New York Post: Freedom's Road Top 10 Album of the Year
12.30.2007 - SOUNDS OF MUSIC ’07
ARCADE FIRE, NEIL YOUNG AND THE FINEST IN HIP-HOP FROM 50 CENT AND KANYE WEST
HELP ROUND OUT A YEAR OF SOLID SONGWRITING AND ROCKIN’ OUT
By DAN AQUILANTE
December 30, 2007 -- If there was one trend that threaded its way through the
music industry's best releases this year, it was the resurgence of the
singer-songwriter. Some troubadours strummed 'n' hummed, some rapped and others
rocked, but each had stories to tell and melodies that made you want to listen
and listen again.
Rapper raconteurs 50 Cent and Kanye West were as inspiring as crusty old Paul
McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, all of whom
delivered some of the most listenable, memorable and influential records of the
With only 10 slots, there's clearly some fantastic music that's been excluded,
but the following, in order of merit, are the CDs that somehow keep finding
their way back into my CD player (yes, I still have one), long after they were
released and reviewed.
1. Arcade Fire, “Neon Bible"
As with many of the best things in life, “‘Neon Bible" requires effort to
properly appreciate the emotional depth of its lyrics (dealing with a world at
war, a house on fire and the rising tide). Hitch those mules of the apocalypse
to the powerful and often exquisitely beautiful melodies - which demand volume -
and you have the year's top record. The album opener, “Black Mirror," clearly
states that AF is the same band that created “Funeral.'' The song is a simple
melody made darkly sinister with a combination of howling wind noise, background
strings and percussive rock. It's excellent, but not the disc's best. Save that
honor for the song “(Antichrist Television Blues)," in which these Canadians get
in touch with their inner Americana, as if inspired by what the Killers did with
“Sam's Town" last year.
2. Fratellis, “Costello Music"
This young Scottish band understands that musical success is measured one song
at a time. Like the best singles bands, Fratellis embraces exuberant fun in
infectiously catchy pop about chicks, beers and brawls. While there's some
menace in their themes, there's no malice, and their melodies are bright enough
that you wouldn't notice if there were. On nearly every track on this very
upbeat debut disc you feel the band's enthusiastic lust for life and how making
music is still about meeting chicks and having fun.
3. Paul McCartney, “Memory Almost Full"
Sir Paul might be best remembered for making gossip this year, but his 21st solo
record stands as his best work in more than two decades. Here Macca rediscovers
his inner songwriter with lively, melodic tunes that reference his personal
music history from the Beatles and Wings to the present. Songs like “Dance
Tonight" have that sticky-sweet Paul sound that everyone loves to hate but hums
privately. Songs like “Vintage Cloths" look back with fond remembrance of things
past, and those like the mid-tempo ballad “End of the End" look forward to when
Paul really is dead.
4. The White Stripes, “Icky Thump"
The rule that the more things change, the more they stay the same couldn't be
truer with “Icky Thump." After a decade, drummer Meg White and guitarist Jack
White have regressed to the low-fi sound that was the essence of their early
work. On this disc, there's focused attention to rawness as the duo plays with
distinctively American styles from blues and country to the facets of rock. The
arrangements, featuring Jack's vocals and guitar supported by Meg's minimalist
drumming, are simple, and the mix is at its best in “Rag and Bone," a tune
that's a little Canned Heat, more John Lee Hooker and a lot ZZ Top.
5. 50 Cent, “Curtis"
After all the petty Kanye vs. 50 snipping about whose album would cut deeper and
sell more, Cent's “Curtis" stands as a timeless artistic achievement that
elevates gangsta rap out of the ghetto. Whether the tune is about guns, lovers
or money, Cent spits words with flow and speed. The effect is an impressionistic
collage almost too fast to understand, yet the music is ripe with mood and
power. It's an effect that the beat poets dabbled with in the '50s. This is an
underrated album that's placed the bar a little higher for every rapper.
6. Bruce Springsteen, “Magic"
Where musical reinvention is the name of the game, Bruce Springsteen defies
convention by introducing the new Boss as the same as the old Boss. “Magic" is a
throwback to his '80s heyday that delivers vivid story-songs as if they were
gritty American poetry. That said, this isn't a continuation of last year's
acoustic “We Shall Overcome." Instead, “Magic" is a kick-ass rock record that
finds all of its inspiration and musical references on E Street. Springsteen's
vocals plead against the urgency of his band - a perfect combination honed over
7. Neil Young, “Chrome Dreams II"
At times, this album is amped with electric fury and, in the silence between
tracks, flips to warm and fuzzy acoustic lullabies and hymns. Eclecticism is
Young's religion on this 10-song record that not only defies style, but serves
as a non-linear history of his life in which he contemplates his own mortality
and his basic instincts. Because Young has always been a devotee of musical
experimentation, it's hard to like everything he does here equally. But for the
most part, this ranks among his best work.
8. Kanye West, “Graduation"
Despite not having a major hook song like “Jesus Walks" or “Gold Digger" to
anchor the CD, the more you listen to “Graduation" the more the quality of the
record emerges. This disc has a slow-boil power that requires time and effort to
feel the heat. Lyrically, there's an overall optimism on the 13 tracks as well
as a sense of self-examination. The album shines musically in its layered
production and finely woven arrangements that blend live piano, strings and
synthesizers. On the disc's final track, “Big Brother," West demonstrates his
powerful word skills, while revealing his fire-and-ice relationship with his
9. Velvet Revolver, “Libertad''
Few albums this year were as well titled as this one. “Libertad" dropped on the
Fourth of July, and with it the band finally found independence from their
collective Guns N' Roses/Stone Temple Pilots past. This is truly original
aggressive hard rock, featuring the snarling vocals of frontman Scott Weiland,
supported by the slithering fretwork of Slash. Add to that equation Gunner
bottom beats from bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum (and subtract the
drugs and alcohol that's pickled the band) and you get a CD with headbanging
10. John Mellencamp, “Freedom's Road"
On his first record in five years, Mellencamp is again lost in the sea of little
pink houses, where amber waves of the American Dream crash on a rocky shore.
Just by the CD's title, “Freedom's Road," you'd expect this blue-collar strummer
to be hoisting Old Glory with jangly guitar and jingoism, but on this tight
10-song disc of heartland rock Mellencamp tries to figure out who we are as
Americans and, more interestingly, who we think we are. As introspective and
political as this disc is, J.M. never forgets to rock.
Read the New York Post article online.