Here Comes the Flood
The Calm Before the New Music Storm

Dammit. Why does this always happen?

I’ve been waiting for months to tell you all that the Feeling’s phenomenal 2006 album, Twelve Stops and Home, is finally available in the U.S. I paid import price for it, and I don’t regret that for a second, because Twelve Stops is one of the finest pure pop platters to come along in many a moon. It plays like a survey of the last 40 years of amazing British pop, like 10cc and Supertramp, mixed with more modern melodic masters like Jellyfish.

It’s a sweet treat of an album, a glorious and grand confection, and I called it my third-favorite record of last year. I understand, though, that $20-plus is too much for most people to pay for a CD, even an amazing one, so I’ve been advising people to wait for the domestic release.

And now it’s out on these shores, finally, thanks to Cherrytree Records. But instead of cheering and sending you all out to your local CD store, I’m about to recommend you hit, because the American version is just… not right.

First, there’s the cover. The original release’s packaging may not have been a masterpiece, but it was bright and colorful and kind of goofy, like the record itself. It’s much better than the drab, bootleg-looking photo-and-logo snoozefest on the American release. Honestly, given the same three elements and 10 minutes, I could have designed something a lot better than this – it gives the impression that the album is just as lifeless as its jacket illustration, and nothing could be further from the truth.

That by itself wouldn’t be a problem, but they’ve gone and messed with the track order, too. This is the same type of thing that Capitol used to do with the early 1960s Beatles albums, and I can’t believe U.S. labels are still doing it.

The original Twelve Stops opens with three of the most perfect pop singles in years, one right after another – the rock anthem “I Want You Now,” the groovy ‘70s-style “Never Be Lonely,” and the inescapably hummable “Fill My Little World.” Slow burner “Sewn” was saved until later, and the more serious back half benefited immensely from the Cars-esque “Love It When You Call,” at track eight. It was, honestly, a perfect running order.

Which must be why it’s been obliterated for American audiences. Twelve Stops now opens with “Sewn,” a six-minute ballad that really belies the tone of the rest of the record. The front half now contains all the singles, including “Love It When You Call,” and the great “I Want You Now” has been relegated to track six, despite being the no-brainer opening shot. And without “Call” to break it up, the second half is now one piano ballad after another, with only “Helicopter” standing out.

Honestly, why do they do this? I understand we live in an iPod world now, and people don’t care too much about track orders anymore. But listen – I can take the U.K. version of this album and make a fan out of anyone just by playing the first three songs. I can’t do the same thing with the U.S. version, and that’s a shame. “I Want You Now,” especially, is an immediate grabber, whereas “Sewn,” nice as it is, will bore the hell out of first-time listeners.

I wish I could tell you all to go buy it. Many of you probably think I’m just being anal, and maybe I am, but the idea of the album as a whole is on the way out, and I think it’s worth fighting for and preserving. Twelve Stops and Home is still an incredibly fun and well-made pop record, whichever incarnation you choose to hear, but trust me – the original release just works better. It’s about flow, something the new version just doesn’t have, for reasons I just don’t understand.

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All right, enough griping. I’ve had a strange, busy week, and as it’s the end of February, I’ve got no new music to talk about, so I thought I’d take the easy way out and do one of my patented looks ahead. March and April are practically drowning in new records that I’m simply dying to hear, and May is looking equally awesome. It’s a virtual tsunami of new tunes, and here’s a weather report:

The big news next week is Neon Bible, the second full-length from the Arcade Fire. I’m one of those people who thought their debut, Funeral, was pretty good, but no masterpiece, and I’m somewhat dismayed that the same critics who idolized that record are using terms like “religious experience” to describe the follow-up. But what can you do. What I’ve heard sounds creepy, dramatic and swell. The album also comes in a nifty lenticular box. Because nothing says “indie” like expensive lenticular boxes.

Also next week is Four Winds, the scouting party EP ahead of Bright Eyes’ latest record, Cassadaga. Plus, former Spock’s Beard mastermind Neal Morse keeps on progging for Jesus on Sola Scriptura, Lovedrug returns with Everything Starts Where it Ends, and we get the debut record from pop culture junkies No More Kings. That last one I heard courtesy of my friend Jeff Maxwell, and it contains winning pop gems about Knight Rider, the Karate Kid and other ‘80s icons. Sounds like it would be too cheeky by half, but it’s actually pretty good.

I’m excited to go into the record store on March 13 and buy both Type O Negative’s Dead Again and the Innocence Mission’s We Walked in Song. I’ve gotten some weird looks from the counter clerks before, but I think this one will top them all. Type O’s album is 10 songs over 77 minutes, and from all the pre-release buzz, it sounds like a return to the slow, Black Sabbath-inspired doom metal (with a smirk, of course) of their first couple of albums.

