Friday, June 29, 2012

2012: The first six months

by @andrewcareaga

"Used to Rule the World" is the opening track from Bonnie Raitt's latest album, Slipstream. Yes, you read that right. Bonnie freakin' Raitt has a new album, right now, in 2012.

It's a decent album, on a par with Nick of Time. But Nick of Time, Raitt's most popular offering, came out in 1989 -- the same year as Field of Dreams and Tiananmen Square. The year Raitt ruled the world. And light years before the Internet, like some giant asteroid, busted the music business to smithereens. For a dinosaur like Raitt to launch a comeback now seems as unlikely as it would be for Mikhail Gorbachev, Time's Man of the Year for 1989, to try to unseat Vladimir Putin.

Yet here she is, performing the unlikely. And she's not alone. Willie Nelson. Bruce Springsteen. Joe Walsh. Neil Young. All of these geezer rockers from the Dark Ages have released new albums this year. Even the Beach Boys have gotten into the act, for cryin' out loud.

Maybe these old-timers bought into that Mayan-calendar-end-of-the-world meme. Maybe they decided 2012 would be their last chance to make the charts. I'm not sure. But what I am sure of is that a lot of this new stuff from the old artists is good.

As one of the two elder statesmen on this blog (Mark Greenfield being the other), I supposed I'm expected to defend the old ways, to tell you how the old wine is always better than the new. But that doesn't mean I'm not open to some new stuff every once in a while. Below is my top 10 list of favorite albums for the first half of 2012, and therein you'll find a mix of old and new artists. As you read (and perhaps snicker at a couple of my selections), bear in mind that no matter your age, scientific research confirms that "musical tastes formed in the teen years become part of the brain's internal wiring, as that is the time when some neural pathways are solidifying and others are being pruned away. That's why the music adults tend to be nostalgic for is the music from their teenage years." Which makes me feel sorry for today's kids. Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen? Almost as bad as my day, when disco ruled.

On to the list:

10. The Shins - Port of Morrow
This made my top 5 list for the first quarter of 2012, but it's slipped a few notches since March. Still a solid effort from a band that makes consistently good poppy music.

9. Allo Darlin' - Europe
Given everything that's been going on with the eurozone this past several weeks, I'm not sure naming your sophomore album after the troubled continent was a wise move, marketing-wise. But the sweet twee of Allo Darlin', led by ukelele-playing Elizabeth Morris, is uplifting. If only it could uplift the troubled economies of Greece, Spain, et. al.

8. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

Another top 5 pick from spring that has been pushed back by newer offerings, the Boss's latest work is a return to his idealistic, anthemic style of big albums like The Rising, Nebraska and Born to Run. I really thought I'd be tired of this album by now. But no.

7. Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts
This is not the Norah I remember from years past. No more dinner party background music, Norah's latest borrows from the likes of Neko Case to produce a new, rootsier, stripped-down sound on songs that deal with heartbreak and life's struggles. It is surprisingly great.

6. Jack White - Blunderbuss
Is Jack White really a solo artist now? Or is this just another side project for the man behind the Dead Weather and Raconteurs, the producer/collaborator of Wanda Jackson's great 2011 comeback album (The Party Ain't Over), etc.?  Blunderbuss meanders beautifully from guitar-saturated rock to ballads to a fun cover of the '50s R&B classic "Shakin'." In other words, it's a lot like a White Stripes album. Only somehow freer and more daring.

5. The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio
Seriously? What were Brian Wilson, Mike Love and company thinking that they could go back into the studio and create an album 45 years after their last one? But listen to the title track and you'll swear it's 1966 all over again. The vocals and harmonies are just that good. Pure nostalgia -- I'll admit it.

4. Patti Smith - Banga
Another comeback kid, the high priestess of the '70s New York punk rock scene has created an amazing, moving, poetic album.

3. Ben Kweller - Go Fly a Kite
Another from the top 5 post. It's still on steady play. I love this album so much. I just can't get tired of it.

2. Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal
The latest sensation out of Iceland is, well, just sensational.

1. Best Coast - The Only Place
I suspect most proud Californians, and that state's convention and tourism bureau, love this album, since it so unabashedly promotes that state. As if the band's name itself weren't enough, the album title, cover art (a bear lovingly holding the entire state) and lyrics to the title song ("why would you live anywhere else?") also seems to exclude the rest of the world from loving this album. But don't take it personally. Instead, soak up this perfect, shimmery summertime listen. No matter where you live, The Only Place will take your brain to the beach if you let it.

1 comment:

  1. You're more responsible for my persistent forays into older music than anyone. That said, I just couldn't get into the new Beach Boys album. Wanted to, but I think I need to revisit it. That's your whole list for me, a lot of stuff I've heard and haven't spent enough time with. Though I agree that new Norah Jones is a far cry from her earlier days and I like spunky Norah.