Back to Black
Despite a tumultuous year that posited Winehouse as more of a tabloid fixture than a respected artist, the British singer-songwriter’s talent should not be overlooked.
Winehouse’s second album catapulted her to international success and for good reason. The singer’s Motown-inspired sound and sultry, soulful vocals, along with production by Mark Ronson, created an album that is one big throwback to the 1960s.
From the teary ballad “Love is a Losing Game” to the R&B vibe of “You Know I’m No Good,” Winehouse is at her best on Back to Black. Here’s hoping that 2008 brings Winehouse sobriety — and an opportunity to record another amazing album.
The Smashing Pumpkins
2007 made for an interesting year in music — for one thing, it marked the comeback of one of rock n’ roll’s most popular and influential bands, The Smashing Pumpkins.
The Pumpkins released the much anticipated Zeitgeist in early July and the reaction, from critics and fans alike, was a mixed bag.
Maintaining the tried-and-true sound of the Pumpkins “Doomsday Clock” and “Tarantula” brought back the feel of its 1993 release Siamese Dream, filled with heavy guitar riffs and Chamberlain’s infectious jazz-style percussion.
However, Zeitgeist was not without its flaws.
“That’s the Way (My Love Is)” and “Bright the Light” were indicative of Corgan’s weak attempt at perfecting the power ballad and completely undermined the heavy metal approach the Pumpkins took at the beginning of Zeitgeist.
Additionally, Zeitgeist comes off as a politically-motivated album, filled with opposition to the fascist tendencies Corgan sees in America, which, despite its cliché, is a new direction for the Pumpkins.
Despite a few questionable tracks, Zeitgeist is a welcome addition to any Pumpkins fan’s archive.
Leslie Feist’s latest album helped her transition from Broken Social Scene singer-cum-Canadian indie darling to international indie-folk goddess.
It’s rare for Canadian artists to receive acclaim abroad, and in a world of Nickelback and Avril Lavigne, it’s all the more special that an artist as talented as Feist was the recipient of such widespread praise.
With a voice so beautiful it might move you to tears and songs so damn catchy you can’t help but tap your toes and sing along, 2007 rightfully belonged to Feist.
She opens The Reminder with the lyrics, “Clouds part just to give us a listen.” Give the album a spin and you’ll agree clouds would probably part just to hear Feist sing, too.
Queens of the Stone Age
Queens of the Stone Age’s fifth studio release, Era Vulgaris, is an interesting detour from the traditional “stoner rock” label it has been given.
Era Vulgaris swells with dance-like melodies, yet maintains its uncharacteristically gritty metal sound.
“Into the Hollow,” “3’s and 7’s,” and “Turning on the Screw” are notable tracks insofar as they bring forth a new, mellower tone uncharacteristic of the Queens.
The album also features efforts from other notable rock figures. Julian Casablancas from the Strokes, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and ex-Queens of the Stone Age frontman Mark Lanegan each contributed to the release.
Era Vulgaris pales in comparison to 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze; its approach is different and makes for a diverse sound.
Like the Pumpkins’ Zeitgeist, Era Vulgaris is a must-have addition and a natural pick for the best of 2007.
The Sri Lankan bombshell was hardly missing in action this year with her politically-charged followup, Kala. M.I.A. gives us another dose of dancehall/electro beats with her bratty British vocals and soca energy.
Kala is an aggressive, more tribal offering than her critically acclaimed debut, Arular. While she keeps to the distorted basslines and ragga sound of Arular, Kala is infused with intense jungle bongos and primitive yelps in songs like “Birdflu” and “Hussel.”
Despite her strong political messages, M.I.A.’s sexual overtones can’t be ignored. Her confident vocals dip in and out of the harsh electronic beats.
Faster-paced jams like the “World Town” and electro-brassy “XR2” bring about the same massive dance energies as Arular’s “Bucky Done Gone” and the DJ favourite, “Galang.”
To top off the already exhaustive album, Timbaland enters the picture in the final track “Come Around,” which is marked by his groovy hip-hop throbs and signature stuttering raps. This album too good to be true.
The Black and White Album
Just in time for our year-end album picks, the spastic Swedes’ latest release makes the list with its explosive energy and dynamic jams.
The Black and White Album attempts to pack the intensity of the Hives’ shows into a compact 42 minutes. The result is a high-octane set of tracks that make you envious of the band members’ fun.
Vivacious hand claps in “Try It Again” and cocky vocals in “Giddy Up!” offer a mixed experience. Impulsive lead singer Howlin’ Pelle interrupts the perky punk track “Try It Again” with random quips like, “They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” before continuing the animated song.
Part of The Black and White Album’s appeal is its unpredictability — Howlin’ Pelle’s greatest onstage asset, which transates perfectly onto the album.
Collaborations with hip-hop producer, Pharrell Williams, and Bloc Party producer, Jacknife Lee, don’t hurt either. Entering the funk-tacular “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S” in a Pharrell-inspired falsetto voice, Howlin’ Pelle’s experiments make The Hives sound as fresh as ever.