The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER TWO is Barenaked Ladies

Originally posted 2010-04-19 14:30:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the fourth in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

As we close in on my top pick for best rock artist of the decade, the decisions are getting more and more difficult.  In an attempt to be as unbiased as possible, I initially had last post’s honoree — Jack White — in the #2 spot.  Then I started listening to All in Good Time, which led me back to their albums of last decade.  After one listen to Maroon and Everything to Everyone, I knew that the Barenaked Ladies belonged in a higher position.  It should also be noted that while I do believe I made the right choice for the #1 slot, I have been a BnL fan for much longer, and they hold quite an important place in my heart where music is concerned.

That being said, let’s get this party started!

The Barenaked Ladies have distinguished themselves in all four of the categories I’ve established (see above) for this list.  They are a constantly evolving group of songwriter/musicians and performers, not content to rest easy at what worked for them in the past.  Throughout this, the second full decade of their existence, they have been prolific, releasing new material in every year except 2009.  In addition to typical studio albums every three years, this decade has seen the release of a greatest hits collection, a DVD compilation of their music videos, a holiday-themed album, a musical production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (the one release in their catalog I have yet to set eyes on), their first live DVD, and a children’s album with accompanying book.

Although the decade ended with the oft-noted and overly publicized departure of founding member Steven Page, the remaining four members closed out 2009 by recording a series of eighteen songs, fourteen of which would find their way to 2010’s All in Good Time.

In every way that matters, the Barenaked Ladies have been a creative force to reckon with — and pay attention to — throughout this decade, and despite the criticism of naysayers, they have a very promising future in the next.

POST-STUNT EXPECTATIONS

To say that there was a lot riding on Maroon would be an understatement.

After the breakthrough success of 1998’s Stunt (via the chart-topping “One Week”), BnL’s image and career stood to be reconsidered based on what came next.  While Maroon was successful enough to preclude accusations of one-hit-wonder status, their American audience in particular seemed less and less interested in their work as the years went on.  This much is apparent in the charts, each album topping out further down than the previous one.  (As of this writing, this continues to hold true for All in Good Time, which has peaked at 23; in Canada, on the other hand, it has rightfully marked a comeback, hitting #3 which is the highest chart position for a BnL album there since Maroon.)

But numbers are numbers.  There are so many important aspects of modern life which, contrary to the beliefs and attempts of the powers that be, simply cannot be quantified.

Music is certainly one of those.

Maroon is BnL’s most fully-realized, cohesive, balanced album; it is serious, yet entertaining — fast and slow, loud and quiet.  The first half is populated by equally single-worthy rockers like “Falling for the First Time,” “Too Little Too Late,” and “Pinch Me,” the latter admittedly seeming like a wanna-be follow-up to “One Week.”  The second half of the album stretches out a bit, unwinding hauntingly gorgeous ballads like “Off the Hook” and “Helicopters.”  I haven’t even mentioned some of my favorites — “Baby Seat,” “Go Home,” and “The Humour of the Situation.”  This is a true five star album.

Although the album and singles performed well, it was apparent that they were all received with a bit less interest than Stunt‘s material had been (or, more accurately, its lead-off single).  I, for one, think that it is no coincidence that this was just about the same time that I began to lose interest in popular radio and music television.

BRILLIANCE IN RELATIVE OBSCURITY

To avoid going into painstaking detail about every track that the Barenaked Ladies have released since 2000, I will begin by saying that there is a vast sea of reasons to be interested in and entertained by this band.  As much as I felt people should have been more receptive to Maroon, I was flabbergasted at the apathy that 2003’s Everything to Everyone.  How an album that could so masterfully run the gamut between silly and serious, all the while being consistently brilliant — both lyrically and instrumentally — is beyond me.  This album is composed of some truly killer tracks: sardonic songs like “Celebrity” and “Second Best,” upbeat rockers like “Testing 1, 2, 3” and “Unfinished,” a love song like “Maybe Katie,” the oddly foreboding “War on Drugs,” and the stereotypical BnL knee-slappers “Another Postcard” and “Shopping.”

