U2: “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”
This album is the third true classic in the U2 canon with the others being “Achtung Baby” and “The Joshua Tree.” The opener “Beautiful Day” was a rocking pop gem that sounded like nothing U2 had ever recorded before. Other standouts include “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” which was written about Bono’s friend Michael Hutchence and his struggles with drug addiction. This album is one of those rare beasts that you can enjoy listening to start to finish and then you want to hit play again.
(“Elevation” continues to this day as one of the best songs that U2 performs live at their epic road tours. Never before have I seen a song played live where each and every member of the audience was jumping up and down. It was a truly moving and beautiful sight to see.)
Foo Fighters: “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace.”
Proving once and for all that Dave Grohl is so much more than “the drummer from Nirvana,” this album is so effortlessly excellent that it makes you want to give being a rock star a try. Truly introspective, angry and full of raw emotion, “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace” marked a maturation in Dave Grohl the man. Maybe it was his age or maybe it was becoming a father but we like this new Dave Grohl. We like him very much. Standouts: “Let it Die,” “The Pretender,” “But Honestly,” “Home.”
Amy Winehouse: “Back to Black”
Remove the car crash that is Amy Winehouse today from your memory and what you are left with is a world class chanteuse with a truly inimitable voice. The beauty of “Back to Black” is that it sounds like nothing else in music right now. And even though “Rehab” may have been bad for drug interventionists it is still one helluva catchy tune. Standout: “Love is a Losing Game”
Easily Pink’s best album to date, “Funhouse” deals with the darker side of being Pink. It would be easy to write off the mega-hit “So What?” as a bit of pop fluff but the tinge of sadness mixed with self destruction in that song that makes it so much more three dimensional than your average “I’m Leaving You Forever” anthem. Ballads like “Sober” and “Please Don’t Leave Me” left little doubt in the mind of the listener what it is like to live Pink’s life. And through that pain it made the songs ever more relatable. Another standout is the bluesy bar rock of “Mean” which might be the best break-up song ever recorded. That or “So What?” How convenient that they are both on the same album!
Green Day: “American Idiot”
Whoever knew Green Day knew more than three chords and could write a song longer than three minutes. Before “American Idiot” Green Day was seriously underestimated as musicians and as a rock powerhouse. While “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was nice it was the 7 minute jams that really set this rock opera apart. Too bad the follow-up was a bit of a disappointment.
Sugarland: “Love on the Inside”
If you don’t like epic riffs, soaring vocals, catchy hooks and a little bit of twang keep reading because this isn’t for you. This album is country and not afraid of that fact. But even if you like rap, rock or pop this album is a standout because it can appeal to so many genres. Sounding a bit like the female everywoman, the lady Bruce Springsteen if you will, lead singer Jennifer Nettles is a vocal/songwriting force to be reckoned with. Not to sound too country here but that girl’s singing could blow the roof off your barn quicker than a Tornado. I am not sure where that came from.
Scissor Sisters: “Tah-Dah!”
This band of misfits from NYC (they used to all cut hair together at a salon) came out of leftfield to create one of the most unabashedly pop creations since the glam revolution of the 1970’s. Joyful, catchy and with some truly clever wordplay, “Tah-Dah!” is a joy to listen to from beginning to end. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.
Katy Perry: “One of the Boys”
What could have been just an album from a one hit wonder (“I Kissed a Girl”) turned out to be chock full of clever pop creations with more hooks than a tuna fisherman. Even when you get past the five hit pop singles there are also gems like Mannequin which features the clever line, “you’re not a man, you’re just a man-nequin.”
Mary J. Blige: “No More Drama”
This album marked the end of the “street” persona that Mary J. Blige had earlier perfected to a near science. But even in those earlier worthwhile recordings you never got a sense of who Mary really was. “No More Drama” changed all that and introduced us to the glam and fabulous diva we see before us today. Transmitting love, anger, frustration and joy sometimes all in one track-Mary J. Blige is a true aural force to be reckoned with and I look forward to what she does in the next decade. You go girl!
Super-groups so rarely live up to their hype but when the members of Rage Against the Machine hooked up with Chris Cornell from Soundgarden when their lead singer bailed something incredible happened. Like the man who first mixed peanut butter and chocolate, we should give thanks to whoever got these two great tastes together for the first time. With guitarist Tom Morello’s inimitable guitar and Chris Cornell’s banshee howl hard rock finally had saviors. Oh, but where are they now? Too bad, the band broke up after two more records none of which were as good as the first.