This is Fifty Second Week.
It’s the day after Christmas, and I can’t begin to thank you all enough for hanging in with me this year. This is the final Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. column of 2017, and it’s been rough getting here. I’m ending the year a big ball of stress, trying to relax and finding it difficult. And it won’t be long until we’re back at it.
So I’m ending the year surrounded by family and friends, and keeping up traditions. Midnight Mass with my friend Mike, gifts with my high school and college pals, a jaunt up to Portland, Maine to see people I only get to be around once a year. And this, Fifty Second Week. I’ve ended the TM3AM year this way since 2005, which seems almost difficult to believe.
I’m sure you all know how it works, but just in case: I have here 52 albums from the year that I heard but did not review. (That is separate from the larger pile of albums I bought but did not hear, which I am working on.) I will give myself 50 seconds to review each one, and I will rigidly time myself. Even if I’m in the middle of a sentence when that buzzer goes off, I will stop.
This has proven to be a lot of fun for me. I hope it’s fun for you. OK, let’s get rolling. This is Fifty Second Week.
A-Ha, MTV Unplugged: Summer Solstice.
I have always loved this band, and when their crystal-clear unplugged version of “Take On Me” started circulating, I knew I had to get this. It’s wonderful. The new arrangements bring out the complex beauty of these songs, and Maarten’s voice has never been more beautiful. Highly, highly recommended.
The Alarm, Viral Black.
I reviewed the first in this sequence, Blood Red, but not the second for some reason. It’s much better. Mike Peters’ songs are sharper, and his dalliances with electronic music are put to better effect. It’s darker and angrier too.
Gregg Allman, Southern Blood.
Like Glen Campbell before him, Gregg Allman’s final record is mostly made up of covers of songs he loved. His aged voice sounds heavenly through most of this, and his guitar playing hasn’t lost a note. The loss of the final Allman brother was a tough one this year, but this record is a balm.
Anathema, The Optimist.
It was a good year for Anathema leader Daniel Cavanagh, between this and his solo album. Anathema continues its transformation into Sigur Ros with this album – it’s mostly abstractions, repetitive piano-led dirges, but it earns its title by the end. It’s a hopeful piece of work.
Dan Auerbach, Waiting on a Song.
I really don’t remember much about this. I buy Auerbach’s work out of a sense of loyalty to the band the Black Keys used to be, but he’s been so predictable and so over-produced for so long now that it’s a shame. I wish I could recall whether this album broke with that trend, but the fact that I can’t seems to mean to me that it didn’t.
Barenaked Ladies, Ladies and Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies and the Persuasions
By far the better of BNL’s two releases this year, this record finds them teaming up with classic vocal group The Persuasions to reinvent a number of the band’s best and most popular songs. Everything shines here, but I’m especially fond of the new takes on lesser hits like “Gonna Walk.”
Barenaked Ladies, Fake Nudes.
I mean, for real, guys, if this half-hearted effort is the best you can do, it’s probably time to hang it up. Kevin Hearn sings more here than he ever has, and the songs are mostly lame, with only a few glimmers of the fun band they used to be.
David Bazan, Care.
Another dark and difficult and fascinating Bazan record. He’s fully embraced his synthesizer-driven sound at this point, and his voice sounds marvelous with it. I can’t choose between this and Lo Tom for Bazan’s best moment of 2017. They’re both great.
Black Sabbath, The End.
Well, we know it isn’t, but it’s fun to pretend. This live album documents the “final” tour of Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne, and while he sometimes sounds rough here, Tony Iommi and the band sound amazing. They invented metal, so if they want to pretend they’re done, that is their prerogative.
A sorta-supergroup featuring Fran Healy and Alex Kapranos and Jason Lytle and others, this is a fine, if disjointed ambient pop record. I don’t know why I didn’t review this.
Body Count, Bloodlust.
I had thoroughly lost track of Ice-T’s third-rate metal band before the release of “No Lives Matter,” the blistering first single from this record. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this sounds like Body Count. Thudding riffs while Ice-T yells about injustice. Good for what it is, certainly.
Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie.
This surprise collaboration between two Fleetwood Mac stalwarts is sunny and upbeat, almost sounding like the Partridge Family in places. Buckingham is still one of the finest musicians around, and paired with McVie, he almost recaptures some of that early magic.
Cage the Elephant, Unpeeled.
They’re still a one-hit wonder, but Cage the Elephant has soldiered on, and they may even be underrated at this point. Unpeeled is a live acoustic album with subtle strings, and it showcases some of the songs they’ve delivered since “No Rest for the Wicked.” In this setting, I quite like many of them.
Daniel Cavanagh, Monochrome.
Daniel Cavanagh’s Terrific Year, part two: This solo effort from the Anathema frontman is beautiful. It’s mostly pretty songs that stand still and gaze around, but when he gets hold of an epic, he truly shines. This quiet piano-driven record is a hidden gem.
Cheap Trick, We’re All Alright.