A lack of public praise never slowed them down, as 2006 saw the recording of 29 new tracks.  Where the band went wrong, in this writer’s opinion, was in deciding to release one album that year and a second album the following year.  What ended up happening was the most outstanding tracks were split between the two discs and, with a lack of cohesion between the two discs, the Are Me/Are Men project was simply not as good as it could have been.  Even Wikipedians are uncertain how to classify these selections in their catalog — either as the seventh or the seventh and eighth albums of BnL’s career.  Still, these releases saw the unveiling of a new era for the band — one of independence from major labels and of stretching their musical sensibilities.  Kevin Hearn’s contributions demonstrated the potential that he presented not only as an instrumentalist and singer, but also as a songwriter.  Jim Creeggan’s beautiful vocals also showed significant promise, even if they were only showed off on a silly number.

These three (or four?) albums would be reason alone to consider BnL one of the best bands of the decade.  And yet they didn’t stop there.  In the past ten years, the band has released some amazing work, not the least of which are their holiday album and children’s album.  The holiday album, Barenaked for the Holidays, brilliantly blended Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter-themed songs in one very characteristic collection (think: “Elf’s Lament,” “Green Christmas,” and others).  The latter, Snacktime!, swung far enough to the silly side of the spectrum to be largely ignored by “serious” music critics.  That being said, anyone who takes a moment to listen to the harmonies and instrumentation will realize that Snacktime! is a masterpiece unto itself, two of the best tracks — “Pollywog in a Bog” and “Louis Loon” — being penned by the unusual collaboration of Creeggan & Ed Robertson.  And it saw the lead vocal debut of Tyler Stewart on the rocking “Allergies,” a song that almost makes me feel cool for having season allergies myself.

AN ARREST, A CRASH, A BREAK, A VOW

Far too much has been written about the moments of crisis and tragedy in the personal lives of the Barenaked Ladies these past few years, so I’ll be especially brief here.  If you’ve kept up with music news, you know that Steven Page was arrested on charges of drug possession, Ed Robertson crashed his plane (fortunately with no serious injuries sustained), and Page’s departure was announced in 2009.  All in all, not a wonderful end to the decade.

That being said, the four remaining members — Robertson, Hearn, Creeggan, and Stewart — have vowed to continue recording and performing as BnL.  How well is that going?

One listen to All in Good Time is all you’ll need to answer that one on your own.

The Best Original Christmas Songs of 2010

Originally posted 2010-12-25 10:00:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

I didn’t originally plan to make a Christmas music-related list, as there isn’t really much of note this year.  However, considering that I have twelve other categories, I figured: why not?

The only song that organically caught my interest this year is Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights.”  Released as a single earlier this season, I decided to check it out, as Coldplay’s last album was actually quite good.  A bit overrated, to be sure, but certainly one of the best of 2008.  And while “Christmas Lights” may not be a contender for an all-time holiday classic, it is the best I’ve heard this year.

The other two that stood out to me are the original tracks from Wilson Phillips’ new Christmas CD.  “Warm Lovin’ Christmastime” and “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” have the Beach Boys-esque harmonies you’d expect and manage to pull off that Christmas feel that is essential for a great yuletide track.

So, consider checking out these songs, though in this category I am a big fan of the rock classics — Elvis Presley, Phil Spector & friends, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, etc. — and new classics — Barenaked Ladies, Moody Blues, Relient K, Brian Wilson, etc.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and hurry back tomorrow for one of the biggest lists of the year!

The BEST ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS SONGS of 2010

1)  “Christmas Lights” – Coldplay

2)  “Warm Lovin’ Christmastime” – Wilson Phillips

3)  “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” – Wilson Phillips

The BEST REMASTERS / REISSUES of 2010

Originally posted 2010-12-28 10:00:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

The BEST REMASTERS / REISSUES of 2010

This category isn’t  populated by music technically from 2010, but it belongs here all the same.  After all, with all the unsatisfactory, unimpressive remasters and reissues that are being released every year, it’s important to salute the solid ones.

