Sod’s Top 10 of ’10

Posted: December 17, 2010 in Album Reviews

With Christmas a week away, I thought I’d start counting down my top 10 albums of 2010, just in case you want to get someone a last-second gift (or grab one for yourself). I’ve reviewed all of them throughout the year and thought it would be fun to rank them. It was tough to do, and a few noteworthy releases just missed the cut, but here it goes.
10. Stone Temple Pilots, Stone Temple Pilots: This self-titled released marked the return of STP from a nine-year recording hiatus, and it was a triumphant comeback. While it doesn’t match early hallmark releases Core or Purple, it fits rather nicely into the band’s body of work, featuring everything they do well – Aerosmith-tinged classic rockers (Huckleberry Crumble), heavy Beatles soundalikes (Dare If You Dare) and David Bowie-esque psychedelic ballads (Last Kiss on Mars). If you’re a big fan of the band or just love classic-sounding rock, it’s a must have.

9. The Dead Weather, Sea of Cowards: Jack White stays busy, leading three killer rock bands (The White Stripes and Raconteurs being the others, of course). The Dead Weather is the newest of his bands, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite of the three. Sea of Cowards is a raucous set of blues-based rockers, and while some of the songs could have used a little fine-tuning, the performances are so intense and the sound so jarring, it’s worth every ounce of your attention. Allison Mosshart shares the singing duties with White, and they sometimes trade vocals in the same song. Good stuff, an improvement on their first release Horehound (released just last year). Look forward to what they come up with in the future.

8. Cypress Hill, Rise Up: It’s been 17 years since Cypress Hill released their last great album, Black Sunday. And since that was just their second album, most of the last 17 years has been spent recycling past grooves and rehashing the same love odes to a certain herb. It’s not as if the Hill is re-inventing itself here, it just sounds reinvigorated with a set of 15 tracks which run the gamut, from hard-charging rockers (Rise Up with Tom Morello, Trouble Seeker with Daron Malakian) to laid-back weed anthems (K.U.S.H aka Keeps Us So High), even adding a left-field sample of the Crosby, Stills and Nash classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” on the wonderful closer “Armada Latina.”

7. Linkin Park, A Thousand Suns: Of all the rap/metal hybrids spawned in the early part of last decade, Linkin Park is the only one to really survive and thrive into this decade. Simply put, they’ve adapted their sound because they didn’t want to be one-trick ponys. So, they’ve taken the rap part of the equation down a few notches and added more melodies and sonic textures on each of the last two albums. And while 2008’s Minutes to Midnight had triumphant moments, A Thousand Suns truly resonates, although it takes a few listens to really get it. Songs are weaved in and out of instrumental ambience, so putting this album on shuffle does nothing for you. Highlights include “Waiting for the End,” “The Catalyst,” “Wretches and Kings,” and “When They Come for Me.”

6. Drake, Thank Me Later: The debut full-length from Canadian rapper Drake shows an artist on top of his game early on. Loaded with superstar guest spots from the likes of Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Alicia Keys (among others), it’s Drake’s star that shines brightest on tracks like the lead single “Over,” one of the best rap songs of the year. Drake writes his own hooks and sings them, too, offering the rap-free “Find Your Love” as another hit single. The kid’s got talent and should be one to watch in the next decade.

5. Eminem, Recovery: Megastar rapper Eminem realized the error of his ways when he released his comeback album Relapse in 2009. His first set of new songs in six years was highly anticipated given his recent struggle with drug addiction and stints in rehab. That album didn’t really offer much of a look into Em’s fragile psyche, offering up much of the same slasher imagery and celeb bashing (along with cheesy accents) offered on 2003’s Encore. Originally, Eminem was going to put out Relapse II, but thought better of it, instead putting out Recovery, a much more concise set of songs with some of the best rhymes Em has laid down since the Marshall Mathers LP or The Eminem Show. And while there is still some of the misogyny included in all Eminem albums, there is also a lot more depth and real emotion here. This is the album Relapse should have been.

4. Bruce Springsteen, The Promise: One of 2010’s top releases could have been on the 1978 best of lists. That was the year Bruce Springsteen released Darkness on the Edge of Town, a classic 10-song album including such Springsteen standards as “Badlands” and “Prove it All Night.” However, had the Boss decided to go a different route, that album could have looked quite different. It also could have been four albums, as there was that much material written and recorded during those sessions. Some songs eventually were recorded and released by other artists, some were unleashed on 1998’s box set Tracks. And finally, two albums worth of material was digitally cleaned up (and in some cases, overdubs added) for The Promise. Over the course of the double-disc set, the Boss’ many gifts are on display – there are sympathetic story songs (The Promise, City of Night, Racing in the Street) featuring his typical working class heroes. There are bouncy rockers (Save My Love, Gotta Get That Feeling, Outside Looking In) and also songs that were hits for other artists (Fire, Because the Night). On its own, it stands as one of Springsteen’s best in a dazzling career.

3. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs: An exhilarating set of songs from Montreal indie rockers Arcade Fire, Suburbs is the finest art record of the year. A statement on growing up in an American suburb, the album’s songs flow masterfully, and every tune is a winner. Some reach majestic status (penultimate track Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains is one of my favorite tracks of the year), while others rock with reckless abandon (Month of May, City With No Children). The husband-wife tandem of Win Butler and RĂ©gine Chassagne are gifted vocalists and songwriters, giving the band a 1-2 punch others lack.

2. Brothers, The Black Keys: From the start of the stunning album opener “Everlasting Light”, you know you’re in for a great ride from the blues-rock duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. Auerbach’s falsetto vocals behind a punchy, almost T-Rex like groove, is scintillating and another candidate for Sod Song of the Year. But the album doesn’t stop there, offering a smorgasboard of rock awesomeness in the kiss-off anthem “Next Girl,” the kick-ass single “Tighten Up” and the blues stomp of “Howlin for You.” And those are just the first four songs of the album! I saw these guys open for Kings of Leon in September, and their live show is just as thrilling as the album. Along with Arcade Fire, the Black Keys are band I’m elated I got into in 2010.

1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West: By actions that have little to do with his considerable musical talent, Kanye West has become quite the polarizing figure. His Twitter rants are well-known, and his awards-show mishap involving Taylor Swift put him on the most hated list of rednecks everywhere. Kanye is nothing if not self-aware, and the hits to his popularity and massive ego got to him. From pain often comes great art, and Kanye has unleashed his masterpiece in a career littered with highlights (save for the autotuned mess of 808s & Heartbreaks). Kanye has improved as a rapper through the years, but it’s his prodigious production skills that separates him from the field. His “twisted fantasy” has reaped great fruits: piledriving boasts of “Power,” a constant need to remain under “All of the Lights” while admitting he’d also there are times he’d like to “Runaway” when he’s feeling “Lost in the World.” Granted, I just had a bit of fun with some of the song titles, but it’s not too far from where Kanye is coming from. Every track has you wanting more, as Kanye is one of the finest hip-hop artists of all time.

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