Why I didn’t review this one is beyond me. Rockford’s finest storm back with their loudest and rowdiest work in years. Robin Zander sounds half his age, and the band follows suit. I was so surprised to find how much I liked this raucous little party record.
The Church, Man Woman Life Death Infinity.
The Church’s 87th album doesn’t pack any surprises. If you like what they do – swirling, reverbed pop songs sung in a low, half-speaking voice – then you will like this. These ten songs fall squarely in their wheelhouse.
Alice Cooper, Paranormal.
His best record in ages, Paranormal reignites the ‘70s Alice sound to swell effect. This is dramatic, creepy rock music, and as a special bonus, he reunites the classic Alice Cooper Band for a pair of songs, their first in decades. Good stuff.
William Patrick Corgan, Ogilala.
We used to call him Billy. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman goes all folk troubadour on his second album, and it’s much prettier and more interesting than it has any right to be. Nothing here will set the world on fire, vampire or no, but it’s nice stuff, nicer than you might expect.
I discovered this lovely folksy band two years ago, and this EP reminds me why I loved them. The hook here is a delightful cover of William Patrick Corgan’s “1979,” but all of these tunes are good, and the voices. The voices!
Death from Above, Outrage Is Now.
It took this band like 20 years to make their second record, and only a couple years to follow it up with their third. This is a short ballistic attack, ten razor-sharp tunes that will leave scars. Looking forward to the fourth.
Bob Dylan, Triplicate.
Man. I don’t know what started Dylan down this path of covering the Sinatra songbook, but now he’s gone and made a triple album of these renditions, and it’s time he stopped. His croaky voice does these tunes no favors, and if people buy a Dylan album, they’re looking for Dylan songs.
Jeremy Enigk, Ghosts.
I Kickstarted this record, and it took more than a year to arrive. But I like it a lot. Enigk is the former frontman of Sunny Day Real Estate and The Fire Theft, and here he strips down, goes acoustic for the most part and delivers a set of haunted little songs. “Victory” is one of the year’s best.
Europe, Walk the Earth.
Yes, they’re still going, and if you haven’t kept up since The Final Countdown, I think you’ll be surprised at what a quality band Europe is. This album sounds more Deep Purple than anything else, but the melodies are crisp and Joey Tempest can still sing the paint off a battleship.
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy.
With every record Josh Tillman makes under his Father John Misty guise, I am further convinced that it just isn’t for me. The ironic detachment, the sumptuous arrangements of threadbare songs, the “hysterical” cultural references, it’s all a bit of a mess.
I should have reviewed this. Leslie Feist is always worth hearing, and this, her follow-up to the darker Metals, is weird and wonderful. I enjoyed every song here, even the ones that made me slightly uncomfortable. Feist has grown into a remarkable artist worth watching.
Stu Garrard, Beattitudes.
A various artists project centered on the Sermon on the Mount, this record was far better than you would expect given that description. I am especially fond of Audrey Assad’s and Propaganda’s contributions.
David Gilmour, Live at Pompeii.
A document of exactly the same show I saw in Chicago, Gilmour’s latest extravaganza finds him playing the same way he always does over songs old and new. That isn’t a complaint – no one bends notes and wrings emotion out of them quite like Gilmour.
Gogol Bordello, Seekers and Finders.
No new ground broken on Gogol’s new record either. This is another awesome punk record filtered through the multicultural lens of the band, and led by the insane shouts of Eugene Hutz. If you liked them before, you will like this too. They rule.
Haim, Something to Tell You.
The Haim sisters went a little more radio-pop on their second album, but still bring that old Fleetwood Mac sound with them. Their harmonies remain the highlight of this slight, yet enjoyable platter.
Beki Hemingway, Whins and Weather.
Always glad to hear new music from Beki, who lives not far from me. This album is classic Hemingway, and in “Is This All” she has penned the perfect song of comfort for this awful year. Worth tracking down, always.
The Horrors, V.
Another one I should have reviewed. The Horrors made the leap from gothic rockers to streamlined synth epics, and have basically been refining that sound ever since. V is a continuation, not a reinvention, but it’s a good one, and the keyboard stompers here are as good as ever.
Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls: Live Chapter.
A band as old as Iron Maiden should not be as good as Iron Maiden, particularly live. As Bruce Dickinson closes in on 60 years old, he can still scream with the best of them and hold those operatic notes for days. The new material is among the best they’ve written. I wish I’d seen this tour.
Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual: Alive at Twenty-Five.
Oh my god, Ritual De Lo Habitual is 25 years old. This live run-through captures the power and unpredictability of the best Jane’s album. “Three Days” remains the best thing they’ve ever done, and live it’s a stunning thing. I don’t want new Jane’s material, but I’m happy to hear this.
The Killers, Wonderful Wonderful.
No it isn’t, no it isn’t. This new record from the Killers starts off strong, but ends up wandering in the wilderness, stuck somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and their own ineptness. Sorry, but it just isn’t very good.
Ted Leo, The Hanged Man.