Number one hails form the ever-impressive — and ever-overpriced — “Deluxe Edition” series.  As with the DE treatment of the Blue Album, Pinkerton is dressed up with gorgeous multi-fold packaging and accented with a booklet that includes a note from Rivers dating back to 1996, handwritten lyrics to the core songs on the album, an essay by insider Karl Koch, and a veritable scrapbook of pictures and memorabilia in between.  The music itself is quirky, dissonant at turns, and harmonically pleasing at others.  The only criticism to be leveled at the plentiful bonus tracks is the repetition.  I mean, I love “Pink Triangle” as much as the next guy — probably more — but are five versions really necessary?

The next two on the list are Clutch re-releases.  True to form, Clutch is not simply going through the motions here.  The packaging for both are beautiful recreations of the originals with nice accents added.  The live DVD with Robot Hive/Exodus was a nice touch for fans like myself who will buy their CDs but not necessarily spring for other releases, like their recent live DVD.  There are few booklets so thoughtfully produced as that with From Beale St. to Oblivion, and I can’t imagine any lover of albums and packaging not appreciating this one.

The Fables of the Reconstruction box is indisputably one of the coolest packaging designs of the year, though it would have been preferable to downsize the poster in favor of a longer essay with more insight into the making of the album, etc.  The bonus tracks — the so-called Athens demos — will surely thrill longtime fans fascinated by the songs in their rough forms, though to my unseasoned ear the demos don’t sound all that different from the final studio versions.

The final addition here comes with a caveat.  The four Badfinger remasters are excellent candidates for receiving more attention from modern music listeners, and the packaging comes through in terms of adding several bonus tracks and liner notes that are more than sufficient to outline the context, either forgotten or unknown to those purchasing these albums.  And the remasters are significant, adding volume that was simply impossible on the original CD versions.  However, as a good friend pointed out, there is something lost when the reverb falls away from the drums and the other aural artifacts of their early seventies production disappears.

The honorable mentions are included here, as I’m uncertain of where else to place them.  The ever-excellent Bootleg Series should go without saying.  Even a non-fan could appreciate the rich experience that is to be had by listening to and reading one of these releases, this being the ninth installment.  The other mention is for Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise, a double-album of unreleased tracks from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions.  The packaging is beautiful and the music, particularly for the Springsteen fans out there, is comparable to stumbling upon buried treasure.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, and then Thursday and Friday for the best lists yet: the Best Songs and the Best Albums of 2010!

1)  Pinkerton – Weezer

2)  Robot Hive/Exodus – Clutch

3)  From Beale St. to Oblivion – Clutch

4)  Fables of the Reconstruction – R.E.M.

5)  The Badfinger remasters (Magic Christian Music; No Dice; Straight Up; Ass)

Honorable Mention:

The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos (1962-1964) – Bob Dylan

The Promise – Bruce Springsteen

(#21-30) – The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Originally posted 2009-12-31 23:34:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

After releasing the bottom twenty of my top fifty rock albums of the decade list yesterday, I return to drop in ten more.  Unlike yesterday, I’ve included brief annotations about each album — my reasoning for picking the album, critical stances, related stories, etc.  Of course, nothing I could say in two or three sentences could ever be enough to fully describe these records.  I ask you to accept my words as the following: a teaser trailer of sorts if you have yet to hear the album in question, or a reminder of why the albums you’ve already heard were so excellent.

As this segment of the list begins to suggest, there are some years in rock music that were simply better than others.  For instance, seven of these ten tracks come from the past three years.  When I was ranking these works, I purposely chose not to include the years, so as not to color my thoughts.  But, as you’ll see later and as you may have guessed, some years are better than others.

