|That famous philosopher (and banjo picker) Steve Martin once said, ”Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” I couldn’t agree more. Of all the things I write about for EW, pop music’s the hardest, because a columnist doesn’t get paid for saying, ”I dunno, I just like it.” But can I really explain why I love ”I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry and would be delighted never to hear Taylor Swift’s ”You’re Not Sorry” again? No. All I can say is that I find ”the taste of her cherry ChapStick” in ”Girl” entrancingly sexy, while everything about ”You’re Not Sorry”… makes me sorry. So pardon me if I sound inarticulate in what follows. It’s my list of the best music I heard this year, the stuff that hit my sweet spot. If you disagree, it’s because you dance to different architecture.
10. Hey Ma, James
The entire album is good, but the title track, which begins, ”Now the towers have fallen/So much dust in the air,” is heartbreaking.
9. Harps and Angels, Randy Newman
This bitter, smiling satire is Newman’s best album since Good Old Boys (released way back in ’74). The lead track feels like biography, and songs like ”A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” gleam with ironic good cheer.
8. Gift of Screws, Lindsey Buckingham
Sounds like the Fleetwood Mac of the mid-’70s to me, only better. The title track features a terrific submerged-guitar sound, but the standout is the lush and gorgeous ”Did You Miss Me.”
7. Lay It Down, Al Green
The soul master is back, sweeter than ever. The album features a number of duets, and while I could do without John Legend, the combination of Green and Corinne Bailey Rae (”Take Your Time”) is to die for.
6. Viva la Vida, Coldplay
I’ve read reviews that compare this record to U2; it sounds like Coldplay and nothing else to me. I love the title song—it’s this year’s ”Every Breath You Take”—but the one that lifts me is ”Violet Hill,” with its rich, rueful lyrics.
5. Real Animal, Alejandro Escovedo
At his best, Escovedo out-Stones the Stones, but what makes this album great are his photographic recollections of the music scene in the late ’70s, when he played with a proto-punk group called the Nuns. Also in Escovedo’s favor: Upon discovering that ”Castanets” was on George W. Bush’s iPod, he stopped playing it in concert for a while.
4. Feed the Animals, Girl Talk
I’m not going to apologize; I also like DJ Skribble, so deal with it. The continuous version is 53 minutes of musical stream of consciousness featuring who knows how many (possibly illegal) musical snippets: In the first 10 minutes I picked out the Spencer Davis Group, Twisted Sister, Sinéad O’Connor, and Avril Lavigne. This is as dense and allusive as James Joyce’s Ulysses, only you can dance to it.
3. Just Us Kids, James McMurtry
McMurtry’s songs inhabit a different universe from most of the Nashville crap in heavy rotation on the mainstream country stations. ”God knows she tries, but when you’re that far down you’re just gonna get high,” he sings on ”Fire Line Road.” You won’t hear that observation on a Kenny Chesney album, and you’ll hear little there that rocks as infectiously as ”Bayou Tortous.” Everything here works.
2. Black Ice, AC/DC
A friend of mine said, ”It sounds like every other AC/DC album I’ve ever heard.” My response: ”What’s your point?” If Girl Talk is rock-and-rap James Joyce, these guys are rave-up William Faulkner: They’ve found their own little groove place and keep digging it deeper. But Wal-Mart? Angus, you hurt me.
1. Black Butterfly, Buckcherry, and Break Up the Concrete, the Pretenders
I know, I know, a tie is lame, but I just can’t pick between the two. Black Butterfly was the best hard-rock album I heard this year (with one sweet and unforgettable song called ”All of Me”), and there isn’t a single bad track on the country-tinged Break Up the Concrete. Chrissie Hynde is as in-your-face as ever (especially on the Bo Diddley-influenced title cut), but there’s a glint of humor here that I don’t remember. Also, the best song I heard all year is on this record: ”Love’s a Mystery.”
So’s music, come to think of it…but I danced this architecture as well as I could.