Another one I should have reviewed. This is a strong and confident set of new songs from Leo, fresh off of his collaboration with Aimee Mann in The Both. I’m not sure if she rubbed off on him, but these songs are sparkling, melodic things that stick with you. Good stuff.
Good Lord(e), I should have reviewed this one. Lorde’s second record is a wild departure from her first – a conceptual piece about a difficult night out. For much of the album, Lorde doesn’t seem to care if anyone will like it, which to me is the sign of a strong artist. Keep ‘em coming.
Lost Horizons, Ojala.
Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins teams up with a bevy of singers, including the terrific Karen Peris of the Innocence Mission, for an album of slightly shoegaze-y anthems and ballads. This is really enjoyable, and I’m glad I picked it up.
The Lulls in Traffic, Rabbit in the Snare.
A swell side project from Aaron Marsh of Copeland, The Lulls in Traffic is somehow even more ambient and float-y than Copeland is. The electronic touches work well, and this album, though it contains not one stick-in-your-head song, is one you’ll play over and over.
Kevin Max, Serve Somebody.
Yes, that Kevin Max from DC Talk. Here he covers Mr. Mister and Bob Dylan and the Call and several others, making for an enjoyable little visit with his influences. And of course, his voice is like none other. Looking forward to his next record of originals.
Pearl Jam, Let’s Play Two.
One of the greatest rock bands in the world playing Wrigley Field in Chicago. How can you go wrong? Well, you can’t. This is a freight train of a set, and the band is as tight and powerful as they have ever been, energized by their surroundings. I would like to see the film. The soundtrack is great.
Margo Price, All American Made.
Margo Price is the future of country music, and her second album proves it. This wickedly political slice of Americana has justly earned raves, and it should cement her place as one of the most exciting songwriters to take up the Nashville mantle in many years.
Primus, The Desaturating Seven.
Gosh, I love Primus. Based on a children’s book, this weird fairy tale is delightfully off-kilter and surprisingly serious. The original band is reunited for the first time in years, and instead of making something fun and off the wall, they chose this conceptual piece that almost feels like a classical suite.
Vampire Weekend’s keyboard player sets out on his own, and the best that I can say about this is that I am very much looking forward to the next Vampire Weekend album.
Said Fantasy, Chariot of God.
I love Ronnie Martin and will follow him anywhere. The former Joy Electric mastermind is recording under a new name, but his sound hasn’t changed much. These burbling tunes are a little weaker, a little more self-serious than I would like, and the whole thing is pretty short. But it’s new Ronnie Martin, so I rejoice.
Emily Saliers, Murmuration Nation.
I cannot for the life of me figure out why I did not review this, the first solo album from Indigo Girl Emily Saliers. It’s a gigantic surprise – a fully produced candy-colored pop album that sounds like nothing else she’s done. The songs are typically wonderful.
Sons of Apollo, Psychotic Symphony.
If I told you this supergroup included Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian and Billy Sheehan and Jeff Scott Soto, you probably could tell me exactly what it sounds like. And you’d be exactly right. It’s predictable, but hard to play, so…
Spock’s Beard, Snow Live.
I’m not a huge fan of the album that they play front to back here, but this is the first time that Neal Morse and his old band have shared a stage in years, and just for that, this is worth hearing. The performances are great, as always.
Squeeze, The Knowledge.
Difford and Tilbrook return with another twelve knotty, witty songs. I wish there were anything more to say here. Squeeze is perpetually underrated, and its two songwriters should be in the hall of fame. This is another in a long line of excellent Squeeze records.
The Tangent, The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery.
Andy Tillison is a cranky old man, and here he leads his classic prog band through a suite that takes aim at our Brexit and Trump times. There’s no subtlety here at all, but these times don’t really call for subtlety. This hammer to the head works.
Jeff Tweedy, Together at Last.
Tweedy plays a bunch of Wilco songs alone on an acoustic guitar. It’s a snooze-fest, and I bought it out of some misguided sense of completism. I just can’t quit you, Jeff Tweedy.
Various Artists, Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard.
I’m so happy this exists. The late Mark Heard was an underappreciated songwriter, and Buddy Miller put this collection together to right that wrong. There are many awesome versions here, but I am partial to Over the Rhine and Buddy himself.
Kamasi Washington, Harmony of Difference.
You’d think following up a three-hour record with a half-hour record might lead to disappointment, but this jazz suite is so strong that I don’t mind. It’s a complete work, and again sets Washington apart as a man with a particular vision.
Steven Wilson, To the Bone.
Finally, one I definitely should have reviewed. This is Wilson’s concise pop record, but he can’t resist making it a Steven Wilson album anyway, with crashing guitars and crescendos and big melodies. Wilson is prolific, but never disappointing.
And there you have it. Fifty Second Week. That brings 2017 to a close here at TM3AM. Again, I cannot thank you enough. Without you I’m nothing. I’ll be taking next week off, but will return for Year 18 on January 9. Have a happy new year, and I’ll see you on the other side.
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