Hurry back on Saturday for the next ten albums in The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009, List.  I spent a great deal of time the past couple months listening to the albums of this decade, returning to and/or buying (used at Newbury Comics, of course) albums that were recommended to me by my friends, and writing, re-writing, and constantly shuffling this list until it exists as you see it today.  As I mentioned before, I encourage you to leave your comments, criticisms, and of course, your own lists!

21) That Lucky Old Sun (2008) – Brian Wilson: Brian Wilson’s first entirely original album of the decade, That Lucky Old Sun proves in many ways that he still has what it takes to write and arrange not only great songs, but also great albums.  Vocally, this album is head, shoulders, and waist above anything being produced by contemporary bands.  In many ways, rock music has progressed and been experimented with, but Wilson is still the greatest orchestrator of vocal parts, using voices more as instruments than simply a way to convey words and meaning.  Even the spoken word tracks which, on the outside, sound problematic are excellent and truly integral to the feeling and flow of the album.  As Ringo Starr has done, Brian Wilson has surrounded himself with some of the best rock musicians and writers available and it is all to the benefit of the music.  That Lucky Old Sun — not to be confused with Kenny Chesney’s Lucky Old Sun released later that year — is one of the standout albums of the decade, and proof positive that, even after two great albums that relied on compositions and tracks “from the vault,”  Brian Wilson is not finished producing original studio albums.  If we’re lucky, we’ll hear another album soon.

22) Forget And Not Slow Down (2009) – Relient K: Relient who?  That was the reaction of just about every music reviewer getting paid to listen to rock albums today.  (Interesting that Relient K was suddenly noticed and reviewed when they scored a major label contract, then summarily dismissed as soon as they released an album on a smaller label…)  Forget and Not Slow Down is the record on which this band has finally matured without losing any of the youthful energy of their previous releases.  And this is a concept album if I’ve ever heard one, documenting the numerous phases one goes through after a rough breakup.  Vocally, instrumentally, and lyrically, this album is fun and well-put-together.  My pick for the best rock album of 2009, I hope you’ll find it out there somewhere and take a listen.

23) 21st Century Breakdown (2009) – Green Day: As I wrote in my review of this album (click HERE to read), no one could be more surprised by the quality of this album than myself.  I am not, and have never been, a big Green Day fan.  I wanted to like American Idiot for its amazing packaging and overarching concept, but I have yet to crack that particular code.  But 21st Century Breakdown, this is an album I can support.  From front to back, the pacing is excellent, the focus is clear, and the band has clearly found their stride a full decade after their initial top-of-the-charts success.  This is an album that I continually return to and, despite its boneheaded single “Know Your Enemy,” I hope you’ll give it a chance, too, if you haven’t already.

24) Ringo Rama (2003) – Ringo Starr: Okay, okay.  So you might be thinking that Ringo Starr does not belong in the top twenty-five of any album list.  But have you listened to any Ringo album since the seventies?  If you haven’t, then you’re missing out on the pinnacle of Starr’s solo career.  He has surrounded himself with some of the best young instrumentalists and songwriters available and has consequently made some of the most outstanding rock music of his career, as well as the decade.  In fact, Choose Love missed the cut on this list by one and he would have received honorable mention if not for the fact that he’s solidly represented here.  Ringo Rama has a light, feel-good air — recall Ringo’s marketing strategy of using the following slogan: “Ringo Rama, peace, and love.”  I find it almost impossible to list even my favorites here — I’d end up naming every other track — so you’ll just have to take my word on this one and take a listen if you’re out of the loop.

25) The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair (2006) – The Now People: Upon its release, this album was entirely ignored by much of the media.  How Rolling Stone could have passed it over, I’m not sure.  Actually I am, as they hardly fancy themselves album people anymore, preferring instead to hype legends and new bands — the more crowd-pleasing, obscure, or odd the better.  You won’t find those sorts of adjectives being used in conjunction with the Now People.  Their sound harkens back to a simpler time, but don’t let that fool you: there is an instrumental and vocal prowess that drives this album’s sound and the overall concept is well thought out and interesting to follow.  If you can find it, this one is an interesting addition to any collection.

