The Albums of 2005
by Tommy Burton

I’m not going to rank these. I’m just going to run down the albums that I heard or own from this past year and say a few words about them. I will grade them also, as I know you love getting grades. I haven't heard Neil Young, The Strokes, and tons of others, but here are the ones I have heard.

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals: Cold Roses
Double sets are tricky. Especially when you plan on releasing three (!) full lengths in one year. Needless to say, I was quite surprised to hear such strong material in one set. There are no weaknesses and each song stands on its own. When the songs are this good, it’s hard to argue with someone being as prolific as Ryan. Grade: A-

Ryan Adams and The Cardinals: Jacksonville City Nights
The second set of the year. It’s more immersed in whiskey-soaked country, but the songs are just as strong as the previous set. Fans of Whiskeytown should rejoice in Ryan’s return to form with this set. Grade: B+

Beck: Guero
Odelay Part III? Midnite Vultures II? I don’t really know. It seems as though Beck leads a double life. There’s acoustic song Beck of Mutations and Sea Change and experimentalist Beck of Odelay and Vultures. Guess which one of these Guero falls under? It’s not as hooky or funky as those, but the tunes hold their own. It’s Beck, and we all know that he is one of the guideposts of good things happening in music today. Grade: B-

Big Star: In Space
Yes. My beloved Big Star released a record of new material this past year. The opening guitar chords (and sound) of "Dony" fits like a familiar glove. The tricky thing about this set is that the material of Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow sound more like Big Star than the material of Alex Chilton. Chilton’s stuff sounds like loose bar band material, not unlike the stuff you’ve heard on his solo work of the 90s. Still, it’s Big Star and it has that Big Star sound. Grade: C+

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Howl
BRMC do Dylan/Petty. This record is more associated with rootsy sounds than thick guitars. If anything, this record proves this group is more then just a dumb guitar band. But, to be sure, the guitars are here and they brought the songs to back them up. It’s always nice to witness a band grow, and I can’t wait to hear what direction they will go in. Grade: B+

Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Summer In The Southeast
Will Oldham scares me. I don’t think I could handle the intensity of seeing him perform live. Considering that some of this live material was recorded at shows I could have attended, I suppose it’s the next best thing. There are no great revelations to be found here, just loose and live renditions of Will's powerful songs. Grade: C

Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning/Digital Ash In A Digital Urn
What happens when an artist releases two albums simultaneously? Guns N Roses, anyone? The thing is, these are two completely separate statements. The Morning set is the singer/songwriter set, and the Digital set is the electronic set. I actually prefer the electronic set. However, the whole thing gets a little boring to me. Maybe I’ll give it another try once the hype wears off and actually like it better. Grade: C-

Alex Chilton: Live In Anvers
Live Chilton running through obscure favorites and a few solo "hits." Good enough. Grade: B-

Nikka Costa: can’tneverdidnothin’
I’m a sucker. She’s sexy and she has that sultry voice that just gets to me. Are the songs that great? Probably not. But I sure do like listening to it. Grade: C

Elvis Costello: Piano Jazz
A public radio broadcast with Marian McPartland featuring Elvis doing that jazz thing. The material is closest to North in the Costello canon. Cool stuff, but certainly never essential. Grade: B

The Decemberists: Present Picaresque
Whimsical, musical, and most of all melodic. One of the best things to emerge from the indie-rock scene of the last few years. Reminds me of the greatness of The Beatles a la Pepper’s to White Album. One of the best releases of the year. Grade: A

The Gabe Dixon Band: Live At World Café
Gabe is soulful and funky like Steely Dan. It’s all pristine and clear, but I suppose you had to have been there. Grade: C-

Ben Folds: Songs For Silverman
Possibly the strongest set of pure songs released last year. Gone is the goofy silliness that ran amok on previous work and in its place is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes observant, and always poignant material. I think this set will hold up for a long time to come. God bless, Brother Ben. Grade: A+

