Finally! The countdown of the 25 best albums of 2008.
25. The Mop Tops: Ground Floor Man
I had to double-check the player when “You Crucify Me” came over the speakers just to make certain I didn’t slip a brand new Walter Clevenger album in by mistake. (Note to Walter: get busy!) But that’s an honest mistake considering the label is Sound Asleep Records, and producer Eric Ambel worked his magic in Brooklyn’s Cowboy Studios. No matter that it’s yet another Swedish band usurping the classic hybrid of British Invasion pop and American roots rock, The Mop Tops have served up a platter of brilliant music that will thrill anyone whose radar touches down anywhere near the intersection of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds.
Tomas Nilsson’s songs are joyful, foot-tapping and memorable, all the more appealing with jangling 12 string guitars and snare-tapping drumbeats snapping from the speakers. Remember three-minute songs that got in, killed, and got out? Well, “Pink Wet Dream” might not have made it past radio’s censors, but forget them – roll that window down and enjoy cranking a dozen of them, loud.
24. The Crash Street Kids: Transatlantic Suicide
Of course a band with a name like obvious will have almost a note-perfect imitation of their heroes, and on this album that’s “Cigarettes And Starf*ckers” (their asterisk, not mine). But while Ryan McKay has that sarcastic, condescending Ian Hunter-ish sneer down perfect (for that song, anyway), Ricky Serrano’s guitar is as channeling Mick Ronson and Johnny Thunders as much as it is Mick Ralphs. And within that triumvirate of influences lies this rock opera concept album within called The Supersonic Star Show, where glam meets hair metal and kicks its ass.
If you’re not familiar with this band, that makes three albums worth of ass-kicking to date after Let’s Rock and Roll Tonight and Chemical Dogs. I hear everything from Sweet and T Rex to harder rocking Jellyfish and Queen, but mostly I hear a wonderfully infectious intersection of powerpop, glam and sleaze rock that gets me every time. The songs are great on their own; the storyline just makes it more fun (note: CD comes with a bonus DVD to convert the doubters).
23. The Doughboys: Is It Now?
You can go home again. Pop wunderkind Richard X. Heyman often referred to his time spent years ago in the garage band The Doughboys. Lo and behold, four decades later they not only reform but issue an exciting garage pop record that sounds at once contemporary and timeless. Armed with a few classic covers including “Route 66” and “I’m Cryin”, plus new appropriately raw songs from Heyman, this is anything but a reunion photo op for the former Café Wha? house band.
Gar Francis replaced original guitarist Willy Kirchofer (who sadly passed away as the material was being recorded over the past few years), and although you might not know his name, or vocalist Myke Scavone, or bassist Mike Caruso, a quick spin through their past reveals associations with a myriad of bands from Tommy James to Ram Jam to Billy Idol. Heyman, who can play anything, is on his favorite instrument, the drums. Is It Now bridges the gap between classic 60s garage singles and the current reanimation exploding with Cavestomp and The Underground Garage. What a great and unexpected surprise!
22. The Gaslight Anthem: The ’59 Sound
I usually have a bone to pick with any CD that starts with the sound of a needle dropping onto a vinyl record, as if to say “we’re old school rock”. But when you back it up musically, like The Gaslight Anthem does with its Springsteen-from-Dublin approach, all is forgiven. Like The Boss, they’re from Jersey, and this energetic, sing-along, punk-tinged quartet bleeds Bruce’s social observations, wanton loneliness and escapist angst without sounding like a wannabe copycat band. Musically they’re closer to a combination of the rhythmic Edge-like guitar chop of U2 and the sonic political energy of The Clash and…well, early U2.
Having “anthem” as part of their name is appropriate; their literate, lyrical songs resonate with importance and are sold with the passionate vocals of Brian Fallon. I can’t listen to “The Patient Ferris Wheel” or “Meet Me By The River’s edge” without stifling the reflex to pogo up and down, pumping my fist…not the best combination when driving. Of course, once I noticed that former Flogging Molly guitarist Ted Hutt produced it that explained everything. Hard to believe a band gets this good in two and a half years, but this album is so impressive that I’m grabbing their earlier effort on good faith.
21. Kelly Jones: She Bang
Okay, so “There Goes My Baby” has far too much “Don’t Get Me Wrong” DNA in it to be completely original, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the most incredibly infectious singles of the year. Kelly Jones has a pop-perfect voice and her collaboration with wunderkind Mike Viola is an ideal partnership of skills; the production by the masterful Ducky Carlisle elevates everything another notch. There could be five singles here if radio has its head out of its ass…in a just world this would explode on the scene like Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual.
Call it girl-pop, Brill Building magic or Spector-esque…I call it a quantum leap from her previous (good) album, public notice has been served.
Check back daily this week for more of the countdown!
(and hopefully soundclips!)