26) Are Me / Are Men (2006) – Barenaked Ladies: This album — or set of albums — would have made it much higher on my list if they had made some choices early on.  With two albums (or really three, if you consider today’s CD market) worth of material, BnL could have released one of the absolute best albums of the decade.  Instead, they decided to release Are Me, followed shortly by Are Men.  This would be all well and good if not for the fact that the most outstanding tracks are evenly divided up between the two.  Looking back, how is one to measure this release?  As two separate albums?  As two halves of a larger double album?  If they are two separate albums, they are strong. As a double album, it’s a bit much, and the sequencing is odd in places.  Let’s be honest — an album with “Sound of Your Voice,” “Wind it Up,” “Bank Job,” and “Easy” from Are Me and “Serendipity,” “Running Out of Ink,” “Fun and Games,” and “Maybe Not” from Are Men could have stolen the top spot for the decade, or at least would have made the top five.  As a BnL fan, I’m happy to have access to all this outstanding music — the last they made as a five-piece band — but as an album, I have to shake my head.

27) Sky Blue Sky (2007) – Wilco: Not many albums evoke so clear an emotion as this one, as well as that of a season.  Perhaps due to the bonus DVD that is included with the deluxe packaging, I can’t help but relate this record to winter.  I even included it this year amongst my Christmas albums, particularly the Moody Blues’ more directly winter-themed album December.  Coming on the heels of A Ghost is Born, Wilco have nicely balanced the length of the instrumental jams here, arranging some impressive tandem guitar solos and an overall sound that will make you shake your head in disbelief at their ability to mix it up, album after album.

28) Backspacer (2009) – Pearl Jam: Simply not the best material Pearl Jam has released, often criticized as too tight and “poppy,” and much briefer than their previous work.  Okay.  That being said, Backspacer is easily the best album Pearl Jam has released in some time, certainly within this decade.  From the rock ‘n roll assault of the first four tracks to the slower, more contemplative songs like “Just Breathe” and “The End,” this album has a lot to offer.  Even though some of the songs are admittedly weaker than we’re used to, especially in the middle to second half, there are also some outstanding, adrenaline-fueled rock songs that are unparalleled in their catalog.  (Think: “Got Some,” “Johnny Guitar,” “The Fixer,” and “Supersonic.”)  It is their most positively reviewed album of the decade — I’m throwing my hat in now — and you should pick it up!

29) Magic (2007) – Bruce Springsteen: Bruce Springsteen has been hailed as one of the top artists of the decade, and as far as overall output and success goes, the claim can’t be denied.  Consider how he opened the decade, chronicling the trauma of 9/11 with The Rising, an album that was not nearly as contrived as I worried it might be.  It was actually quite good, although bland upon too many listens, and just barely got cut from this list.  Then, he went acoustic for the strong but quite overrated Devils & Dust (see my review HERE) and went back to basics for The Seeger Sessions.  By the time Magic came around, Springsteen must have gotten the itch for some classic rock ‘n roll, pulling his band back together and drawing heavily from the style of sixties rock.  Song to song, an excellent, enjoyable record.  Working on a Dream, another near-miss for this list, is an excellent record, but lacks the staying power (even less than twelve months after its release) of Magic.

30) Viva La Vida (2008) – Coldplay: You won’t find another Coldplay album on this list, primarily for one reason: they are simply overrated up to (and perhaps including) this album.  Viva La Vida was a smash hit in all respects — huge title track single, successful follow-ups, outstanding album sales (particularly in mp3 download format)…  The list goes on.  But what I love most about this album is how each of the songs are distinct and different, and yet each track flows into the next.  In many ways, it is quite reminiscent of the format of the early Moody Blues albums, which makes it even more amazing that it was so universally well-loved.  (Hint, hint… Dust off a Moody Blues album this year!)