It's time to celebrate the finest overlong CDs of last year! Here's M-Z of The Twenty Albums From 2006 I Kept Eight Or More Songs From!
Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head
Self-producing your second CD a year after the first? Your second DOUBLE CD, at that? Even before the label woes, this was a guaranteed sophomore slump. The best tracks are slighter takes on Get Away From Me's giggly but politically acute cabaret, and they're surrounded by startlingly vague emotional meditations and brief blurts of whimsy whose appeal depends on your fondness for cats, Tipperary and the French language. The arrangements are so sloppy that I'm surprised she wasn't credited with the mix. But her vocal charm and cracked wit push "The Big One," "Beecharmer" and "Real Life" past their bulk, and give her lyrical fog some necessary intrigue. Her mother issues are more interesting than Eminem's, and I'm almost always down for minute-long ode to cats. Like guest Cyndi Lauper, it's possible that McKay will wind up a one-album wonder, especially if she gives up singer-songwriterdom for the stage success she's already begun to achieve. But she's so gifted that I could imagine her making an album as rich and thought-out as her first, producer or no, whenever she decides to bother.
Mission Of Burma, The Obliterati
The falsettos, sea chanteys and hooky declarations are appreciated, but these guys are so dependent on the power of their wrangled feedback and martial plod that I have to play this one loud or not at all. Even if they're beyond (or incapable of) their '80s blitz tempos, the band has regained its cohesive force, making their initial reunion, 2004's OnOffOn, sound tentative in comparison. Only folks who think everything after "Revolver" was a waste of their time will complain about the songwriting, but I'll take the cheap musical joke of "Donna Sumeria" over the cheap lyrical joke of "Nancy Reagan's Head," because music's what they're good at.
Pharrell, In My Head
Just when I get used to this nerd's omnipresence, everybody else decides he's not ready for prime time. Well, no shit! I've been saying the Neptunes are like a hip-hop Ween (inherently an improvement, I'll admit) for years, rarely capable of seperating their craft from knuckleknob eccentricity. But with a year's-plus worth of tinkering, and Chad Hugo not there to whip out the spock ears and bongos, Skateboard P finally made a musical backdrop controlled enough to keep his goofy loverman lyrics afloat. Pharrell once admitted in Blender that, as a teenager, he'd do the robot while getting to his next class. This is as close as that kid's ever gonna get to being James Bond, and I'm nerd enough to enjoy it.
Pitbull, El Mariel
The political interludes are courtesy of slam-poet ringers - Pitbull would rather ruminate on how "the gift and the curse" of fame makes him feel like Keanu Reeves in The Devil's Advocate (his simile, I swear!). While some of his county-of-Dade callouts have energy, it's his enthusiasm for pussy that makes his albums rewarding. Panting, gasping, howling, slobbering - dude is HUNGRY. Reggaeton, crunk, Neptunes, the hook from "Rock Lobster," he'll use whatever gets you excited. "Pretty please, girl, GET IN MY FACE WITH IT!!!" It may be a tragic sign of the times when cunnilingus is as close as a popular rapper gets to feminist thought, but even if Young Jeezy was Alan Alda, I'd love Pitbull.
"Because I Want You," "Infra-Red," "Meds" and "Pierrot The Clown" will wind up on the sequel to Once More With Feeling, a 2005 compilation that reveals how consistently Placebo has delivered their nervous buzz of a sound for the last decade. But fans will still need this album to hear "Follow The Cops Back Home," which would make the comp if "Pierrot" wasn't already the token resigned ballad, the anxious "Post-Blue," the anxious "A Song To Say Goodbye" and the anxious "Drag," which would be the best song they've written about jealousy if they hadn't already written a dozen or so classics on the subject. These eyelinered alt-rockers are such an anachronistic miracle (has anyone ever made a post-comp contract-capper this strong before?) that even Xgau gave them props.
Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape
Ever heard the version of "Wind It Up" without the "Lonely Goatherd" sample? So boring! If you're going to make an A+ Missy rip, you need to incorporate something grand and perverse, something truly "bizz-yerk" (as I mishear Gwen in the first verse). It's her first solo single that I wholeheartedly love, thankfully distracting me from the conundrum that is Fergie. She doesn't promote geisha slavery in the disco tetris, and the creamy new wave ballads don't stall in search of a word that rhymes with "Rossdale." Madonna sounded a lot more pretentious and mannered a decade after her first album, and Debbie Harry was already a has-been.
T.I., The King
I tune out on 2004's Urban Legend when T.I. asks God why nobody else cares about the streets except for him (check Billboard for the names of fellow missionaries, asshole), and I tune out on The King when Pimp C reprimands rappers who don't appreciate that T.I. calls himself King Of The South because he believes that we're all kings except for "fake-ass niggas" and so forth. "Prayin' For Help" was track 5, though, and "Pimp C (skit)" shows up at the tail end of track 11, so it'd be churlish of me not to acknowledge the improvement. The best selling rap album of the year should do better than double platinum, and the failure of The King to do even that is a sign that rap's classic-rock-style retrenchment (it's all payin'-dues and love'em-and-leave'em) is wearing on listeners. But the best macho boogie still holds up, and T.I.'s got more charisma than Paul Rodgers ever did. Maybe next time he'll compare to Ronnie Van Zant.
Robin Thicke, The Evolution Of Robin Thicke
He has a confident falsetto on the memorably descriptive ballads, and his voice is equally authorative on the rap collabs (Lil Wayne sounds overeager, downright lil, in comparison). The guitar and percussion hooks are classic and varied, rather than throwbacks to futurism past. His musical gifts are so attractive that I still want to hear them after discovering he looks like his not-particularly-sexy dad in the videos. I'm embarassed to put this mature r&b accomplishment so close to Timberlake's amateurish eclecticism, but that's alphabetical order for you.
Justin Timberlake, Futuresex/LovesoundsI've seen more than one person compare this album to Bowie, and if it fits, it's because he's r&b for new wavers and vica versa, all too gawky when compared to those who play it straight (see above). I still want Usher to pistolwhip the dork with a new album pronto, but Justin's copping more quirk here than on Justified, and it's a step in the right direction. Coldplay codas, vocal filters, guest rappers and all things Timbaland (who does seem inspired by JT's undeniable enthusiasm) help make something of the whinnying, herkyjerk manchild. The last third's ballads have me praying he'll hear about the DFA before he meets Robin Thicke.
The Vines, Vision Valley
(Previous entry: Anthony Is Right's Honorable Mentions Of 2006 Inna Xgau Stylee)