The countdown of the Best Albums of 2008 continues…as we’re down to the top ten!
10. The Love Me Nots: Detroit
Jim Diamond might be my favorite producer of late; if for nothing else I should just let him enroll me in some “album of the month” club to take advantage of his scouting skills. But credit for the huge improvement between first and second albums sits squarely on the band’s shoulders, especially Michael Johnny Walker’s stinging guitar and Nicole Laurenne’s retro Farfisa and dynamic lead vocals. Laurenne can move from a seductive husky purr to a full-throated yowl with ease, and either will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
The first six or seven tracks, three minutes all, could just as easily be audition tapes for Nuggets as hit singles. “You’re Really Something”, “Bulletproof Heart” and “Secret Pocket” is a fierce one-two-three punch that grabs you by the neck, beats you like a piñata and tosses you back in a dazed heap. “Walk Around Them” – stay with me here – takes the hook from “The Munsters” theme, drops it into a pair of go-go boots and blasts it back through a wall of fuzz and reverb. The sexy shuffle “Treat Him Good” is so guttural it could be the theme from a Halloween film noir flick, while the seductive “Birthday Present” will probably start a long queue of (unwanted) suitors panting for Laurenne. Diamond has framed their sound so perfectly that you might be surprised to know the band is from Phoenix. Detroit is a far more apt title for their attitude, and with this exciting, danceable, rocking garage platter, they’re earned that association.
9. The Revisionists: The Revisionists
If you told me that the rhythm section from Tonic and the director of a Wilco documentary were going to form a band, I’d have nodded ambivalently and asked you how things were going, sure to let yet another aimless piece of pop trivia fall by the wayside. But you didn’t tell me, so I didn’t even have the lowest of expectations. Instead, I was able to savor the joy of three guys capturing something organic and strong, one track after another. Sorry…I guess I ruined that for you.
The band touts its love of punk as well as classic 70s rock, but the sweet spot is somewhere between The Del Lords and AM-era Wilco. In other words, catchy and melodic enough to have been on the Big Deal label but meaty enough to slap next to anyone from The Figgs to The Foo Fighters. The first sounds you hear on the album are the guys plugging in and getting set to go, which is appropriate for a project recorded quickly in weekend sessions. It’s just ten songs in thirty-five minutes, but they’re tight and energetic, and Jones has the vocal chops to sell both the urgency of the music and the social commentary of the lyrics. I find myself drawn back most often to “Fic-Fic-Fiction”, a Credence/Motown hybrid, “Good And Bad” (Eric Ambel meets The Beat Farmers) and “See You Around” (The Gin Blossoms decide to R-O-C-K in the USA).
Bonus points for the urgent anti-war anthem “IDWK” (I Don’t Wanna Know)… and for mocking the required copyright notice in the liner notes.
8. The Fratellis: Here We Stand
The phrase “rollicking beat” is probably as overused as “stadium-size anthems”, but in the case of The Fratellis, I must apologize for extending the common vernacular. Once again, an album brimming with clean, crisp melodies, big choruses, handclaps, perfectly timed key changes…it’s as if the songs were written to be debuted at Glastonbury in front of a sea of waving hands and teary-eyed fans. But damned if that doesn’t resonate out of a simple set of car speakers, even half a world away. Maybe it is just that simple: playing Fratellis albums just makes me feel good.
It’s great to see modern bands crib from their 60s ancestors in just the way those classic bands reached back to pure country, urban blues and three chord rock to create a foundation to build upon. The opening notes of “My Friend Tom” sound like they’re going disco, then country, but when the lead guitar snakes in you’re witnessing as good a cop of psychedelic rock as you’ll hear all year…and that took all of fifteen seconds! Next track, it’s as if Oasis were covering Squeeze (and permitting Jools to man the piano) but by mid-song there are enough handclaps and kick drums to make the Bay City Rollers jealous. Track four (“Look Out Sunshine”) a huge anthem, like every trick Oasis ever used rolled into one song, except…it’s fun! Track six – the bass player throws the band on his back and runs downfield (stopping to nick a chorus from “My Sharona” and “Virginia Plain” on the way). And so it goes, for every song…joyous, exuberant, and irresistible. My favorite song is apt to change every spin, but today it’s the incredible “Acid Jazz Singer”, which I’m feeling guilty about omitting from my “top ten singles”.
So in conclusion…what’s wrong with a huge sounding fun record, anyway? The only thing I was disappointed in was the cover. Where are my Sam Hadley babes?
7. Mitch Ryder: You Deserve My Art
One of the true rock legends is not only still among us, but continues to carve out an amazing career and musical legacy…in Germany. Here in the United States we can barely muster up the energy to pay tribute to him at a summer oldies tour. God knows it’s far more important to find that next highly buffed American Idol than to listen to one of the greatest soul singers we’ve ever had. Frankly, it’s insulting that a record industry can make a fortune littering the cultural highway with the tripe that Britney Spears or Nickelback spews out, but they can’t spare a few coins for a Mitch Ryder. But then again, I lived to see the day Johnny Cash lost his Columbia contact because he wasn’t right for their target demographic, so I shouldn’t be surprised…I’ll just stay angry, thanks.
But enough about injustice; let me instead bring focus where it deserves to be. In Gandalf Murphy (Joziah Longo), Mitch has found a songwriter who is as suited for him as Burt Bacharach was for Dionne Warwick. “Rocket” and especially “Moondog House” fit Ryder’s voice perfectly and draw out wonderful vocal performances; I hope they collaborate more. But Ryder’s own songs are also vivid and exciting, and with Engerling (the German band he has been working with in recent years) he is able to slide from Mexican tinged gospel (“The Naked Truth”) to heartbreaking blues (“All The Fools It Sees”) to Doug Sahm Tex-Mex (“Under That Big Ole Texas Sky”) to straight-ahead, fun, rock’n’roll (“Strolling With My Mouse”). “The 21st Century” is flat out killer, Mitch starting slow and serene like the soulful funky music, then exploding into that classic bluesy rasp when the tempo kicks into a funky “Bonie Maronie” vibe.
Sure, the voice occasionally shows the wear and tear of sixty-plus years, but that’s like bitching about a pimple on a planet. Man, what pipes the man still has! I don’t know if he will ever again recapture the pure unbridled naked energy that made his Detroit Wheels singles so timeless and priceless, let alone the furious energy of the Detroit album (still a landmark almost forty years later). But that’s unfair, because no one else will either. Mitch Ryder isn’t back, people…he’s been here all this time making majestic, soulful, timeless music. America, you owe your son a fucking apology. And as for you, dear readers…seek and be rewarded.
Tomorrow, the countdown of the Best Albums of 2008 continues with 6, 5 and 4…