Best of 2006 - THE MUSIC
Tom Petty has long been a source of cruisin' music, but never moreso than here, his third "sans Heartbreakers" outing. The album seems tailor made for those highway voyages, making the name totally fitting. It's a great mix of uptempo rock like "Saving Grace" and "Big Weekend", and some slower more mellow tunes like "Turn this Car Around" and "Square One". The biggest strength of the album is it's consistancy, something Petty releases have lacked in the past. The whole affair is signifigantly less self-indulgant than Petty's last solo-effort, it's all about the tunes here, it's Petty having a good time.
Audioslave finally sound like a cohesive whole. Given the nature of this album, being recorded while touring to support 2005's "Out of Exile", the band really gelled more this time around, and it shows. The music is tighter, playing to the strengths of both sides of the coin, the loose riff-driven groove of Rage Against the Machine, and the more melodic and musical vibe of Soundgarden. Overall it's a more enjoyable album than the previous 2, with some high energy rockers like "Original Fire" and the title track, and of course we get some of Cornell's more melancholy crooning on a few slower tunes. Cornell's voice is as awesome as usual, which makes it a winner.
When the Tea Party announced their demise late in 2005, a Jeff Martin solo project wasn't too far behind. I can honestly say i really had no idea what to expect from Jeff, but happily he didn't rest on his Tea Party laurels, nor move in an entirely foriegn direction. Exile and the Kingdom is a solid slice of folk rock a la Page-Plant with Martin's very distinct vocal delivery. Gone are the literary and philosophical pretentions of The Tea Party, replaced by more personal and intimate lyrical content. It's probably as strong an album as any of the more recent Tea efforts, and shows that Martin is still a talented force in Canadian rock, and hopefully has a strong future as a solo artist. "Angeldust" and "Butterfly" show Martin's strengths as a folk rocker, and "Lament is as beautiful and melodic a song as anything he ever recorded with his bandmates. There are a few clunky moments, but overall this is a great folk-rock offering from one of Canada's most talented singer-guitarists.
Jet's debut album pretty much took North America by storm about 6 months or so after its release. Immediately afterwards they suffered a venemous backlash from much of the music community. Their sophmore effort isn't going to win them any new fans i'll wager, but what it does, is show that they spent the downtime growing as a band, and working hard at creating an identity, musically, for themselves. They still have that "Aussie-rock" swagger, but it's laced with a later-years Oasis vibe and lacks the cockiness of their first offering. "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" sounds at once different from, and yet instantly similar to their debut material, while the rest of the album is more Beatles-esque than the AC/DC - Stooges fueled stomp of 2003's "Get Born". Overall a stronger album than their debut, and a solid rock n roll outing.
Bruce invited a flurry of folk-style musicians to an old farmhouse, jammed like a madman, and recorded the whole thing. The result is a resoundingly brilliant effort. This album is the anti-thesis to Bruce's sombre "Devils & Dust", a rompin' stompin' hootenanny of an album. From the opening strains of "Old Dan Tucker" to the closing stomp of "Froggie Went A Courtin'" - Bruce takes us on an old time journey through the roots of American music. The songs aren't originals per se, but they sound it. If Devils & dust left you bored or depressed, We Shall Overcome will have you on your feet. One of the greatest albums of Bruce's career.
Maiden does what they do best on this, their 14th studio album. They present truely EPIC chunks of what can only be described as "Storyteller-Metal". Where teh album truely excels is in the delivery, never have Maiden sounded so crushingly heavy, vibrant, or energetic. Bruce sings his lungs out, and the guitars just sweep over the listener. It all feels more spontaneous and less "pieced together" than previous efforts (probably because it was recorded mostly live in the studio). The beast of an album runs a whopping 70+ minutes, and also features one of the coolest Maiden covers ever. And any Maiden fan knows a cover is important. It's hard to choose single tracks to highlight, as each offering is exemplary of what Maiden does best. If i were forced at gunpoint, "The Longest Day" is the best metal song of the year hands down.
Matt Mays has been doing a solid job of carving out a niche in the Canadian rock scene with his band El Torpedo. His blend of Petty-like grooves and Dylan-esque storytelling have earned him some notoriety in recent years. His newest offering, in Solo form this time around, pretty much shatters pre-concieved notions. This one is a more moody and experimental affair. When the album succeeds, it does so brilliantly, with some amazing tracks that strike a more mellow chord. "Past" is a spirited and haunting opener, "1 for the Motor" is a charming ballad, "When The Angles Make Contact" is almost hip-hop country electronica. A few classic Mays rockers do pop up later on in the album, but overall this is a vastly different journey than either of Matt's previous albums. Like every other experiment, there are some risky choices, and while nothing falls flat, some are less appealing than others, but overall it's one of the strongest efforts to come out of Canada this year, and when it does succeed, it's some of the best material Matt has ever done.
The Hip are back once again, this time with a decidedly different approach, their second paradigm shift really. Originally a bar-rock band, they shifted into more melodic arena territory sometime around the mid 90's, and now they make the journey into pop-territory. The album is more loose, less melancholy than their more recent efforts. And while one or two songs keep the album from sheer greatness - the excellent material is some of the best stuff the Hip has ever laid to tape - from the infectiously poppy "In View" to hard rockers, "The Lonely End of the Rink" and "The Drop-Off", and the epic title track. The whole album has a level of poslish and punch that can only be attributed to uber-producer Bob Rock, and they sound vibrant and alive. It may not be as good as "In Between Evolution" on the whole, but taken song by song, it's an amazing piece of work.
This is what i said back in April: This is the most cohesive package Pearl Jam has ever assembled as a group. The band is really playing as a unit, and the fire is back, burning so brightly that you just might have to squint. For the first time, ever really, the band seems to be a collective whole. They're comfortable in their skins, they're enjoying playing off of one another. This is, for me, quite possibly the best, most complete album they have ever done. The guitar is a little cleaner, a little more forceful. Ed's vocals are less restrained than they were on Riot Act or Binaural. Musically the songs are effortless, they roll over you like a wave, there's not a jarring or off putting moment, everything sounds like golden honey. It all just flows together. It's hard to single out better or worse, as the whole thing is really one big experience. The self-titled approach was definitely the way to go, this is the new Pearl Jam, a transcendental piece of work, a re-birth. This is their "Dark Side of the Moon" or their "Led Zeppelin IV". It is not to be missed. I still feel the same.
Album of the Year
Chemical City is one hell of a musical effort. The typically Beatles meets Dylan feel of Robert's debut album has been drenched in 70's rock psychadelia and grooves to make for one of the most sonically captivating albums to come along in a while. From the all out rock of "The Gate" to the closing strains of the melancholy "A Stone Would Cry Out", every track is a winner. The band shifts from straight up rock mode to freeform jam and everywhere in between. Each and every song is a slab of rock perfection. Sam's lyrical content is also awesome stuff, and his voice is smooth and captivating. Every piece of this disc is classic, well executed, and toe-tapping. It's the tightest, most engaging, downright awesome bit of music i've heard in 2006, Chemical City is the best album of 2006!
Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
Incubus - Light Grenades
David Gilmour - On An Island
Sloan - Never Hear The End Of It
Next time - we finish this year-end badboy with my picks on the ten best films of 2006!