly album. Even the radio-edit is a bit too graphic for family-listening.
Arcade Fire’s surprise grammy-winner “The Suburbs” has some great moments even though to this listener it seems custom-built to enthrall white 30-something rock scribes (yawn) and it’s second half is a hookless wonder that starts to wash over you like the very slow, gentle peeing of a giant. A monumental super-classic should be longueur-free if you ask me.
Best Coast made a fun but light garage-pop throwback while Beach House made a pretty but too-tame and tasteful coffee table piece (Although it’s PERFECT for tame and tasteful parents who wish to appear hip, it must be said.) Fellow-fogey James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem has some superb moments on the new one but I’ve always found the Williamburg hipster’s voice that graces many of the tracks to be gratingly irritating.
For me, only Janelle Monae and Vampire Weekend made albums that truly stuck. Both are eclectic, energetic and full of genuinely great writing that you remember for days afterwords (though Janelle’s skitzo dance-a-thon is far more eclectic while VW’s hooks delve deeper into the skin.) To be honest, it was a challenge to look past Vampire Weekend’s collegiate smugness and classy sweaters but in the end the music triumphed.
None of these albums, to paraphrase the god-like Morrissey, said a whole lot to me about my life. I’d say the last fairly modern tracks to achieve that mighty distinction were Cold War Kids’ bitterly funny and heart-rending “We Used To Vacation,” about a dad struggling to get used to a life of sobriety after a cataclysmic accident, and The Decemberist’s gets-me-right-here-everytime ode to a broken heart, “Engine Driver.”
As a busy dad, I have yet to hear very promising sounding LP’s by Outkast’s Big Boi (surely one of the greatest rappers working today, perhaps of his generation), Raekwon, Titus Andronicus, the Decmeberists and many, many more. But as I get older, promising too often just ends up disappointing. Oh White Album, Blonde on Blonde and It Take’s a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back of our generation… Where be ye?!