New York Post: Freedom's Road Top 10 Album of the Year


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 year.

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 three decades.

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 mentor Jay-Z.

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 arena crunch.

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.