March 20 will see the new Modest Mouse, called We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. It’s supposedly the most robust production they’ve ever released, which has turned up a few noses. I’ve never been a member of the Church of Isaac Brock, and I thought the last couple of Modest Mouse records were merely pretty good, so we’ll see. Also that week, a new Ted Leo, a strange little beast called Drums and Guns from Low, and the new Joy Electric, called The Otherly Opus. I went on and on about the new Joy E single a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still not sick of it.

March 27 sees Grant Lee Phillips’ fifth solo album, Strangelet. I didn’t really talk about his fourth, Nineteeneighties, which came out last year, but I should have. It’s full of lovely low-key renditions of classic ‘80s indie-rock songs, like the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” and R.E.M.’s “So. Central Rain,” sung in that unimpeachable voice. A quiet little curiosity, to be sure, but a surprisingly fun one. Still, I’m excited to hear Phillips get back to the business of writing his own songs, as they’re almost always excellent.

Fountains of Wayne roars back on April 3 with Traffic and Weather, and if it’s all as clever and hummable as the single, “Someone to Love,” I’ll be in heaven. Also that week is Jonatha Brooke’s new one, Careful What You Wish For – a snippet of the title song from that one is on her MySpace site, and it’s terrifically Beatlesque. Plus, I saw the track listing – no covers, which is a good thing. (Her last effort, Back in the Circus, was weighted down by ill-advised renditions of “Fire and Rain” and “God Only Knows.”)

Marillion’s Somewhere Else hits on April 9. I’ve heard about half of it, including all the potential singles, like “Most Toys” and “Thankyou Whoever You Are,” but also including epic album tracks like the title song and “Last Century for Man.” So far, sadly, I haven’t heard anything that’s given me chills. I’ll reserve judgment until I have the whole thing in front of me, but thus far, it’s not a patch on the marvelous Marbles. Shame, really.

The following day, we get that aforementioned Bright Eyes album, Cassadaga. The week after that, on April 17, we’ll greet the arrival of Year Zero, the new Nine Inch Nails album. Coming only two years after the last one, Year Zero supposedly plays like a cut-and-paste series of atmospheres. Which could be good and bad, but at least it seems adventurous, something the weak With Teeth definitely wasn’t. But this is from a guy who thinks Pretty Hate Machine is boring as hell, and The Fragile is pretty much brilliant. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway, on April 24, we get the return of Fishbone with Still Stuck in Your Throat; the debut of Tom (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave) Morello’s new political solo project, The Nightwatchman; and the new Cowboy Junkies, At the End of Paths Taken. Also, the new Porcupine Tree will hit stores – it’s a 50-minute unbroken suite about media saturation and the decline of civilization, with the best title of the year so far: Fear of a Blank Planet.

And now we get into the more speculative end of things. I’m usually pretty hesitant about any release date that’s more than two months away, considering how unpredictable the music biz is, so take these dates as the tentative, uncertain, easily shakable things they are.

But as of right now, Rush is slated to return on May 1 with their 18th studio full-lengther, Snakes and Arrows. And Tori Amos will hopefully end her streak of suckage with American Doll Posse, but don’t hold your breath. The following week, Bjork hits with her reportedly bugfuck insane new album Volta, and Kill Rock Stars releases a two-CD set of Elliott Smith rarities called New Moon.

And on May 15, Wilco saunters back to store shelves with Sky Blue Sky. Let’s hope it’s not as godawful boring as A Ghost is Born. Also on May 15, Rufus Wainwright will give us Release the Stars, his fifth album, which reportedly contains a song called “Between My Legs.” Fascinating… Wainwright is coming off of his two finest albums, Want One and Want Two, and I hope he didn’t lose any of his sense of drama and grandeur. We need some unabashed romanticism these days.

The furthest out my crystal ball can see right now is June 5, which will bring us Ryan Adams’ new album, Easy Tiger, and Chris Cornell’s second solo project, Carry On. (It will also bring me my 33rd birthday, so that’s all right.) The back half of the year should also see us new ones from Michael Roe, the 77s, the Swirling Eddies, U2, and Scottish singer Fish. We already have a title for that last one – Thirteenth Star – because that’s just the way Fish operates: title first, then cover art, then songs. Hey, it seems to work for him…

So yeah, that’s a lot of new music. If even half of it is as good as I expect, then 2007 could be the best year in recent memory. And that makes me a happy little junkie.

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One last thing before I go. I need to plug my dear friend Dr. Tony Shore, who’s just released the first installment of his new podcast. He calls it the ObviousPopCast, and you can get it here. The first show includes tunes from Fountains of Wayne, the Feeling, ELO and Jellyfish, among others – the music’s so good that you can just skip over Shore’s endless, “humorous” prattling and still have a good time. (Just kidding, Doc!)

Next week, we open the Neon Bible.

See you in line Tuesday morning.