New Jersey's Star-Ledger: Some Additional Thoughts On Pop Music 2010

The Star-Ledger By Tris McCall

Loved: The latest gang of Jersey rockers howling on the Turnpike. My Chemical Romance, the Gay Blades, the Gaslight Anthem, Steel Train, Screaming Females and I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business all released excellent albums in 2010; the Front Bottoms, Brick and Mortar, Waking Lights, My Arcadia, the Porchistas and Bern and the Brights look set to continue the winning streak into 2011. The Garden State is rocking again; better still, the rest of the nation is taking notice.

Loathed: Chillwave. Sounds like Lady Gaga and Ke$ha records with the good parts — charismatic vocals, pop melody, colorful personality — removed.

Worst trend: High-profile arena concert cancellations and withdrawals. Bono hurt his back and yanked the plug on U2’s New Meadowlands Stadium concert in June. Art Garfunkel’s hoarseness postponed Simon and Garfunkel’s reunion tour. Christina Aguilera scrapped her PNC date for reasons that were never made entirely clear. And everybody pulled out of the Lilith Fair. Could it be that contemporary pop stars suffer from an overwhelming sense of entitlement, or unwillingness to play through pain, as the football coaches like to say? I think it’s more likely that the artists who can still fill arenas are (gasp) getting a little too old for the rigors of constant touring.

Biggest surprise: "Life, Death, Love and Freedom" was a nifty sidestep into country-folk by John Mellencamp, but the 2008 release couldn’t have prepared anybody for this year’s "No Better Than This," which is, in its own way, as raw and radical as any album put out by a pop experimentalist this year. Mellencamp cut his songs in mono and in real time, setting up his mobile studio in the First African Baptist Church in Savannah and in the San Antonio hotel room where Robert Johnson made "Cross Road Blues." No polish was added, and Mellencamp sang like a man pursued by phantoms. If you listen between the notes, you can hear the ghosts whispering into the vintage microphones.

Looking forward to: Lil Wayne at the Bamboozle festival. It was always hard to imagine Weezy in prison — the emcee seems too energetic to be contained in a cell. Sprung loose, he’s likely to spend 2011 re-establishing his dominance. Wayne’s headline set in the New Meadowlands Stadium parking lot, where the Bamboozle will take place April 29 to May 1, ought to combine his wildcat energy with the celebratory atmosphere of a coming-home party. I’d wager it’s going to make Drake’s fine set at Bamboozle this year look like nothing more than a prelude.

R.I.P.: Don Van Vliet, a k a Captain Beefheart, who died Dec. 17 at the age of 69. Thanks for making pop safe for baying lunatics, conceptualists and art kids with no fear.