Foo Fighters: In Your Honor
2005 must have been the year of excess as here’s another double set from Rockers Foo. The first disc is the heavy guitar set, and it’s to die for. It’s one of those records that you put on in your car and roll down the windows and blast the neighborhood on a spring day. The second disc is the acoustic set and it’s chock full of melodic songs that are great to put on inside on a rainy day. It’s a multi-purpose record. The Foos are a great rock band, nothing more and nothing less. Grade: B+

Merle Haggard: Chicago Wind
A little more commercial than I care for The Hag to be, but it’s still The Hag, and he’s got that voice. Thank goodness he’s still putting out records. The sad thing is, he should just be The Hag and stop worrying about being commercial. We all know that country radio isn’t going to give a damn about him until he passes away. Anyone remember Johnny Cash? Grade: B-

Ben Lee: Awake Is The New Sleep
Ben’s back with Brad Wood and this record is certainly a return to form for the kid. While it’s still not as cute or as catchy as Ben’s earlier records, the songs are good enough to redeem him for the past couple of records. Grade: B-

Stephen Malkmus: Face The Truth
Psychedelic Stephen with The Jicks. Better than Pig Lib, but not nearly as great as the self-titled first album. It’s all different from Pavement all the same. Grade: C+

Marbles: Expo
The electronic side project from Apples (in stereo) frontman Robert Schneider. It’s still shiny and fun, and fans of that band will get their kicks here. Grade: C+

Paul McCartney: Chaos And Creation In The Backyard
There was a ton of hype about this one as it teamed Sir Paul with one of the hottest producers in the business, Nigel Godrich. At first, the songs were too low-key for them to totally captivate my imagination. Then I listened further and they finally hit me. Believe the hype. This album is certainly worthy and will be held in high regard in Paul’s solo career. Grade: A

Van Morrison: Magic Time
Van can be frustrating. He’s been releasing albums for the past several years and, more recently, some of those should have been left on the shelves. These are waters that longtime fans have dared to tread. This is the one they’ve been waiting for. Magic Time holds up with Van’s better material of the last twenty years and rewards the listener with songs that draw you to the greatness of Van Morrison. Grade: B+

The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema
Possibly this will be favorite release of 2005. Hands down. This album is alternately thrilling and even fun. It avoids weakness by taking its listeners on a roller coaster ride of guitars, vocals, and melodies. Buy this record. There. Grade: A+

Reigning Sound: Home For Orphans
Rarities and B-sides from Memphis garage band. Grade: B

Ringo Starr: Choose Love
Ringo has been consistent for the past fifteen years or so. His solo albums are never bad, nor are they ever stellar. They are simply listenable. Fans will enjoy this set enough, but that’s all that listen to Ringo anyway, right? Grade: C+

They Might Be Giants: Here Come The ABCs
Original songs about the alphabet. It’s a kid’s record. My seven-year-old daughter likes it. I like it, too. Get the companion DVD and let the two Johns teach your kids about the alphabet. Grade: B+

Weezer: Make Believe
Forget the commercialism (and overexposure) of "Beverly Hills" and realize that this is a Weezer album. One produced by Rick Rubin at that. It’s fun and full of those hook-filled Weezer songs that we’ve come to know and love. Take one listen to "Hold Me" and then tell me this record stinks. Long live Rivers! Grade: A

The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
Yep yep. The Stripes are the greatest thing to happen in music in the last five years. They are the Beatles/Zeppelin/R.E.M./Radiohead of the 00s. Jack White will go down as one of the all-time greats. Is this set as important or as different from earlier ones? Not likely, but it is filled with excellent material that stands up next to the best Stripes material. It’s also more experimental. And, no, it didn’t light the charts up like Elephant, so the indie-rockers can still claim them as their own. One of 2005’s essential releases. Grade: A+

Copyright © 17 Jan 2006 We Like Media.
You may email Tommy Burton.