Like movies, I used to spend a lot more time listening to new music than I do now. Nothing drove that home more than a recent weekend spent cleaning my office, where I discovered a manila folder bulging at the seams with record and CD reviews I'd written for magazines, fanzines and city weeklies during the 1990s.
Reading through those reviews also reminded me that I used to be a lot more angry and opinionated. Seriously, one review I wrote of a Dinosaur, Jr. album actually made me wince. I guess my encounter with J. Mascis at a college radio station concert was still pretty fresh in my mind.
These days I'm far more forgiving. Or am I just more open-minded? Whatever the explanation, it's working – of the plethora of new discs/downloads that I bought in 2010, there was only one release that I found myself ready to flip off as I listened to each and every one as the year wound down. (Tom Petty, I'm looking at you.)
Here's my Top 10 Favorites for 2010...
Butch Walker & The Black Widows – I Liked it Better When You Had No Heart: I've been a fan of songwriter/producer Walker since his days in Marvelous 3 and I can honestly say I've never been disappointed by something he's put out. His ability to segue between styles seems almost effortless, whether it's from album to album or even from song to song. If Sycamore Meadows was his reflective pop album and The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and The Let's Go Out Tonite's his ode to glitter-glam you could call I Liked it Better... a journey into alt-country-garage. If there is such a thing. Clever, catchy and a gut-wrenching tear-jerker when it needs to be, this was definitely my fave disc of the year.
DEVO – Something for Everybody: I was pleasantly surprised by more than a few old favorites who released albums in 2010 (see Honorable Mentions below) but none matched this overdue blast from the past by The Spud Boys. Best of all, my daughter knows lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh as the guy who draws pictures on Yo Gabba Gabba so I can get away with slipping the spastic, stuttering "Fresh" or sing-songy "Please Baby Please" into our lunchtime mix without her batting an eye. Only one tune ("No Place Like Home") feels like a misfire and that's not bad for a band whose last great album (1982's Oh, No! It's Devo) came out when I was still in high school.
Apples in Stereo – Travellers in Space & Time: I have to hand it to my buddy David Zuzelo, fellow HorrorDad, comic writer, trash cinema scribe and pulled pork afficionado. He turned me on to Apples in Stereo a few years ago (much to my surprise) and I dug them so much I ended up getting this album the day it came out. A near-flawless blend of 70s electro-rock, infectious disco beats and power pop hooks, Travellers is what I'd imagine happening if Todd Rundgren had fronted ELO. If this doesn't make you want to get up and dance, well, I don't think I wanna know you.
Weezer – Hurley: I don't think I've actually listened to an entire Weezer album since their debut hit the streets and my favorite song ("No One Else") was the only one not released as a single. Or so it seemed. Since then they've become huge stars, sold billions of albums and toured worldwide to adoring fans. In other words, they probably don't need my support. But something made me grab Hurley, which sounds at times like a loosely compiled B-sides and outtakes disc thanks to a live cover of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" and "All My Friends Are Insects" which they performed on Yo Gabba Gabba. But if songs like the soaring "Memories" and the delightfully poppy "Smart Girls" are "moronic" "novelty pop" (respectively, as described in a Pop Matters review), maybe I haven't changed that much. After all, my two favorite songs as a kid were "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor" and "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron".
Maids of Honor – Self-Titled: I have to admit that I grudgingly enjoy Facebook. Though I don't understand the need to share some of the views and info that get posted there (or on other social media hubs), I dig the ability to stay in touch with friends and family and re-connect with old pals, especially long "lost" friends from the daze of the original print edition of ER. Who knew that I'd end up contacting one former trash zine trading partner for advice on how to pickle cucumbers or that Crimson Celluloid editor David Nolte would tip me to one of my favorite albums of the year while I was watching – you guessed it – Yo Gabba Gabba with my daughter? I barely know anything about Maids other than the fact that the drummer is a former Survivor contestant and that they remind me of the snarky rock that was regularly cranked out by bands like The Meices and Best Kissers in the World.
Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Just in case the strippers of the world were running out of good tunes to shed their panties to, Rob Zombie took a break from angering horror film fans to deliver this volume. It's a frequently uneven collection and admittedly I skip about a third of the tracks, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that "What?" features my favorite riff of 2010 while tunes like "Sick Bubblegum" and "Werewolf Women of the SS" make up for whatever else is hiding amongst the B-movie sound bites and White Zombie cast-offs.
Gaslight Anthem – American Slang: Not quite as good as The '59 Sound but I love this NJ band's blend of latter day Social Distortion and vintage Springsteen. I'm not sure if this approach is all they have in them or if future releases will stylistically push the envelope a bit, but there's way more hits than misses here unlike, say, Heaven is Whenever from the more critically-beloved The Hold Steady.
Danzig – Deth Red Sabaoth: A triumphant return from the tiny little teapot of muscle-bound metal seemed as likely as a killer disc from DEVO. Go figure! I love the first three Danzig discs and have been known to belt out "MOTHER!" on more than one occasion, but the former Misfit lost me around the time his discs lost their pounding Sabbath Meets Jim Morrison swagger and took on too much post-industrial-electronic-dirge. Fortunately, the new disc has everything I loved about early Danzig – ridiculous spelling, hooks that could crush a walnut, and silly metal lyrics that I like to sing when nobody is around (see "Ju Ju Bone"). Though some of the songs sound like Glenn was trapped in a closet during their recording, Deth Red Sabaoth has me ready to dive in and re-evaluate efforts like I Luciferi and Cradle of Snakes.
Bruce Springsteen – The Promise: There are two box sets that I've spent the last few years anxiously longing for: the long-rumored Replacements box set (which I'm assuming is never, ever coming out) and the just-released Darkness on the Edge of Town box from Bruce Springsteen. Darkness and The River have always been my two favorite Springsteen albums and I've never been able to figure out just how he made the leap from the gritty street rumble of tracks like "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Something in the Night" to rip-snorting raves like "Two Hearts" and "Ramrod". This two-disc outtakes collection connects the dots between those two very different releases with Springsteen getting down and dirty one minute, playful and raucous the next. With Born to Run and Darkness getting the grand treatment can a box set of The River be far behind? (Also available in a deluxe box set edition that includes Darkness on the Edge of Town plus a documentary and live CD/DVD material.)
Andrew WK – Close Calls with Brick Walls/Mother of Mankind: I've never been able to decide if I Get Wet – Andrew WK's magnificent full-length debut – is the greatest rock album of all-time or the greatest comedy album of all-time. No record has ever made me want to pump my fist in the air while grinning from ear to ear as much, yet I've never even listened to his follow-up (The Wolf) for fear that it couldn't possibly hold a candle to that debut. Mired in legal issues (I believe), Close Calls... only saw limited release around 2006 but was finally unleashed in 2010 along with the outtakes and rarities disc Mother of Mankind. It's all over the place, wildly uneven and – and its best – sounds a lot like Wet outtakes, but I simply can't help but love a disc that made me write the note "Meatloaf and Handsome Dick Manitoba write an off-off-Broadway rock opera".
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Paul Collins – King of Power Pop; Hoodoo Gurus – Purity of Essence; My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys; Of Montreal – False Priest; Sleigh Bells – Treats; Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes – Pills & Ammo; Master Plan – Maximum Respect; Locksley – Be in Love; Timmy Sean – Songs From & Inspired By Noisewater.
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