The countdown of the Best Albums of 2008 continues…more of the top ten!
6. The Quireboys: Homewreckers and Heartbreakers
Thankfully someone is waving The Faces flag and keeping the spirit alive, because God knows Rod Stewart isn’t going to do it. Spike and Guy Griffin have developed a strong songwriting partnership that evokes comparisons to Stewart/Wood; two men who think with one mind, play to each other’s strengths and create something as a unit superior to what they do on their own. The confidence they have developed over the past few years is manifested in a wider bandwidth of material than the sleaze/blues/rock formula that earner The (London) Quireboys their initial fame. That said, they can still bring it. “I Love This Dirty Town” is a gutbucket, fist-pumping rocker, and “Josephine” sounds like “Borstal Boys” after a syringe of Red Bull was jacked into its veins. “Louder”, as you’d anticipate from the title, is no slouch either.
But in “Mona Lisa Smiled”, the Quireboys have absolutely hit the bulls-eye, a mid-tempo classic that recalls the warmth and soul of the early Rod Stewart albums. Spike’s reading is pitch-perfect, and (as with “One For The Road” as well), the background of fiddles and keys bouncing off Griffin’s acoustic and Paul Guerin’s tasty slide is pure magic. Coupled with Spike’s raspy road tales, these more restrained efforts are a worthy descendant of the classic Pugh/Quittenton/Wood sound; studio sharp yet front porch casual. Kudos to Nick Mailing’s engineering and co-production (with Griffin), which allows equal attention to the band’s finesse as well as their power. “Late Night Saturday Call” is an introspective folksy blues, while the subtle shuffle “Take A Look At Yourself” should be in Van Morrison’s setlist at the very next opportunity.
But as much as I’m spotlighting the more mature Quireboys (did I actually use those two words in the same sentence?) they are still a kick-ass rock band; they’ve just gotten better and more versatile without giving an inch. I always hoped they were capable of raising the bar, but I wasn’t sure they were. With this, their finest effort, all my doubts are laid to rest.
5. Foxboro Hot Tubs: Stop, Drop and Roll
Leave it to Billie Joe Armstrong to teach everyone else how to put aside the posturing and just make a fun rock’n'roll record. By now everyone knows that behind the faux album art and name, it’s just Green Day having a blast bashing out stripped down garage rock and pop rock. It’s as if they pilfered my box of 60s singles, then reanimated and reinvented new songs from the DNA. And any of these tracks, made with the same effervescent spirit as their forefathers, could be sandwiched alongside those Seeds and Raiders and Monkees singles without missing a beat. Drummer Tre Cool must have loved this project, as his closet Keith Moon side surfaces often, especially “27th Avenue Shuffle” (nicking The Who’s “Legal Matter”) and the title track. “Mother Mary” actually charted before people caught on, and why not? It’s “Lust For Life” filtered through “Don’t Get Me Wrong” (complete with James Honeyman-Scott guitar solo) sung by a sweeter sounding Morrissey. Sure, no chance of liking that, right?
Have fun playing “spot-the-influence” as you go careening through a dozen great singles. “Red Tide” is a Kinks song with Davy Jones on vocals; “She’s A Saint” sounds like the Sex Pistols’ take on “Summertime Blues”, but then adds handclaps and choruses of “ooohs” to morph into a classic powerpop track. “Alligator” owes its debt to “You Really Got Me” and fans of the The Yardbirds will do a double-take at “Dark Side Of The Night”. I can’t believe anyone put this record down as if Green Day was making some massive career mistake after American Idiot. To borrow the question from powerpop cult heroes Candy, “Whatever Happened To Fun”?
4. The Whigs: Mission Control
This is the sound of a band finding its identity and going for broke, all the time knowing that there are no guarantees anyone will ever witness the trip. Not many albums start out with the urgency of “Like A Vibration”, a snarling, charging call-to-arms that sounds like equal parts Who and Replacements. Singer and guitarist Parker Gispert’s versatile voice is matched only by the wide variety of songs on the band’s sophomore album, and Tim Deaux’s very fluid bass lines make this trio sound a lot bigger than they really are. But with all due respect to them, it’s Julian Dorio who is the secret weapon on Mission Control. He plays drums like he has eight limbs and kicks even the moderate tempos in the ass.
“I Never Want To Go Home” echoes Snow Patrol at their peak, but “Sleep Sunshine” could be Radiohead with Frank Black at the controls, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought of The Police when hearing “Production City”. Sure, their Athens roots will bleed through on occasion – “Hot Bed” is a dB’s/REM cross-fade and “Already Young” would fit on Monster (and probably be the best song on that record). But I’m willing to absorb that caveat when every song has a great melody or hook, sometimes both, and the textures are so varied and hypnotic that my attention never wavers. Maybe Rolling Stone got one right when they picked them as the best (then) unsigned band in America. If The Whigs can pull off the mania of “Need You Need You” and the hypnotic pulse of the title track live on stage, I’m there…especially to watch that guy behind the drum kit.
Tomorrow, the countdown of the Best Albums of 2008 continues…just three left to go!