2014 As I Know It And Call It

by Michael R. Smith


5. Blondie - Ghosts Of Download

Debbie Harry & company haven’t sounded this energized since bursting back onto the scene 15 years ago with No Exit. And even though I prefer their previous efforts, Panic Of Girls (2011) and The Curse Of Blondie (2003), there are still some gems to be found on this one. The best of the lot is the infectious Miss Guy-assisted “Rave,” which made both the fans and clubs proud, despite the record company blowing it and not choosing it as a single. Here’s an important tip: skip the misguided cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” and the unlistenable “Euphoria,” which contains a grating noise best described by a friend of mine as a Slinky caught in a clothes drier. Other key tracks include: the singles “Sugar On The Side” and “A Rose By Any Name” as well as the fun, upbeat party tunes “I Screwed Up,” (which contains a hysterical choice lyric about Johnny Depp) and the buoyant “Take It Back.” Long live Blondie!

4. Stevie Nicks - 24 Karat Gold - Songs From The Vault

How ironic. Stevie Nicks has spent the last two decades trying unsuccessfully to score herself another hit album and what does she end up doing this time around? She digs into the deepest recesses of her vault, dusts off what were supposed to be rejected songs, and comes out with a BRILLIANT collection of tunes that amounts to her best work since 1989’s The Other Side Of The Mirror. Sometimes accidents really are happy blessings in disguise, but then Stevie has always been something of a miracle-working sorceress. Consider me gob-smacked. So great to hear her rock out AT LAST on the kick-ass opener “Starshine” and the part two high point “I Don’t Care.” And you know something, the ballads are equally strong, especially the soul-stirring single “Lady” and the apropos “Hard Advice” (“Go and write some real songs and stay out of music stores”). Heck, she even pulls off a mean blues track with “Cathouse Blues.” Didn’t see that coming! There are a couple of duds that don’t quite measure up, namely “Mabel Normand” and “She Loves Him Still,” but with 14 songs (more if you plunk down the $$ for the deluxe treatment), at least the quantity equals the quality here. Now if the new Fleetwood Mac album next year turns out as good as this, I’ll be over the moon.


3. Lily Allen - Sheezus

You can always count on the cheeky Lily Allen to take aim at our idols and bring them down a peg or two. It’s called a reality check, people. This time she beats Kanye West at his own game, co-opting the title of his last album Yeezus for her own purposes. You go, girl. The unfortunate thing for Lily is that she just can’t compete with the American pop gurls like Taylor, Katy, or EEK! – dare I say it – Miley (yep, Lily opened for her on this year’s tour). There’s now doubt on whether Lily will continue her music career, but I for one hope she does. We need more of her audacious brand of lyricism. If Pink can do it here, why can’t Lily do it there? But I digress. Her third album is on par with her other releases, Alright Still and It’s Not Me, It’s You. What makes it even better is its remarkable shelf-life. Yes, her overt English accent is still her trademark, but at least we across the pond have gotten used to it by now. Thankfully, she avoids the hip-hop trappings of synthetic beats and plastic rhymes. She could’ve easily gone there, but wisely, doesn’t. Whether a pop ditty like “Air Balloon” is your cuppa tea is up for debate. Personally, I’m not annoyed. It’s over-the-top, yes, but at least it’s fun and memorable. This is her city nightlife album, meant to be played on the car stereo as you seek out what other trouble you can get into. Lily sweetly covers Keane’s anthem “Somewhere Only We Know,” but she may as well also cover the Cars’ “Good Times Roll” while she’s at it. She stretches her genre muscles on the countrified barnstormer “As Long As I Got You,” spouts profanity with style on “L8 Cmmr” and kicks back on the blissful “Our Time.” Aside from the embarrassing “URL Badman” (sheep noises… really?), this is a rock solid affair that shouldn’t be overlooked.


2. Taylor Swift - 1989

The headline here should be: "Taylor Swift Singlehandedly Saves The Music Industry." This is how it’s done, all you fledgling – or floundering – artists out there! She opted out of Spotify, even demanding that her fans buy the entire physical CD if they want to hear her music. As a completest album aficionado myself, I couldn’t be prouder of her for taking such a bold stand. Screw downloading only a few songs; it’s lazy and passive. Taylor’s latest offering, 1989 (the year she was born), takes us back in a time machine to those glory days of pop. It’s a damn near perfect record from tip to tail, where every song has the potential of becoming a radio-friendly single. The glaring exception is “Bad Blood.” Good luck getting that one out of your damned mind. Honestly, I was never a Taylor Swift fan before this album, finding her breathy, girlie country tunes more cloying than appealing. But now, with a NYC anthem (“Welcome To New York”), viral anthem (“Shake It Off”) and feminist anthem (“Blank Space”) all under her belt, it’s a Taylor Swift world I’m thrilled to say I now live in. Maybe she’d have better luck than Justin Timberlake did in getting MTV to play videos again?!?


1. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

It’s not often when an artist leaves me completely slack-jawed. It happened last year when a 17-year-old wunderkind by the name of Lorde crept quietly, mysteriously and potently onto the map, from way across the map in New Zealand, for land’s sakes. This year, the indie artist with the cryptic moniker St. Vincent has become the NEXT BIG THING, stealing year-end top honors from more media outlets than just this one. Despite the fact that she’s American, Annie Clark has been toiling in the trenches of obscurity for years. But now she’s dyed her wild, curly mane of hair a silvery hue and unleashed her self-titled monster of a fifth album onto the masses early this year. From the blistering outset of “Rattlesnake,” it is made abundantly clear St. Vincent means business this time around. The frenetic energy rarely lets up, but even in the slower, quieter moments such as the poignant hymn-like “I Prefer Your Love,” she is irresistible and positively glows. If you’ve ever seen her perform live, the image is as captivating as this hella edgy experimental/alternative music. The singles “Birth In Reverse” and “Digital Witness” may not have gotten further than college radio, but that’s a clear indication of what a sad state of affairs radio has become in general in this country. St. Vincent provides the perfect counterbalance to the oversaturation of plasticized teen-pop bouncing on our ears like flavorless gummy candy. After the sugar rush, we need to sink our teeth into something more substantial. It’s more than filling. This stuff is everlasting. FEAST ON IT.

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